When Susan Bayh was lying in her hospice bed, she had difficulty opening her eyes. One of her twin sons, Beau, was sitting next to her and holding her hands, however, when she looked at him, her beautiful blue eyes locking into his.
And although she can’t speak, her son said, Susan Bayh always said the words, “I love you, Beau.”
Beau Bayh shared the story at a memorial for his mother on Saturday at the Trinity Episcopal Church. As the Bench Hoosiers dabbed their eyes, Beau and his brother Nicholas spoke about their mother’s resilience following her diagnosis of incurable brain cancer and her lifelong dedication to family and friends.
Starting from February : Former Indiana First Lady Susan Bayh dies at 61 after long battle with brain cancer
“She was truly the best mom a son could ask for,” Beau Bayh said. “I miss her more than I can tell.”
And, said Nicholas Bayh, she was first and foremost dedicated to her two boys.
Then he glanced at his father, former Senator Evan Bayh. “Sorry, daddy,” Nicholas said, laughing among the 200 in attendance.
The former first lady of Indiana died on February 5. She was 61 years old.
A memorial in a special place
The Bayh family waited a few months to hold their memorial services due to COVID-19 precautions. Those present were asked to continue to wear masks during the service and to refrain from singing hymns. The harmony of an eight-person choir standing far from mourners always filled the church.
The passage of time has helped alleviate the Bayh’s sadness at the memorial. They were able to spend more time focusing on their loving memories.
From a “blind date” to moments of tenderness in the midst of cancer: The love story of Susan and Evan Bayh
Although grief persists, Evan Bayh said the family wanted his wife’s memorials to be a celebration of his life – a reflection of the woman as she lived. “She was such a happy and positive person,” Evan Bayh told IndyStar on Friday.
Susan Bayh’s professional and personal accomplishments have been long. She practiced law, served on countless boards, mentored students, and started a charity to help with adult literacy, among other things. But her 35-year-old husband will also continue to cherish the memories created over the past three years.
Faced with the pain and discomfort of cancer, which required surgery in 2018 to remove a glioblastoma tumor in her brain, Susan Bayh’s spirit of joy persevered. She wouldn’t complain about the pain or the circumstances; instead, she insisted that she was lucky to be surrounded until the end by three men who loved her.
“In a world of too much cynicism and apathy,” Evan Bayh said at his memorial on Saturday, “she was the antithesis of the two”.
The Saturday service location is a special place for the Bayh family. Trinity Episcopal is where they attended church while Evan was governor of Indiana. His two terms ran from 1989 to 1997.
The church is also the place where their children were baptized two months after their birth. Hoosiers watched the governor and the first lady of Indiana elevate the boys in the public eye; their birth made the headlines of the Indianapolis Star in November 1995 (the headline read: “Rock-A-Bayh Babies”).
Evan Bayh, who also served two terms as a US Senator from 1999-2011, remembers when the family of four sat in the back bench alongside other young families. Nicholas and Beau were just toddlers then, and sometimes Evan or Susan had to walk away from the services with the young twins for a few moments.
Among those in attendance on Saturday were Governor Eric Holcomb, former Senator Joe Donnelly, former Representative Lee Hamilton and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, as well as former and current Indiana First Ladies: Janet Holcomb, Karen Pence and Cheri Daniels. (Former Governor Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was in West Lafayette for Homecoming.)
Political battles put aside
The Bayhs held a separate memorial on Wednesday in Washington, DC at the National Cathedral, where Evan and Susan were married. This is also where, in 1979, services were held for Evan’s mother, Marvella Bayh.
Those in attendance on Wednesday included former Vice President Mike Pence and his brother, Representative Greg Pence, as well as Senator Dan Coats, who held the same Senate seat before and after Evan Bayh, and Senator Todd Young, who defeated Bayh for the Senate seat in the 2016 election.
Past political battles have been set aside to honor Susan Bayh.
“In times of adversity,” Evan Bayh told IndyStar, “the Hoosiers stand united.”
Close. Joe Biden, who is a longtime friend of the Bayh family, also spoke at the memorial on Wednesday and spent time with the family ahead of the services. The president lost his son Beau to the same illness that killed Susan.
In addition to Evan, Nicholas and Beau, Susan Bayh is survived by her father, Bob Breshears, and stepmother, Kathy Breshears; his brother, Bob Breshears Jr .; and her sisters, Linda Marcus and Ann Lesh.
“Take care of our sons”
She leaves behind a legacy that will last.
After the memorial on Saturday, Mayor Hogsett announced plans for an outdoor classroom in Holliday Park that will honor his memory. The classroom, which will accommodate up to 50 people, will feature an outdoor foyer and gardens in the center of the park’s nature.
Much of the planning and fundraising, said Evan Bayh, was led by two of his wife’s closest friends: Barbara Glass and Amy Peterson. The two women also participated in the memorial.
Evan Bayh said the classroom was a fitting tribute to his wife, who cared deeply about helping young people get an education.
An Indiana University scholarship is also named after Evan and Susan Bayh.
Perhaps most importantly, her legacy can be found in her two boys, both of whom wore formal military attire at the memorial on Saturday.
Twenty-five years have passed since the two were baptized at Trinity.
“She was so determined that Beau and Nick would realize their God-given potential and always do their best,” said Evan Bayh. “Now there they are, beautiful young men wearing their nation’s uniforms and talking so movingly about their mother. ”
Beau Bayh is an officer in the US Marine Corps. He plans to take a one-year hiatus from Harvard Law School to work on a special project involving the military’s drone programs.
Nicholas Bayh is a U.S. Army Reserve intelligence officer who graduated from Harvard Business School.
Before Susan Bayh’s death, she was able to attend the graduation of her two sons from military officer training.
Evan Bayh shared another story at the memorial on Saturday about the bond between his sons and their mother. While his wife was in the hospital, Beau brought a plush toy that always made him feel better as a child. And Nicholas stayed beside her, stroking her hair like she once stroked his.
“His last request from me,” Evan Bayh told those who gathered on Saturday, doing his best to hold back tears, “is that I take care of our sons.”
When he had finished speaking, he stepped away from the church pulpit, stood in front of his two sons in the front row, and hugged them both.
IndyStar reporters Tim Evans and Amelia Park-Harvey contributed to this story.