WINCHESTER — Growing up, Susan L. Durling wanted to be a grandmother. Now that she is one, she’s focusing on leaving the world a better place for her 11 grandchildren.Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.
It’s not an easy task for the 60-year-old Winchester resident, but one she is embracing, in part by tracing her family’s genealogy and fighting the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
She wants her grandchildren to know their ancestors, and not see their corner of New Hampshire torn up for construction of a pipeline to transport fracked natural gas from northern Pennsylvania to eastern Massachusetts, she said.
She is so passionate about the latter that she moved from Harrisville to Winchester in the past year to live with her daughter, Sarah M. Lounder, and Lounder’s fiance, Rick Horton, who are also fighting the estimated $5.2 billion project being proposed by a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.
And she has been doing all this while adapting to a life dictated by Parkinson’s disease — a diagnosis she received in 2011 that forced her to retire from her job as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Concord Hospital.
It was a job she began later in life, but one she loved.
Durling was born in Concord and grew up in Methuen, Mass., the eldest of five children. She graduated from high school and attended college for a year before marrying “a Navy man” and moving to Nantucket, Mass., where he was stationed for a time. They then moved to San Diego, Calif., and after that spent many years in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, with the exception of two years her husband, Wayne Hartford, was stationed in Philadelphia.
Durling sought to be the best Navy wife she could be, including helping other wives who had just arrived at the base to get settled, and learning how to bake bread, she said.
She also raised three children and worked odd jobs around the base; that included cleaning house to Navy standards.
She later worked in a daycare center.
“Where I landed, I made lemons into lemonade,” Durling said. “I could only do so much with a high school diploma.”
Then, at age 40, she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor’s in nursing, after her family moved to Hillsboro in 1989 to be near Durling’s parents. Two years later, Durling’s husband left the Navy. They divorced in 2005 after 30 years of marriage.
Nursing runs in Durling’s family, but as a teenager and young adult during the feminist movement, she didn’t want to go into the field because that and teaching “was what women did,” she said.
She fought it until she decided there was no reason to.
She began her nursing career in the intensive care unit of New London Hospital before taking a position in the ICU at Concord Hospital, where she stayed for more than a decade.
She loved the pace of the job, being a part of efforts to save people’s lives, operating the machines used to monitor and help in the care of patients, and learning about new technology and techniques to treat patients. The subject areas of anatomy and physiology, and microbiology fascinated her, she said.
In an intensive care unit, the focus is on saving lives, she said. But for those whose lives can’t be saved, the question becomes how do you prepare them and make them comfortable, Durling said.
“There is a sacredness to it,” she said. “It’s like being born; you only go through it once.”
In Concord, she was able to take an interest in that aspect of ICU care, she said.
Meanwhile, something was happening with Durling’s own health. She was slowing down, she was dragging one of her feet, and she felt exhausted after her shifts, she said. She chalked it up to stress and aging.
That was until one night when, while caring for a patient, she had to call another nurse for help because she had trouble opening a vial.
The next morning, Durling went to her supervisor saying she didn’t know what was going on with her, but she knew that she wasn’t safe working. She met with a neurologist and learned her diagnosis.
At first, she said, it “is almost sort of like death.”
She added: “You have plans to do things, then all of a sudden you have to rethink them because there are some things you now can’t do.”
Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive movement disorder affecting about 1 million people nationwide, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. There is no known cause of, or cure for, the illness, which results in neurons in the brain malfunctioning and dying. Symptoms include tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and impaired balance and coordination, loss of smell, sleep or mood disorder, and low blood pressure while standing up, according to the foundation.
Durling said she lost her sense of smell years ago, and the most prominent symptom for her has been the slowing of her movement. She takes medicine daily and plans each day knowing that she might not get everything she wants to done. Simple tasks take longer to complete, she said. Even her clothing and accessories are thought out — no buttons or jewelry.
She relies on a dictation tool a lot when composing text messages and using her computer to research and write.
Moving her fingers across the screen of a smartphone is a struggle, and her movements are methodical and paced as she stands up and sits down. Her speech comes across clear, but slightly labored.
That is one of the symptoms that bothers her most, she said, because she’s an intelligent person, and doesn’t sound as such anymore.
While working in the ICU, she and other nurses used to joke about how the job caused them to need to be in control, she said.
“Now here I am out of control trying to control it,” she said.
Durling said she believes each chapter of her life has prepared her for the next.
Enter the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which is being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that has the power to approve or deny the controversial project.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, the Kinder Morgan subsidiary developing the 419-mile interstate high-pressure pipeline, hopes to have the project approved by the fourth quarter of this year so construction can start early next year.
The pipeline is slated to pass through 18 communities in southern New Hampshire, including the Cheshire County towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Durling said she first found out about the project from Lounder and Horton. As she learned more she became increasingly concerned about the possible effects the pipeline could have on her children and grandchildren, as they live near the proposed route. She said she is also worried about the community and all of its residents.
Specifically, she has focused her research on primary source documents that examine the possible effects a natural gas pipeline and associated infrastructure could have on human health.
“Being a nurse taught me to the look for the facts and where they come from,” she said.
Durling said she had planned to eventually move in with Lounder and Horton to help care for their children; the move just happened a few years sooner than planned because of the pipeline.
Durling’s sister, Cheryl L. Barlow, said that, growing up, Durling was the supportive and protective big sister.
“I remember times of her just being there for me,” Barlow, who lives in Harrisville, said. “Whenever I was frightened or hurt, she was always there to pick me up, dust me off, and say that everything was OK. She’d make sure nothing happened to me.”
Before the pipeline, Durling had no history of activism, and Barlow says she was surprised when Durling first became involved in the anti-pipeline fight.
“She has always been compassionate as a nurse, and a caring person, but her concern and determination to fight this battle with big money and the oil industry, it’s amazing and something she has never done before,” Barlow said. “I think she grabbed onto it like a mother bear at first because it came so close to one of her children’s homes. Then she started asking questions and investigating more and just took it on.”
Leaving a legacy for her grandchildren’s generation is important to Durling simply because “why wouldn’t it be?” she said. They are the future, and the ones to inherit the world left to them, she said.
She has spent years tracing the family’s history so that they can have clues about where they came from, and know who their ancestors were and how they, too, contributed to making the world a better place, she said.
“Honestly, I don’t think of myself as anybody special, but I hope I have made a difference in some people’s lives,” she said.