Steven Sugg says that as his family gathered recently for the funeral of his wife, Darlene, he couldn't help but think that the strength of their 17-year-old daughter, Megan, had carried the family through its difficult time.
"Megan has kept it together for us," he said.
Darlene Sugg, 47, had battled cancer for years, but she wanted to see her daughter, a senior at Glen Burnie High School, graduate before she died. That seemed increasingly unlikely, though, as her health worsened and commencement was still a month away.
Her daughter's persistence, and help from Anne Arundel County school officials, gave Darlene Sugg her dying wish. The family held an impromptu graduation ceremony May 8 at the family's home, complete with a white cap and gown for Megan and a speech by Glen Burnie High School Principal Vickie Plitt.
Darlene Sugg died two days later.
"When we knew my mom was going downhill very fast, my dad asked me if there's any way we could get out to do a graduation, because my mom's not going to make it," said Megan Sugg, who will also participate in the school's official graduation June 10.
She consulted the school's guidance counselor, and the ceremony was held a few days later. Megan Sugg said she didn't have time to ponder whether she was ready for the emotions that it would bring.
"It was happening so fast, I was more worried about my mom than the graduation," she said.
In addition to Plitt, Glen Burnie Assistant Principal Clayton Culp and school counselor Kristin Canevazzi attended the bedside ceremony.
After initial news of the bedside graduation was reported in the The Capital newspaper and elsewhere, the family received condolences from people across the country and the world. Plitt said the school has staged similar ceremonies for students battling life-threatening diseases, but she could not recall such a ceremony conducted for the parent of a student.
"This is what we do. Megan is one of our students," Plitt said. "We had a family in need, and we pulled things together to help a family dealing with something I can't even imagine myself.
"She's an incredible young lady, and for a student to finish her senior year while her mother is terminally ill is incredible," Plitt said of Megan. "She's really the hero in all this."
Steven Sugg agreed that his daughter "has been a rock" throughout his wife's illness and death.
"[Megan] took over roles her mother would usually take, making sure the house was clean, making sure there's nothing her mom would worry about," he said. "Emotionally, spiritually, she's been well-grounded throughout the whole ordeal."
Darlene Sugg was born in Baltimore and earned a business degree at Anne Arundel Community College. She worked for the National Security Agency and became an advocate of cancer screening.
"She was very selfless; she was always worrying about other people," her daughter said. "We would always go shopping; she loved nightlife, dancing. She liked to taste every kind of food."
Steven Sugg, a retired Maryland State Police trooper who now works for the Annapolis Police Department, said he and Darlene were middle school sweethearts who met during an eighth-grade gym class.
"We were playing kickball. I held up my hand, and I said, 'Can someone hold my keys?' I looked over … and my keys were out of my hand. I said, 'Who took my keys?' " he recalled. "Darlene came up to me and said, 'I took them. And I'll be with you for the rest of your life.'
"That stuck with me, her personality, her love for life, her kind heart for people," he said. "That's how it's always been, throughout the years."
Darlene Sugg's cancer was diagnosed in 2010, her family said. She went into remission, but the disease returned and spread, and she was moved to home hospice in April.
"She'd been battling this for four years. She's had several surgeries," said David D'Aurora, her brother. "The last couple of days, her health really deteriorated."
Before his wife passed away, Steven Sugg had assured her that he and their children — Megan and a son, Steven Andrew Sugg — would be fine.
"The hurdles she wanted to overcome was to see Megan go to the prom and see Megan graduate," he said. "That was most important right now in her life, to be there for that. Once those two things were fulfilled, she was ready to go in peace."
In addition to her husband, daughter, son and brother, Darlene Sugg is survived by a grandson, Steven "Drew" Sugg Jr.; her mother, Nancy D'Aurora; and sisters, Diane D'Aurora-Schreiber and Donna D'Aurora-Morris. She was preceded in death by her father, Victor D'Aurora.