A Long Island woman has turned a tremendous family tragedy into a mission of giving to others.
“Susan’s Closet” was born of grief and pain. Josephine Detz’s daughter, Susan, was pregnant 10 years ago with her second child. The baby’s father insisted Susan have an abortion. She refused and was shot and killed by the child’s father.
Now, Josephine, of Franklin Square, N.Y., has devoted herself to collecting and distributing maternity and baby items to expectant moms in need, in memory of her daughter and grandson.
“Susan loved children; she loved her daughter (who was 9 at the time of the murders), and she just loved being a mom. She wouldn’t consider abortion. When she was taken from us, I just went into a state of deep shock and depression. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t eat. It was shock, and I was like that, nearly comatose, for several years. It was just such intense pain, to have our daughter and our little unborn grandson taken from us.”
The murderer was sent to prison for 35 years.
“We tried to have him brought up on two charges, but New York state would not acknowledge the humanity of my unborn grandson, so he was convicted of just one murder charge, when, obviously, he murdered both of them,” Josephine recalled.
Josephine and her husband have raised Susan’s older daughter, Taylor, now 19, ever since, along with their own older daughter, Deborah. They named their unborn grandson Gerard, after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard Majella — whose feast day is Oct. 16 — and buried him with his mom.
Gradually, Josephine started to think there must be a way to bring meaning to her daughter’s and grandson’s lives. “We’d been to several 9/11 fundraisers, and that got me thinking. I said to my family, ‘We should think of a way of honoring Susan and the baby, a way to help others and memorialize them.’ Susan was three months pregnant, and, naturally, we would’ve had a baby shower for her, so I thought: ‘A baby shower; that’s it — we’ll have a baby shower and donate the gifts to moms in need.’”
So five years ago, on the fifth anniversary of their tremendous loss, Josephine and her family invited friends and parishoners of their church, St. Catherine of Sienna in Franklin Square, to bring new baby gifts for moms in unplanned pregnancies to her home.
She made pink and blue cupcakes, along with Susan’s favorite foods, including candy from Susan’s favorite chocolate molds, and displayed photos of her daughter along with ultrasound photos of Gerard on the dining room table.
Everyone who came brought a gift: diapers, maternity clothes, baby clothes, crib sheets, blankets, and even handmade hats and sweaters.
Everything was delivered to a local pro-life crisis-pregnancy center, homeless shelter or maternity ward of a hospital.
Josephine sends handwritten thank-you notes to every person who contributes.
“That very first shower, a young pregnant girl came to my door. I saw her walking up the path, crying, and I said, ‘Please, come in!’ She told me she’d read the story about my daughter in the parish bulletin and that it really touched her. Apparently, she was in an unplanned pregnancy, too. She said she couldn’t stay but just wanted to drop off some baby things. That was wonderful; that was really great.”
After the first few baby showers, word got out about Josephine helping pregnant women and young children. “I started getting calls throughout the year. ‘I have a car seat; do you know someone who could use it?’ ‘We have a crib and a stroller: Can we give it to you?’ So instead of just taking new things at the baby shower once a year, I started taking gently-used things year-round. It just grew, from a regular pile of stuff in my living room to completely taking over our two-car garage! Whatever people offer, if it’s in usable condition — high chairs, bassinets, clothes, toys — I take it and give it out to where it’s needed most. I started calling it ‘Susan's Closet.’”
One recent recipient was a grandmother who was about to get her two granddaughters out of foster care to take over raising them. “She had nothing for them. I put the word out, and the response was overwhelming! Coats, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, car seats, toys. She was floored and very grateful.”
One of the youngest donors is Hannah Penofsky, who saw a Susan’s Closet announcement in her church bulletin. For her 10th birthday, Hannah received several gift cards. “She called and told me she’d gone and spent her gift cards on toys and wanted to donate them. Isn’t that amazing for a 10-year-old? I was so happy to meet her when she brought over these big bags of toys.”
Recipients of van loads of maternity and children’s things include The Life Center of Long Island (AAAPregnancyOptions.com), the INN (a homeless shelter) and St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital (for terminally ill children).
This past February, I attended the 10th anniversary shower, along with more than 150 people. The living room, dining room and kitchen were all overflowing with beautifully wrapped gifts. Everyone was amazed at the outpouring of love of this family for Susan and Gerard and at how much good has come from such horror.
Josephine, daughter Deborah, son Anthony and granddaughter Taylor all wore “Susan’s Closet” t-shirts and gave out St. Gerard prayer cards. Josephine thanked everyone for coming and shared:
“Susan’s Closet was created in memory of my daughter, Susan Grace. Susan was 26 years old and three-months pregnant when her life was cut short by the hands of another. To give meaning to the decision made by Susan to keep her baby and not terminate her pregnancy, which cost her her life and the life of her unborn son, I have in her name decided to help as many children and their parents by reaching out and accepting donations of clothing and other items of necessity for those in need. On a daily basis, Susan’s Closet receives items that are distributed within 24 hours to women’s shelters, hospitals and soup kitchens. There is an unending need here on Long Island, and I want to help wherever and whenever I can.
“Susan’s story has touched the lives of so many people — some who knew her and some who never met her — and because of her life, I am able to help others and let them know that someone does care about them. Keeping the shelves filled at Susan’s Closet has become my mission and has helped me greatly. And Susan has been alongside me, helping me every step of the way.”
Find the group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/search/str/susan's%20closet/keywords_top