Our Family Hero
My name is Jason and I am Sue’s baby brother. While ten years may separate our age, we are very close. She asked me to share a few words in honor of my niece, Hannah Rose Duffy. While it would be impossible to express what Hannah means to me in such a short passage, I aim to convey just a tenth of Hannah’s character and strength.
Over the last 25 years of military service, I have served among giants who have accomplished the impossible. While deployed overseas and in the states, I have had the immense privilege of working alongside heroes. The true definition of the word heroes - Soldiers who have been awarded our nation’s highest military decorations, to honorable men and women who wear our uniform proudly every day. There are countless examples I can recall of witnessing true bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice from America’s best. After 25 years of wearing a uniform, I have come to learn that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Though I have friends who wear our nation’s highest awards, the biggest hero who inspires me in my life is a young 14-year-old girl who now only lives in our hearts.
What defines a hero? Who gets to make that distinction? Heroes walk alongside us every day without us ever knowing their names. A name that is synonymous with the competencies and attributes of heroism is Hannah. From her diagnosis of a terminal disease to her last breath, Hannah portrayed strength, determination, character, honor, and compassion. Wisdom beyond her years as demonstrated through the late-night talks she held with Sue in a Philadelphia hospital or at home in Tinton Falls. Hannah understood the immense challenges ahead of her but faced them with courage and strength many of us could not fathom or produce. I am in awe of the feats she accomplished, from scoring the winning soccer goal, to being the best big sister to her brother Robbie and to the promises she made her best friends abide by. Hannah gave her all in every task- she set the standard we should all try and live up to. Her heroism extended to all aspects of her life by treating everyone with dignity and respect and always looking out for those who needed help. Hannah lived every day to the fullest and I miss listening to her amazing laugh.
From my earliest days in the Army, every time I came back to New Jersey, the most beautiful smile and laugh welcomed me home. Memories of Hannah waiting in an airport lobby or her homes in Jersey are ever-present in my mind. Knowing that my favorite food in the world is doughnuts, Hannah always had a box in her hands to give me upon my return. Somehow, we started calling her doughnut head. The name stuck and is now honoring her memory engraved on Hannah’s walkway in a beautiful park that now welcomes families and friends to spend time together making memories. I laugh at the thought of people walking through the park wondering why such a beautiful soul was named “doughnut head.”
I want to share one last point that does not get raised enough: the integrity, honor, and character that Sue has demonstrated since losing her beautiful daughter. When we speak of character and strength, there should be a picture of Sue pasted in the dictionary. With her ability to raise thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research, to sharing her story with thousands through the media and social networks, Sue has served as a role model for other families facing the tough journey of dealing with an ill child. No one would have faulted Sue for turning inward after experiencing such an imaginable loss, but it's not in her DNA. I admire her ability to carry the message forward of the need for research funding to hopefully one day end the losses that so many families are suffering with. Through Sue’s lead in raising awareness for cancer research and the support her husband John provides daily, they are making a difference in many lives. I am proud to be your brother. You are one of my heroes!
In closing, on 26 September 2013, heaven gained an angel. Demonstrated by the huge outpouring of support from the community to the hundreds of people who came to her funeral, everyone knew that a special and once-in-a-lifetime person had departed. In many of Sue’s writings, articles, and letters, Hannah expressed a fear that she would be forgotten. I promise you doughnut head—memories of your laugh, your smile, your determination, and wisdom beyond your years ensure that you are alive in many hearts. You are not forgotten; you never will be. The impact you had in your short 14 years is unforgettable. We miss you. We are lucky we had the chance to be a part of your life. I love you.