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February 24, 2017

A father dies weeks after adopting twins, leaving behind a single mother determined not to fail her children

30 years later, there's nothing she can't achieve

Monday, 23 April 1984 – 8:09 p.m.

I sit here not knowing where to start. This morning at 3:26 a.m. the person that I loved more than anyone else in this entire world died. I feel so empty. This can’t be for real. I keep waiting for him to walk in from work, or to call and say he’s running late, but that hasn’t happened.

Susan with Jae and Lindsay being interviewed for the newspaper.

Susan with Jae and Lindsay being interviewed for the newspaper

As I sit here, tears are streaming down my face, and my heart is so empty. How I miss him. I cry and cry and he still doesn’t come home.

I never knew I loved him so much.

Susan’s 26-year-old shaking hands prevent her from typing another word. She forcefully runs her hands through her blonde hair, then abruptly leans down so her elbows hit her desk. The keys on the typewriter are just inches from her face, and she can see her tears drop against the letters. She takes a deep breath, and tries to take everything in.

A few weeks earlier, she and her husband, Ed, adopted a baby boy and girl from Korea, and brought them home to Maryland with the perception that they would be raised by two parents. Now they only had one. She was a single mother of twins with a few credits from LDS Business College.

Susan with Jae and Lindsay at Great Falls, Virginia in 1986.

Susan with Jae and Lindsay at Great Falls, Virginia, in 1986

To many, the situation seemed hopeless. To Susan, she felt more motivated than ever to provide her children the resources and education she never had.

It’s difficult to tell your children to do something that you haven’t done yourself.

“I felt — more than you can ever imagine — a significant responsibility to the birth mother of those kids,” said Susan. “I owed her to raise them right, and I owed God for giving them to me. But it’s difficult to tell your children to do something that you haven’t done yourself, especially something that’s as life-changing as an education.”

For years, one thought motivated Susan through the hardest chapters of her life

Continuing her schooling was always Susan Brionez’s plan, but now she had to be a mother. Heartbroken and distraught from her husband’s death, she wiped her tears away and immediately became an example of hard work and diligence for her twins.

Susan with her twins, Jae and Lindsay, when they were one year old.

Susan with her twins, Jae and Lindsay, when they were one year old

She began to live by the sweat of her brow. When she wasn’t working at her full-time job, she would go around her neighborhood and offer lawn services to her neighbors for some extra cash. She had the example of her mother, Bernice, who worked three waitressing jobs when Susan was a child in order to afford groceries.

Members of Susan’s ward family gave hours of their time to help take care of her children while she scrounged for money, never asking for a dime in return. Her identity became “the twin’s mother,” and she loved it, because she felt like a mom that shared a special bond with her kids, and she was just “along for the ride” with them. Even through the hard times, the knowledge that she was a mother made her feel at peace.

“I couldn’t continue to be angry after my husband died because I had children who depended solely on me for their care. They were the blessing I needed at that time because without them, I think I would’ve been an even more sad and angry person. They made life bearable for me.”

30 years later, Susan’s dream never left her mind

A few years later, Susan married her current husband, Cisco, and had two more children. By this point, the days of crying herself to sleep and worrying about how she would put food on the table were long gone.

Susan with Jae, Lindsay, and her current husband Cisco during a ward Christmas party in 1989.

Susan with Jae, Lindsay, and her current husband Cisco during a ward Christmas party in 1989

She felt happy, but the opportunity to receive an education seemed to be slipping through her fingers. Many of the jobs she wanted required a degree for her to be considered as an applicant. Susan felt glued in her position and restrained from her full potential.

“When I worked at an elementary school, I couldn’t be a teacher’s assistant or even work in the classroom because I had to have an associates degree. I felt stuck.”

In 2005, she happily accepted a job working as an assistant to the undergraduate dean at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She loved her job and did very well at it, but still felt somewhat bittersweet to watch students walk across the stage to receive their diploma each semester while her hands remained empty.

Her dream began to be fulfilled in a way she never thought was possible

While sitting in stake conference one Sunday, her stake president made an announcement about a new college online program called PathwayConnect. Susan listened intently — her heart filled with the Spirit and arms covered in goosebumps. Stake conference couldn’t end early enough for her to rush home, jump on the computer, and apply.

Susan by the Delaware River in 1986.

Susan by the Delaware River in 1986.

After 30 persevering years of double diaper changes, grave-site visits, temple sessions, children’s high school graduations, intermittent college classes, and sporadic job opportunities, Susan had finally found what she was looking for.

PathwayConnect was unlike any other college program she had ever participated in. The instructors were especially patient, supportive, and willing to help. She felt pleased to see that her classmates “had the same dream” as her, and were actively involved in discussions during weekly gatherings.

Susan took her schooling very seriously. She worked full-time at George Mason University and ran a small business from home selling infant car seat canopies and pendant banners. With such an active family life, it would be easy for PathwayConnect assignments to take a backseat. Impressively, they didn’t.

My classmates had the same dream as me.

“At work, I would take my lunch hour, go into a conference room where there’s a computer, and get an hour’s worth of homework done most every day. That saved me an hour each day when I came home at night that I didn’t have to spend on homework. I could be with my husband instead.”

Susan (top left) at her PathwayConnect gathering in 2014.

Susan (top left) at her PathwayConnect gathering in 2014

Susan realizes why she needs to complete her education

No matter what trials came Susan’s way, even without a degree, she persevered through them with vigor and strength. Luckily, PathwayConnect was “the right program at the right time” for her.

Getting my degree will fulfill my personal goal. I CAN achieve it.

Now, she’s pursuing her education online through BYU-Idaho. At 60 years old, she has an immense drive for education that isn’t slowing down. For Susan, earning a degree is not about setting an example or increasing career prospects anymore. It is for her.

“Getting my degree will fulfill my personal goal. I can achieve it. There’s nothing keeping me from doing it. I look forward to the day when my four college-educated children and husband can accompany me to Rexburg as I dance across the stage at graduation, donning my cap and gown.”

Susan is working to receive her degree in university studies and graduate in April 2018, when her family will proudly sit in the audience in the BYU-Idaho Center to watch their mother, wife, and hero fulfill her lifelong and well-deserved dream.

“… peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8

Susan and her husband, Cisco, with their children and grandchildren in 2016.

Susan and her husband, Cisco, with their children and grandchildren in 2016

Finish your college education by enrolling in PathwayConnect at BYU-Pathway Worldwide.

Comments on "A father dies weeks after adopting twins, leaving behind a single mother determined not to fail her children"

Mncedisi Khulekani Mazibuko says:

Splendid!… Wow, a great story. So inspiring. Tt all comes to pass only through faith. Congratulations, Sister Susan.

Millie Jones says:

Wow! What an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing. Congratulation on your achievement. You are an inspiration for those of us who finally get a chance at education in our later years.

Lely Riani Ishar says:

Thank you so much for inspiring and incredibly strong faith in our Lord. I am going to be 82 years old in September and I feel that there is no end to learning to become better and better the way God wants us to be.
God bless you and your wonderful family always abundantly.

Shannon Parker says:

Wonderful to see how she persevered through so many hardships. What a lovely family! I am so glad she fulfilled her dreams. What a wonderful example she has been to so many.

Georgette Johnson-Grant says:


Phodisho Mere says:

I am so impressed by Susan who her husband died and left her with twins whom were not her biological children but she loved them with all her heart. Her perseverance is an anchor to me who is turning 59 years old this coming September and like her I am just fulfilling my heart’s desire of education that I wanted to pursue but because of financial unstable, I could not complete it. My wish is that all the children of our Heavenly Father could know BYU-Pathway and fulfill their dreams.

Ema Faonelua says:

I love your story, I’m almost 60 but finally decided to go back to school and I really enjoy it, I regret not doing it earlier. Thanks for sharing your story Susan.

Friday Esther Akpan says:

I love your story. I am 18. It is so inspiring. This is my last semester in PathwayConnect, and I am not sure I would be taking BYU-Idaho online courses. I have to go to college here in Nigeria. I’m really grateful to Pathway.

Myers Friday Duaryenneh says:

Thanks very much for your story. It helped strenghen me. I am happy and I know what worked for you can also work for others with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Olly Kalonihea says:

…It is 2020 and your story is still so inspiring! How amazing is your story. There is a chance for me! I too am unable to climb up the corporate ladder as I have no degree behind me – so forget work and get into schooling even if my math skills will haunt me! I’m sure it will all be worth it. It is not about my career anymore, but more about taking up the challenge for me and how I can help in the eternities! Thank you so much for sharing! You have a beautiful family xx

Cyril Weekes says:

Thank you very much, if it worked for you, it would work for me also.

Susan Brionez says:

Cyril, you bet it can work for you. Please don’t give up. Some days I am so mad at myself for taking so many years to finish a bachelor’s program. Most other days I am thrilled to be a part of this BYU-I inspired program. Don’t quit!!!

Mery Briones says:

I think the story of Susan was for me. I’m Mery Briones. I thought it was a joke, but I’m considering having a degree in Business Administration through BYU-Idaho after I finish PathwayConnect. I studied 20 years ago, but everything has changed. I want to be update with my career.

Susan Brionez says:

Mery, my story WAS and IS for you. And for every other person out there who knows they can accomplish this goal. Years ago, my husband changed his last name from Briones to Brionez. I’m not sure why. He is from Guadlahara but has lived in the US for many years. I’m counting on you, Mery, to finish your degree. Do not quit!!

Eunice Hoiesi James says:

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Susan. I can just imagine how strong and faithful you are. I just started PathwayConnect last year 2016 and have gone through quite an challenging time. I just got married, am caring for my brother in law, and relying on my husband for finances since I’m not a naturalized citizen yes so I can’t work. There are times I feel like I’m not going to reach my degree from BYU-Idaho Online, but your story motivated me to do more and keep believing in myself and work hard to achieve my degree one day.

Susan Brionez says:

Eunice, I started in college back in 1974 at LDS Business College. Then I quit. Then I started again. And quit. And started. And quit. But when I heard about this program at BYU-I, I knew instantly that this was the program for me right here, right now. You can’t give up. It sounds like you have challenges but keep powering on. And, consider the fact that you can’t work now a blessing because your job won’t interfere with your class time. I really like my job but I know I could get through this program much faster if I was not working. You have the blessing of time; use it wisely. Please learn from my mistake of taking so long to get back on track. You can get through this!!

Shirley Christensen says:

Thank you for writing this! I didn’t realize all that Susan went through, before I met her. Susan befriended me in an online Engish course through BYU-Idaho. I was struggling in the course. Together we collaborated over instructions that sometimes didn’t make sense to either of us. We both came away with A’s and a new friend! I never would have accomplished this without her help and friendship! Feeling blessed to have met this sweet woman ☺

Susan Brionez says:

Shirley, my apologies for taking so long to reply to your lovely comments. ‘Meeting’ you was a blessing that semester as we struggled through iLearn together. If we got through that, we can finish this program and earn our degrees.

Lynne Cropper says:

What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing this! I feel very blessed to know your family.

Susan Brionez says:

Lynne, apologies for taking so long to reply. Thank you for your comments and it’s been a pleasure knowing you. Till we meet again.

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