Monday, August 20, 2012


This week my friend Gloria Hsu Pirotte is going to meet her Maker on her 36th birthday.  She is a wife and mother of 2 little girls (ages 3 and 6 months), and she celebrated her 6th wedding anniversary this year. She has suffered through months of a deadly lung disease that causes progressive scarring of lung tissue and inhibits her from getting enough oxygen to breathe, and the doctors have now said that there is nothing else they can do for her.  It just doesn't seem possible that this energetic, outgoing college girl that I know and love is dying from having trouble breathing, sedated on a hospital bed with an oxygen tank and kidney dialysis.  I can't wrap my head around it.  

Gloria was a force to be reckoned with.  I first met her at Northwestern University when my friends and I were leading a Bible Study with Campus Crusade, now called Cru.  I was just learning to play the guitar, so I brought it to the first meeting to play a few praise songs with the group.  Gloria sang beautifully along with the rest of the girls.  Afterwards, she said to me, "Oh, by the way, I play the guitar too, so if you want, I could lead some songs next time."  I gladly passed her my guitar, and guess what?  She was a rock star!!  The girl plays like John Mayer, no kidding.  I couldn't believe how ridiculous I must have looked picking through a few bar chords while she was able to shred the strings!  But Gloria never made a big deal out of her incredible talent; she just did it for the sheer joy of playing and using her gifts for worship.  (Gloria did not like drawing attention to herself.  Even when she was accepted to Harvard for graduate school, she would just tell people that she was going to a school "near Boston."  She never wanted people to feel that she was inaccessible, even though she was incredibly intelligent and talented.)

Gloria and I soon became very close friends.  We had lunch in the cafeteria all the time, she came over to my dorm room to "study," and we spent hours upon hours in what we called "Tammy Time."  We talked about our past, our hurts, our problems, our dreams, our joys.  She wanted to be Amy Grant and I wanted to be Linda Hamilton.  We both drooled over Brad Pitt.  Her last name was Hsu and mine was Suh so we would argue about whose was incorrectly spelled.  We began signing our names as Hsu(h) or Suh(su).  We attended Cru meetings together and would hang out talking by the rocks on Lake Michigan, or at the Norris Student Center, where it seemed Gloria knew everyone.  I mean, everyone!
Gloria was such a people person that she couldn't do anything without people, especially study.  I once dared her to spend 2 hours in a room alone to see if she would actually get some studying done.  We went to the McCormick Engineering building and found 2 empty classrooms.  I left her in one, and I went to the other.  I loved studying in peace and quiet, so after the 2 hours, feeling satisfied with some work done, I packed up my stuff and went to find her.  When I opened the door, I burst out laughing.  She had sprawled out everything on the table and had her head on the desk, snoring.  She had barely read 2 pages in her Biology text but had done a lot of doodling in her notebook, especially making those G's with a smile that she loved to sign her name with!
Gloria was always smiling and laughing.  I can still hear her laugh.  She would make this face right before she laughed, where her eyes twitched, her nostrils flared, and her cheeks looked like they were about to burst.  Anytime she made that face, it was infectious!  And she was always jumping around too- never just walking.  She had so much energy that she couldn't just take a few steps; she was practically galloping to class at times.
Gloria and I didn't see eye-to-eye on one thing; clothing.  Even though I was highly unattractive in my college days (chunky, terrible clothes, bad skin, no makeup), I still tried to dress up sometimes and be girly.  Glo?  NO way would you catch her in a skirt.  She was always in a hat, t-shirt, and jeans.  Her favorite outfit was her overalls; she constantly tried to convince me to get a pair and I was appalled, as if it would ruin the purity of my baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts.  I do remember that I was leaving my dorm one Sunday afternoon and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Gloria walking home in a skirt and heels!  She didn't see me as she was looking for her keys to enter the building, so I quickly ran up to her and said, "And just WHERE do you think you're going in that skirt?"  She literally let out a shriek and slammed the door on me!!  I called her room from the dorm phone 20 times until she finally picked up and confessed that yes, she sometimes gets dressed up for church when she plays the piano there!  I told her that now that I'd seen her in a skirt, she MUST wear a dress on her wedding day.  She said, "No way, I'll be the first to wear a cool set of Bridal overalls!!"  (Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see her in a beautiful dress on her wedding day, but I have to admit I was curious to see if those overalls would show up. . .)
One of the things we liked to do most was sing/play worship music.  We both played on the worship team for Cru (Glo on guitar, I was on keys or violin), but we could also just sit in a room listening to music and be worshipping together- loudly in our hearts.  The soundtrack of that time was lots of Jars of Clay, Rich Mullins, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and songs from the Vineyard church.  One year we worked together on the Concert of Prayer at NU, where all the different campus ministries unite for an evening of worship music and prayer.  I still remember us picking out the songs together, rehearsing, hauling all the equipment across campus, exhausting ourselves in the night of worship, and hanging out afterwards, having the time of our lives.  
Gloria was serious about God.  She loved the Word and it bothered her when she wasn't centered around it.  Her sin bothered her too; she asked me to point out to her when she wasn't right with God, and I remember having some tough conversations where we both spoke truth into each other's lives.  It was really an iron-sharpening-iron relationship, and it is a rare gift to have someone like that in life.
Gloria and I slowly grew apart after I got married.  I moved off campus and started my student teaching, and we didn't see each other like we used to.  I was only 21, and I didn't know how to manage my relationships well.  I thought that I was supposed to spend my time developing new friendships as a couple with my husband, and I didn't know how to keep the girlfriends that I had made on my own.  I do regret that time where I let my friendships fade, especially with Gloria.  She had such a profound impact on me as a person, and when I think back to my college days, they are filled with memories of her.  I am thankful that I knew her for that slice of time in my life, and I consider it a privilege that we were so close during those years.  
So with much love and gratitude, I say good-bye to a dear friend who taught me to love deeply, live humbly, and laugh loudly.  She is one-of-a-kind, and I know that her impact on people is more far-reaching than we can even grasp.  This girl lived her life to the fullest, with the glory of God at the forefront of her heart and soul.  She embodies "Soli Deo Gloria"- glory to God alone!  I love you Gloria, and I look forward to the day I will see you again!


Ann Boyd said...

Thanks for these great words, Tammy. I didn't know Gloria well at NU, but I could tell even from afar that she was serious about following Jesus. I've been so shocked and saddened, following the progress of her health. I look forward to knowing her better one day in heaven.

Chad said...

I didn't know Gloria very well in college, but I knew her just enough to know what a fun, wonderful person she was. I'll be praying for a miracle but also for peace for her family. I celebrate the hope we all have but it's always sad whenever the world loses such a great person at a young age.

Tammy Meinershagen said...

Gloria passed away 8/21/12, just a few days shy of her 36th birthday. She was the kind of person I would have expected would pass away from skydiving or something like that- not from having trouble breathing. I am grateful that she is probably the happiest she's ever been now, but also deeply saddened for the 2 daughters and her loving husband she leaves behind. Please keep Chad, Kelissa, and Karinna in your prayers.

SpringSnoopy (Julie) said...

Oh Tammy. What an accurate, fun, and absolutely lovely tribute to Glo. I love you, too, Tam.

Noel Luis said...

Ms. Hsu was my freshman english teacher and guitar instructor at Walter Payton College Prep. She was such a gift. I never knew her the way you did, and so hearing these beautiful words from you brings me so much emotion. Can I please share this post with a facebook group?

Alicia said...

What a great tribute, Tammy. The humility, the smile, and the overalls(!) of Gloria have been on my mind all day. What a vibrant one! Blessings to you too during this time.

PS I don't have any "bad skin, baggy clothes" memories of you, my dear! I have always seen you as beautiful, inside and out.

Tammy Meinershagen said...

Noel, thank you for your note. What a neat thing for me to hear from someone who knew Gloria in a totally different time of her life! You are blessed to have had her as a teacher. Please feel free to share this post with anyone you would like! Writing it helped me to process through my grief, so I would love if it helps others as well. Julie, I love you too!! Alicia, you are much too sweet! Now that everyone has been posting old photos from college to FB, I am actually amazed that anyone chose to be friend much less want to marry me!! :)