You never know what you’re capable of until you’re faced with things you never thought possible. For Susan Kessell, her test came in the form of losing her husband, home, dog and bird within five months.
The first-grade teacher at Kanoheda Elementary in Gwinnett County lived on a large farm-like area in Commerce with her Bill, husband of 14 years. She lovingly referred to him as Wild Bill.
“That was our song. It’s gonna be a wild ride and it was,” said Susan, looking at photos of her late husband. “Everybody loved him. Of course, I loved him. Very much.”
Bill died of aortic dissection - or a tear in the inner layer of the aorta.
“He had surgery and he never recovered,” said Susan.
The 67-year-old died a week before Susan was set to head back to work for school. Thankful for the opportunity to continue working, she went back, missing her Wild Bill all the while.
“Every day,” Susan said. “Why aren’t you here?"
Five months after Bill’s death, Susan received a call at school from a neighbor. The home she shared for 11 years with Bill was on fire. By the time she got home, it was destroyed.
“They say it was electrical and started under the back porch,” she said.
The bad news kept rolling in; one of her dogs, Leo, and her parakeet, Tweety, died inside the fire.
Now, it’s all Susan can do to keep it together and keep moving forward.
“You don’t have a choice. There’s no choice," she said. "If I want a home, I have to do this. Day by day.”
The structural insurance will pay for the mortgage still owed on the home. Susan is staying near her burned down home, while she does an inventory of the items inside for insurance purposes. She won't get enough to rebuild but Susan is sure she wants to stay on her property - because although the home is destroyed, there’s still so much ‘Bill’ left everywhere else.
“This was all woods from here on back to the end of the property. He cleared all of it,” Susan said, walking to the back of the property.
She pointed out a gazebo, rock wall and a large shed Bill built by hand - memories lingering after death luckily left untouched by the fire.
“Everything he did here was for me," she said. "So, I said I would never leave it and now it’s gone.”
Just two weeks after the fire, Susan stood looking at the charred remains, wondering what’s next. At one point, she planned to work long enough to pay off the mortgage, retire as a teacher and travel the country with her husband.
“But, that’s not going to happen now,” Susan said.
What is going to happen, however, is 2018 will tick away, putting an end to what Susan called the hardest year of her life. She hopes the next few months can only bring good news and happiness
“I try really hard not to be down because I don’t like being down," she said. "I try my best each day to just do what needs to be done.”
A fellow teacher started a Go Fund Me account for Susan, in hopes of getting her help to rebuild as well as day to day supplies for her remaining four dogs.