RACINE – Tears welled in the corners of Susan Buscemi’s yellowing eyes as she lay in the hospital bed beside the window in her home on Eaton Lane.
In the living room, surrounded by family, Buscemi’s daughter, Ashley Douglas, 18, fought back tears of her own, put on her scarlet cap and gown and granted her dying mother’s wish.
She graduated from Horlick High School.
A little more than four years ago, Buscemi, 51, learned she had Stage IV colon cancer. She left her first visit to the doctor with only one concern. She wanted to see her youngest daughter – the last of her four children – graduate.
“The first thing she said was, ‘Am I going to see Ashley graduate?” Susan’s husband Joe Buscemi said.
Since then Susan has fought – unsuccessfully – to rid her body of the cancer.
Her doctors told Susan last week there is nothing more they can do to help her fight the cancer that has ravaged her body. Years of chemotherapy didn’t work. Her liver is shutting down. The cancer never went into remission, her husband said.
Doctors said it is unlikely she could make it to Ashley’s graduation on Sunday, June 8. If she’s still alive Sunday family members said there is no way she could make it to the school in her frail condition, no matter how much she wants to be there. Susan is, for the most part, confined to a special bed and can’t walk without assistance.
“Your time is not measured in months. It’s not measured in weeks. It’s short,” Joe said doctors told his wife.
Horlick High School Assistant Principal Kevin Brown had never received such a request. The Friday call sent Brown scrambling to make sure Ashley was cleared for graduation.
He had to get her cap and gown and he had to get his. Then there was the diploma. And he wanted to bring flowers, too.
So Monday afternoon in the Buscemi’s living room Brown and colleague Al Hutton, a school guidance counselor, gave one of their families a memory they’ll always cherish, a special ceremony for a mother and a daughter. There was no need for “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Family members, including Susan’s brothers and sisters, came to the house and cleaned-up the garden. The family planned to celebrate Monday afternoon in the backyard.
“We were trying to make it like a real graduation. I wanted to make sure she had everything, because pretty soon, all she’ll have are pictures,” Brown said.
When the moment arrived the family gathered around Susan’s bed. Brown and Hutton presented Ashley her diploma. Her mother watched her daughter graduate. The family applauded.
Instead of throwing her cap in the air, Ashley leaned in and hugged her fragile mother, diploma in hand.
Susan Buscemi’s dying wish came true.