I am so very sad to have to write this blog, but I feel I must. It is the only way to put this all to rest. I know she would want something like this written about her, especially since she could not share much herself in her final days.
A friend, former writing group mentor, traveling storyteller and fellow writer Colleen Sutherland passed away Saturday, Oct. 4. Over the last year and a half, she wrote blog posts to update loved ones about her condition and recovery period in partial sentences with missing letters and poor grammar. Definitely out of the ordinary for her! I remember wondering how she was dealing with this change. I couldn’t imagine what that must have been like.
About three years ago, I joined a writing group at Copper Rock Cafe with three others. Colleen was one of them. She often shared fascinating stories from her past, including weddings in Chicago the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. She would later write about it as a foreshadowing to her first divorce, as only a brilliant writer would do.
But then there were stories about Gary. They shared a love of nature and travel. Colleen hated the cold and snowy winters, and the two of them would often travel to warmer places so she could find inspiration to write again. When Colleen was depressed in the winter, he was there trying to cheer her up or load her with Vitamin D. When she decided she wanted a puppy after her operation, Gary went and bought her a puppy. She was a woman who believed in love but not in marriage. She was happy with Gary as her lifelong partner. Overtime, this has led me to believe that Colleen may have even been ahead of her time. This is a good indication that her stories may be more powerful years from now.
Over the last few years, Colleen and Wade, another writer from our writing group, started Black Coffee Fiction. It was a blog of short stories they published once a week. After about a year of this, they self-published two books! The second contained 33% more caffeine, of course. Colleen’s stories were humorous, typically revolving around finding love at the most inopportune times and depressing Christmas stories. Her work was bold and spotlighted many courageous women. She hated the 1950s culture and lived for the independence and freedom of women in today’s world.
Colleen gave me a new perspective on many things. One moment I will never forget is when we were discussing writing and completing our stories to send for publication. I mentioned how much I struggled finishing anything. How I have eight (or so) unfinished novels and about double that of short stories. She said to me,
“Life is too short to leave your stories unfinished.” She told me my stories should be told, so I should tell them. She also said I needed to work hard to finish them before it was too late to try publishing them.
“I’m nearly 70,” she said. “So I figure I have only a few years left to crank out as many stories as I can.” I didn’t know she would be so right about this. She may have been in her late 60s, but Colleen had the spirit and energy of a 20 year old.
Life’s too short.
I remember realizing how right she was. It was because of her words that day that I even began sending out my first story for publication, and I’m not giving up on it. Especially now that it’s Colleen’s words that are all I have left of her. If I had been able to say goodbye, I would have told her:
Thank you for sharing all your stories with the world, and I’m so happy I met you. Thank you for inspiring me to get published. Even if I don’t, at least I know you had my back. Your words will live on forever!
Life is too damn short.
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Rest in peace, my dear friend. At least we will always have Toni Morrison and Black Coffee Fiction.