A Belated Halloween Tribute

The following story was intended to be posted this past Halloween. Sometimes matters of the heart cannot be rushed.

I have loved Halloween ever since I was a little girl. It might have been about the candy. It could have been because it was the one day of the year my mother allowed us to have doughnuts in addition to the pounds of sugary treats we had collected from our neighborhood. It might have been about getting to stay up past my bed time on a school night. It could have been because I was of a generation of children who actually got to trick or treat in the traditional, customary manner most kids nowadays will, sadly, never experience. It might have been about the creative costumes my mom handmade for us each year.

A slightly chubby me at 3 1/2 years as Little Red Riding Hood!

A slightly chubby me at 4 years as Little Red Riding Hood!

It could have been because my family’s famous graveyard decorations in our yard with clever sayings such as Here Lies Polly the Great Mathematician – Now She’s “Polygon” were featured on the front page of the local newspaper every Halloween. It might have been about my parents entertaining us with Halloween stories, always with a theatrical flare, so that they were fun & never scary. It could have been because my dad could do a spot-on, spooky “Phantom of the Opera laugh” that made my siblings & me squeal with spine-tingling delight. It might have been about the friends I have had from childhood into adulthood with birthdays near Halloween that, more or less, guaranteed a costume party celebration each year. It was all these terrifically entertaining things for certain, & yet at the same time, I was keenly aware of something else that cast a cloud of a heavier nature over our typical Halloween festivities. There was something I connected with that time of year as the days became longer, darker, & gloomier.  Perhaps it was the ambience created by Halloween preparations that heightened the moody, haunting atmosphere with which I seemed to identify. Or maybe it was because I was a very quiet, sensitive child who was incredibly observant of the world. Perhaps it was because of my strong, Catholic upbringing. No matter the reason, I knew at a very young age there were elements of life that could be rather obscure & mysteriously unsettling. Halloween represented them somehow, & without actually having learned the ancient Celtic & Christian traditions & beliefs associated with the holiday just yet to make sense of it all, I found myself contemplating it nonetheless, especially when Halloween rolled around each year; a practice that simply became a part of me & carried over into my adulthood. This year, more than any of the others, is highly significant in that respect. This year, fall is just a bit darker & Halloween is tinged with a sadness & ambiguity that I always knew was there as a child but couldn’t fully understand. This year, the heavy cloud looming over Halloween has come full circle into my consciousness. This year, I have lost a close & dear friend, without whom, the world will never be the same. Never was there a person who better embodied both the magical light & dark mysteries of Halloween that I have spent a lifetime contemplating. Never was there a more beautiful spirit & sweeter soul than my friend, Colleen.

Twenty-five years ago, a community theater group in the small town where I taught advertised auditions for their upcoming play, Blythe Spirit, a 1950’s farce by Noel Coward about a writer who wants to publish a piece on psychics, so he hosts a séance & accidentally conjures up the ghost of his deceased, first wife! I had been very active in theater my entire childhood, & had been particularly successful at it in college as well. When I graduated from the latter, my beloved mentor & professor, Hal (you can read about him in my post from last Halloween – A Message from Lizzie), encouraged me to participate in community & local theater groups, so I jumped at the chance to hopefully partake once again in this very enjoyable past time. In doing so, that is how I met Colleen. I had seen her briefly at one of the December audition sessions, but after that I honestly didn’t know who had been cast in all the roles, other than my own, until we all met for the first rehearsal & reading of the script. That would take place at the school’s auditorium in the New Year, after the holiday break. The night of the initial cast gathering, I simply remained at school working, had a light dinner in the teacher’s room, then headed to the library to hunt for some  appropriate reading for a  student of mine until it was time for rehearsal. I was deep into the children’s stacks when I saw a glimmer of blonde hair out of the corner of my eye. Thinking I had been alone save for the janitor, I stood up & there was Colleen who I recognized from auditions. She walked right over & I pretty much expected her to introduce herself, but instead she looked right at me & said, “How many lines do you have?” I took a step back & leaned on the book shelf, uncertain of how to respond to one of the oddest questions I’d ever been asked by a fellow thespian. “Uhhh….I have absolutely no idea,” I finally answered, with a hint of a chuckle. “Oh,” she replied, “well, I have ___,” & rattled off some random number. “You honestly counted all your lines?” I asked. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I said & then we both started laughing.  At that point, we finally introduced ourselves to each other & I learned she would be playing Ruth, the second wife. I told her I had been cast as Elvira (pronounced “Ell-veer-ahh”), the first wife, & was very excited to be playing a ghost. After some brief chit chat in the library, we decided to head over to the auditorium for the rehearsal. En route, I couldn’t resist asking her, “Seriously, why would you count all your lines?” to which she responded with a shrug of her shoulders, “I don’t know, I was just curious.” With twenty-five years of  hindsight, I now know what I was witnessing in those moments was “classic Colleen.” Colleen was beyond curious about everything & also very direct, always asking & saying what was on her mind with an uncanny ability to overlook what anyone else thought of it. She had a thirst for knowledge & that craved curiosity lead her down an array of fascinating paths her entire life; a number of which I was fortunate enough to be privy to, I might add. The story of how we met & became friends we often retold & joked about throughout the years of our friendship & no matter how strange it had seemed at the time, I wouldn’t change a second of it for the world.

For the next three winter months, Colleen & I spent many a night together in the chilly school auditorium rehearsing for our play & getting to know one another quite well given the scenario. It’s not every day you have the unique perspective of regularly observing someone interacting with you face to face, while also doing so from the vantage point of a stage where everything is significantly accentuated. Voice qualities, physical attributes, personality, emotions, thought processes; all these details & more are so intrinsic to your location & circumstances that they become blurred between reality & something more esoteric, as if viewing a stunning Monet painting in a museum. In that respect, Colleen was, to me, a “work of art” – brilliant with complicated & intricate details behind a beautiful presentation. She was a tiny, wisp of a young woman; very thin with creamy white skin, blue eyes & long, blonde hair. Incredibly soft & pretty. Her gentle voice always seemed to have a question in it, reflective of her inquisitive nature. While she came across as a very serious & deep person, she had a hearty laugh & impish, playfulness about her. There was an air of elegant “light” in her manner, yet also something mysterious that drew you in, wanting to know more.  Her slight stature seemed almost fragile in a way, but at the same time she carried herself with great strength. She was a wonder! In our free moments when not on stage, we talked constantly in hushed tones in the back of the auditorium, sharing bits & pieces about our personal lives, sometimes joking & giggling, running lines from various scenes, having in depth conversations about our characters’ motivation & actions, all the while learning about each other & subsequently developing a close friendship. One unusually cold night, I noticed that Colleen was very pale & her lips appeared almost blue. Concerned, I asked her if she was alright & offered her my coat to put around her shoulders. She assured me she was fine but I questioned her again, telling her that her lips were, indeed, turning blue. That is when she told me about her condition. Colleen had been born with a rare, congenital heart defect. Doctors had told her parents she, more than likely, would not survive past the age of four. When she was four, however, she had extensive surgery & doctors then estimated she would live to about eighteen years, yet here she was in her twenties, continuing to live a full life. She had had numerous heart surgeries since, & would probably need more down the road. All this Colleen told to me in a such a matter-of-fact way, but I was floored! I had no idea, although now her thin & pale features seemed to make more sense. Again she assured me she was okay, that her lips often turned blue, & teased that when it came time for her character, Ruth, to become a ghost, she would need little make-up. I smiled faintly, amazed my friend could make light of her serious situation. While I was troubled & worried learning of her condition, I realized that this must be how Colleen managed to cope with such an imposing & grave disease. This must be the fortitude I had noticed behind her delicate & tenuous disposition. How could anyone not admire her for such courage & determination? I certainly did, that was for sure!

As the saying goes, “the play went on.” Colleen & I both enjoyed the final weeks leading up to our performances, being fitted for costumes, working out the kinks in our haunting stage antics, & having the make-up crew try different techniques on our faces to achieve the perfect, ghostly appearance under the glare of the theater’s hot lights. While we both had tried out merely for the thrill & “high” of being in a play again, I don’t think either of us anticipated having such fun or finding friendship along the way. In all honestly, I have to say it wasn’t the best play either of us had been in, but for me, it will always be memorable because it was how I came to meet Colleen.

Two ghosts....two friends!

Two ghosts….two friends!

The run of performances were met with good reviews, mostly because a community play was about the biggest event this small town’s residents had to look forward to each winter. I told Colleen at the time, “Well, we were a hit on off, off, off, off, off Broadway!” & that made us laugh. We had a blast at the cast party, following our final performance, & we vowed to each other that we would stay in touch & continue our friendship now that the show was over. That we did.

Coincidentally, I just so happened to have an apartment in the same town where  Colleen grew up, & later on in my single years, I actually lived right around the corner from her childhood home. Colleen often stopped in a few times a week to visit her parents, so if she was in the area, she sometimes would pay me a surprise visit as well & that is how our friendship initially continued. After that, we started getting together to watch movies at night, we’d play endlessly with my adorable, new kitten she had helped me to find at the Humane Society, or we would have lunch & dinner get-togethers with plenty of conversation.

One of Colleen's early visits with me & my new kitty.

One of Colleen’s early visits with me & my new kitty.

Colleen worked as a paralegal but was fascinated by my job with Deaf children &, for a brief time, contemplated studying sign language. She picked my brain about my work many a time. Sometimes we would spend hours talking or stay up to all hours analyzing the films we watched, rewinding the VCR to see specific scenes over & over again. Being big theater buffs, we discussed film & acting almost every chance we had. When the weather was nice, I often walked over to the church in town on Sunday mornings for mass. I had stopped going to church regularly a while ago, but I particularly liked this church’s choir & found it a peaceful experience to sit in a back pew & take in the spiritual atmosphere I felt there. One Sunday as I entered the church & was headed to my favorite spot to sit, an arm suddenly came out of a pew & pulled me in! It was Colleen, there with her dad who sometimes served as a church usher. I discovered Colleen often drove down to attend church with him, so that Sunday & many afterwards, we would sit together quietly during mass & do what I would call our “soul searching.” I think we were both looking for something meaningful in that hour each Sunday & that search kept us coming back. It was nice to have her companionship not only in that specific experience, but in the journey we seemed to share towards understanding ourselves & the bigger picture. Besides church, we chatted on the phone frequently & she had me up to her house often where I got to spend time with her horses & dogs in the countryside. I was astonished Colleen had the physical stamina to take care of horses but I soon learned that if she had an interest in or desire for something, she was determined to see it through to fruition. She had loved horses & animals since she was a child  so when she grew up, she adamantly found a way to have them in her life. Colleen had two adorable Shelties, a striking Morgan stallion, & an Appaloosa mare. I had great admiration for horses, but always been a little afraid of them, having been thrown from one as a child. Colleen insisted they were gentle & as intelligent as dogs. She often devised ways to get me to interact with her stallion, Neb, mostly because she knew I was terrified of him. For example, once we were outside & she asked me to move a fence line out of her way, knowing I’d have to come face to face with this amazing creature who was standing exactly where she wanted me to move it. “Just tell him to move & he will,” she hollered from a distance. I glanced hesitantly up, up, & up into the large eyes of the massive beast starring back at me & gently whispered, “Go over there,” but he only continued to stare at me with an intensity that made my hair stand on end. “Tell him to get out of the way, like he’s a dog!” she urged me.  I swear my knees knocked & my voice shook as I tried to follow her instruction time & time again. Eventually he snorted & moved very slowly away, his eyes still locked on me, & I’m certain that if he could have, he would have rolled those eyes & exclaimed, “What a dumb human!” Colleen patted me on the back & said, “See? That wasn’t so bad!”

Colleen's Neb.

Colleen’s Neb.

My favorite memory of Colleen’s horses was when her mare gave birth to a foal. She had excitedly called me at the most ridiculous hour of the morning, telling me to hurry up & get to her house because the foal was being born. I hopped in my car & drove right over, literally by the dawn’s early light. I had missed the actual birthing part (maybe that was a good thing?), but arrived just in time to see her leading the most precious little foal into a small, fenced-in area of the yard. He was gorgeous!! His fur was the color of mink except for a tiny spot of white, & his wobbly legs took him around & around the pen exploring his new world for the very first time. It was breathtaking to watch! He came over to me a few times & smelled my hands & hair with sweet innocence. Colleen was thrilled beyond compare & she beamed with pride. I had never seen a newborn horse before & was quite taken with this little beauty. We both stood there & watched him silently for a very long time, simply captivated by arrival of this magnificent animal. I will always remember that morning like it was yesterday.

During our continued friendship, Colleen rarely mentioned her heart condition; she simply just lived her life very fully & didn’t let it deter her from anything she might want to do. On very rare occasions, she would sometimes mention that she had been to the hospital during the night. She would tell me these things in the same, matter-of fact manner as she did when I first met her & she had told me about her heart defect, only this time, I would freak out. “I am ten minutes from the hospital, why didn’t you call me? I would have come & stayed with you!” I would implore. “Oh, it was nothing,” she’d reply, “I’m fine now,” she’d placate. That was just how she was about it. Only once did she ever tell me something negative…..she told me that she hated when she needed to have defibrillation. I could see the fear in her eyes & hear it in her voice as she described it for me & I wished I could heal her permanently with a magic wand. Colleen never, ever complained about her illness. She didn’t feel sorry for herself & she clearly did not want special treatment. If ever there was someone who personified the motto, “live each day as if it is your last,” it was Colleen. She had no choice in the matter, yet she appeared to do it effortlessly. If only everyone could be that brave.

Eventually I started introducing Colleen to some friends from my teaching world & also a few college pals. I would invite her along on some of our outings & she fit right in as if she had known them all along. That was just Colleen’s personality. She was a real people person & so friendly; she could always find something to talk about with just about anyone! Colleen had made me aware she was going through a difficult transition in her personal life at that time, so it became important to me to include her in many of my activities because I worried about her & didn’t want her to be alone. We had talked about her situation numerous times & I told her I would support her no matter what the outcome. Although Colleen had her family & other friends, she really leaned on me during this particular time in her life but that was okay with me & she told me often how much she appreciated my friendship. I think I can say I am the one friend of Colleen’s who was in the rare position of being with her & witnessing the trifecta of changes she went through during that decade. If you are truly someone’s friend, you don’t really think about those things when they are happening. It is only now, some twenty-five years later as I ponder & write about these memories with a heavy heart, that I realize how significant they were & always will be. Sometimes events take place in our lives in which the stars align so perfectly, yet you have no idea at the time that they, one day, will collectively serve a bigger & better purpose.

In due time, Colleen made a fresh start for herself. It was a good, healthy choice for her & she really blossomed during that time. At first it was as if she just dipped in a toe & hesitantly got her feet wet, but eventually she jumped right in with a splash & enjoyed the new found waters! While she explored a variety of different lines of work during that time, she always returned to her greatest interest – acting. It was a theme that would later have a tremendous impact on one of her biggest endeavors & accomplishments in her final years. We both remained very active in various community theater projects & always supported one another’s activities & performances. We continued to dine out regularly with my group of college & work friends, took “spur of the moment” day trips to places like Parc Safari, celebrated Halloween by visiting the nearby jack ‘o lantern lightings each year, hosted small dinner parties & coffee gatherings, & I think it’s safe to say we did our share of dancing & enjoying the single life in the nearby college town where we lived. It was good to see Colleen reveling & thriving in her newly chosen path. I was particularly pleased that some of my friends soon considered her to be among their friends as well, & as a result, I will always believe a bit of magic resulted from that having been the case.

When I was in college, I shared a dorm suite with a girl named Ann for a number of years. For some time, Ann had been dating a young man who had already graduated & was working in our college town where he had grown up.  In much the same way Colleen became friends with my friends in my adult life, I had become friends with Ann’s boyfriend & his childhood friends during college. We all hung out often during the remainder of our college years as well as those early, single years when we were just starting out & trying to make a life for ourselves. Ann’s boyfriend had a best friend who did everything with him, so he was always around, too, if Ann & I were doing something together. Little did I know all those years ago, that he, this best friend, would play a pivotal role in the life of a girlfriend I had yet to meet. It is often said that “everything happens for a reason,” & I’d like to think that I was supposed to meet him in my early life & then meet Colleen in my later life, so that I could be the bridge that would eventually connect them & lead them to one another. That is pretty much how it worked out, anyway. Some might call it destiny. Others would call it a fairy tale. Some might say it was the stars aligning.  I would say it was all those things, with a little old-fashioned romance & magic mixed in!

Ann, as you may have guessed, was one of my friends who had taken a liking to Colleen. She & I always did the nuttiest things together. One weekend she came over with surgical gloves from her nursing job, & we gloved up & tried removing some major clumps from my long haired, Angora cat who had gotten herself into a furry mess. While attempting this ridiculous feat, we got to talking about Colleen & how nice it would be if she could meet the perfect guy. We pondered for a bit who we knew that would fit the description of a Prince Charming, & then suddenly, at the same time, we both exclaimed, “Donnie!” Donnie was the above-mentioned best friend. He was very sweet, somewhat shy, boyishly handsome, & an all round good person. And he was single! We couldn’t think of anyone more ideal for Colleen. Ann & I had never set anyone up on a blind date before, so we decided that I would broach the topic with Colleen to see how she felt about it & she would ask Donnie if he were interested. Before we knew it, both had given us a resounding “yes” & instantly we were in the precarious position of playing match makers! Colleen drove me crazy in the days leading up to the blind date, not in a bad way, mind you, but in the way someone very excited & curious would behave on the eve of a monumental event. She asked me millions & millions of questions about Donnie, wanting to know as much as possible about him, every detail & minuscule thing I could think to tell her. It was so funny & cute, I could not help chuckling at her incessant questions, but at the same time I was pleased she was so enthusiastic & worriedly hoped she would not be disappointed in the set up.  I did my best to answer her inquiries & appease her until the big day approached. When it finally did, Colleen promised she would call me immediately after the date was over & tell me all about it. I waited & waited all that night but Colleen never called. I even called Ann at one point to see if she had heard anything but she had not. I was frantic, thinking it was such a disaster that she was furious & did not want to tell me. It wasn’t until later the next morning that the phone rang at long last & it was Colleen. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you call? How the heck was it??? I’ve been a complete wreck!” I practically yelled into the phone. Colleen couldn’t have been cooler than a cucumber for those first few seconds, a stark cry from her hyper state just the day before. “Well…” she began quietly. “Oh God!” I exclaimed, “Nothing good ever starts out with “well!” I blurted out. “No,” she continued, “it was okay,” she said. “That’s it?? Just okay?” I asked, trying not to sound deflated. Then it was as if the flood gates opened & the Colleen I knew & loved began to gush, “Oh, it was so wonderful. HE is so wonderful. We had the best time!” & she went on & on with every detail (too many details, in fact!) that she had promised to tell me. Needless to say, Ann & I had hit it out of the park. Shooting stars! Fireworks! The whole nine yards! I couldn’t have been happier for my friend….both of my friends, actually. I can’t speak for Ann but that was the first & last time I ever set anyone up on a blind date. I mean, really, how could I ever top hooking up Colleen & Donnie?

Finding Donnie was the culmination of many life changing events for Colleen during those first few years we had known each other. The two love birds were inseparable after their infamous blind date. Literally. Each had clearly found their soul mate in one another. When I think back on it now, I am so grateful that Colleen had the opportunity to experience true love, to be loved so beautifully & kindly in a way she very much deserved, to be tenderly cared for & supported, & to spend the rest of her life alongside such a wonderful, “gentle soul,” as she often called Donnie. That comforts me, all these years later, when I pause to think back on those early days when we first knew one another….& the milestones of Colleen’s life that unfolded in which I was honored to have played a small part.

The two of us remained close following our first years of friendship, even despite both of us finding new love & having our lives move forward in very positive but different ways. Colleen, as it turns out, was one of those friends of mine who happened to have a birthday near Halloween. After she & Donnie began dating, they eventually started having annual Halloween costume parties to celebrate her birthday, so there always was cause for us to see each other on one of our favorite holidays of the year. Every celebration was bigger & better than the previous year’s & I tried to attend as many as possible. What fun it was to dress up & enjoy each other’s company.

One of Colleen's first Halloween parties. Disney had released "Pocahontas" that year & it inspired my handmade costume.

One of Colleen’s first Halloween parties. Disney had released “Pocahontas” that year & it inspired my handmade costume.

Colleen always chose a costume to reflect the more meaningful side of Halloween. Never a clown, a hobo or a pumpkin costume for my lovely friend with the deepest, spiritual essence for all things celestial & mysterious! For this is the path all our soul searching that we once shared had taken her…into the magical depths of the universe & all of its inextricable secrets….into the peaceful & beautiful realm of Wicca. Celebrating Halloween was certainly a part of it! Colleen peaked like a tiny bloom into a magnificent flower under the guidance & principles of her new-found faith. She simply radiated with a calmness, harmonious happiness & inner strength with which she lived out her remaining years.

In due time, Colleen & I both got married & I had been the first. There are two things I recall about my wedding day when I think of Colleen. For one, her   reception table had been the liveliest, no question about that! And two, Colleen & I had been able to have 30 minutes of quality friend time….in the bathroom, of all places….just she & I….laughing, putting on make-up, & sharing a few special moments together like the old days. Very good memories.

Colleen & I (both sporting shorter hair) goofing around at my bridal shower. Give 2 actors any stage & they will perform!

Colleen & I (both sporting shorter hair) goofing around at my bridal shower. Give 2 actors any stage & they will perform!

I had, of course, the traditional, Christian wedding. In contrast, however, Colleen & Donnie were married by a Wiccan High Priest. I was very excited to attend their ceremony, not only because it had been a long time in coming, but also because I did not know what expect. Wicca can be very misunderstood & often is grossly misrepresented, but I can attest that her wedding was one of the sweetest, most beautiful & loving I have ever attended. And you could have substituted the High Priest with a Justice of the Peace or minister & nothing really would have been that much different from my own wedding. It was a lovely ceremony. Colleen was gorgeous, stunning, & so unbelievably happy.

Soul mates.....

Soul mates…..

It had been the perfect wedding day! Colleen made certain to get a photo of Ann & me with she & Donnie, for the “record books” she had said that day. Today, more than ever, I’m so glad she did.

Ann is to Colleen's left in the original photo but has been cropped out with respect for privacy.

Ann is to Colleen’s left in the original photo but has been cropped out with respect for privacy.

Colleen, always the theater buff, ultimately was bitten by the film bug after two major movie stars came to town to film a box office hit shortly before my wedding. Colleen made it into the film as an extra! She had also been taking acting classes at the time that further peaked her interest in the film industry. Not long after that, Colleen became deeply ensconced in the world of independent film-making. That was Colleen’s way. If she had an interest, she simply became passionately involved in it, so much so, that it became a part of her. She learned as she went & forged her way into every local film venue to hone her newly developing knowledge & skills. Her journey into the film industry became her biggest & most incredible endeavor in the following two decades & I will always be amazed & proud of what she accomplished. “Can’t” was never a part of Colleen’s beliefs or vocabulary, & this final achievement of hers clearly proved what anyone who loved her already knew. With her husband by her side (& sometimes in front of or behind the camera!), Colleen soon founded her own independent film company known as Blonde Witch Productions. She started with film shorts & gradually made her way into full feature films. Each one she wrote, directed & produced herself. Each one became better than the one before it. Her story lines were often of a dark nature, exploring the complicated boundaries of love & relationships & life.

My talented friend: the actor, screenwriter, film maker, director, & producer at work.

My talented friend: the actor, screenwriter, film maker, director, & producer at work.

Knowing her as long & as closely as I did, I could identify the thin parallels to her own life & her own experiences in the themes she took on as film projects. She could talk at length with so much enthusiasm & passion about her film work, you somehow felt like you were involved in it, too. Colleen was recently in the midst of a number of projects – editing her second full length film, The Confession Room, & planning a “webisode” series based on an earlier film of hers – when, unexpectedly, complications from her lifelong heart defect arose one again. Tragically, she could not overcome them this time as she had so many times before. Subsequently, & with great courage, strength, dignity, love & peacefulness, my beloved friend passed away this summer.

It is very hard to write those words.  It is very hard to comprehend such a beautiful spirit no longer on this earth. My shock & enormous grief at Colleen’s death were infinitely compounded by the fact that I did not get to say goodbye to my friend. I did not get to hold her hand & offer her comfort & friendship at her greatest hour of need. I don’t know that any one recovers from such overwhelming remorse. It will haunt me all my days.

What I have learned about myself in my own life time is that when I suffer a loss & am dealing with great, personal sorrow, I sink to the deepest depths of despair. It seems I have to fall to the most profound, darkest corner of rock bottom before I can find a way to move forward  & attempt to come to terms with my loss. Once I hit that place of agonizing & desolate mourning, it’s like a button gets pushed inside of me & suddenly I find myself trying to claw my way back up….& always in the same manner. Just like I dealt with the death of Beatrix in OWL Always Love You, I reach a point where I tend to channel all my grief into something positive, creative….something that will bring good to others. That is the only way I can heal. And it all seems to happen more or less subconsciously until, later, I reflect back on events & realize that is what occurred. Again. This is exactly what happened when I lost Colleen.

Not quite a year ago, I opened a second shop on Etsy called Pretty Agnes that features charming, hand stamped, vintage silverware & gifts:

Click on the photo to view my whole shop!

Click on the photo to view my whole shop!

A companion shop, if you will, to my existing vintage business, Antique Shop Girl. In Antique Shop Girl, without really realizing it right off, I had already been gravitating towards antique items to sell that reminded me of Colleen, like this gorgeous, cast iron cook pot. Another means of healing, I suppose.

With Colleen on my mind, I marketed this as a black cauldron for Samhain (Halloween). It sold very quickly to a lovely girl who planned to use it for making her Wiccan candles & herbal lotions. I definitely have Colleen to thank for this sale! I can’t help but think she would be so pleased it found the perfect home. Click on the photo to visit my whole vintage shop & see more.

With Colleen on my mind, I marketed this as a black cauldron for Samhain (Halloween). It sold very quickly to a lovely girl who planned to use it for making her Wiccan candles & herbal lotions. I definitely have Colleen to thank for this sale! I can’t help but think she would be so pleased it found the perfect home. Click on the photo to visit my whole vintage shop & see more.

Then one day it simply hit me out of the blue….why don’t I create a stamped piece to sell in my Pretty Agnes shop in honor of Colleen? When she passed, her family had asked for donations in Colleen’s name to the Adult Congenital Heart Association  (ACHA). This would be a way to honor their request & generate donations from any sales towards necessary research for congenital heart defects, & to also aide in helping those who live with these life-threatening conditions to have better & longer lives. This would be a way to help others in Colleen’s memory. This would be a way for me to heal. More importantly, Colleen would have loved it. Immediately my creative juices began flowing & I thought that whatever piece I developed should include the name, “Blonde Witch” to honor her film making accomplishments, but what should that piece be? A fork? No. A butter knife? Not really. It should be a spoon. Why? It most reminded me of Colleen & her ways. Colleen was a “lingerer” & the very thought of it still puts a smile on my face. When everyone else had left, she would stay. When you were ready to hit the hay, she would sit down & announce, “I think I’ll have a cup of tea.” So, it had to be a spoon. With a Colleen-appropriate image on it. I thought of a few quickly. Something Halloween oriented, perhaps. A witch, a pumpkin, maybe a spider. A moon. A Triple Moon Goddess. Yes! Colleen had completely identified with that & it was synonymous with her beliefs & way of life. That would be the perfect choice, but why not still offer a variety of images & flatware just to appeal to the masses, from a business perspective? I set to work on my project idea & already had begun to feel a glimmer of hope & comfort inside me. Familiar & much needed.

Of course I instantly made myself nuts in attempting to create a Blonde Witch spoon, but it was a good & necessary distraction from my ongoing sadness. I was determined I would do this for my dear Colleen & nothing, not even getting stressed-out-crazy in the process, would stop me. For example, I was promptly re-evaluating why I had picked a spoon. I mean I knew why, but in all honestly, spoons are my least favorite to stamp because they are the most challenging of silverware to work with, being curved & not flat. And where in the world was I going to find a Triple Moon Goddess stamp? I had located a number of Halloween stamps that I could use to provide a variety of design choices, but I searched & searched for a Triple Moon Goddess to no avail. When at long last I finally found one, the price tag made my knees buckle. $190!!! That was preposterous! I would have to find a way to create my own. That task only further added to my growing insanity, but I plowed onward, with Colleen-inspired tenacity. After acquiring the necessary tools & much experimentation on my part making a Triple Moon Goddess image, I managed to create one to my liking. Then I started working on a variety of prototype spoons I could photograph for a potential listing in my online shop. The next step was to work up a listing description. I am one to labor endlessly over each & every word I write, be it here on my blog or elsewhere, so generating a listing took many hours & many days of relentless, exhausting word choice until I was satisfied I had adequately described not only my heartfelt endeavor, but my beautiful friend, as well. Finally I felt I was ready to present the Blonde Witch spoon to the world, but there was one more, very important thing I had left to do. I needed to get Donnie’s approval. I felt strongly I could not & should not do this project without it. So I lit a candle & talked to Colleen as if she were right in the room with me, sharing a warm beverage, snacks & pleasant conversation like we had so many times before. I told her what I was doing & why, & asked her to help me relay it to Donnie in the best possible way. I asked her to please have him give me his blessing. Then I wrote him a long email explaining everything from my heart & attached my draft listing for him to read. Then I waited.

I don’t remember if it was for a few hours or a few days, but I tried to keep myself occupied & not think about what, if anything, Donnie would have to say in response to my email. I do recall, however, that I was in the middle of doing some mundane house chore when suddenly I was overcome with a sensation I had never experienced before. I felt a warmth, not on the inside, but just outside of me, encircling the area around my heart. It was incredibly specific & intentional. Right away I felt a rush of goodness, happiness, comfort, tingling warmth & light all around me. It was most definitely magical! And I knew, without a single doubt, it was Colleen. I will never, ever, forget that experience. I know it was a one-time-only, final gift of love & friendship from her that transcended life & death & whatever blur lies between our limited knowledge of both. Still under the spell of this beautiful phenomenon, I ran straight to my computer & checked my email. There in my inbox was a message from Donnie, sent only seconds before. Colleen, I am certain, had been letting me know it arrived. I paused, anxious, then opened it up. It was a lengthy note which I had not expected. I read it once, then re-read it again. And then I put my head down & sobbed for some time, simply overcome by so many emotions all at once. Donnie had given me his blessing. His exact words were, “I think this is a cool idea and I’m sure Colleen would approve…if all you need is my go ahead, I say go for it!” Thus began the run of my Blonde Witch spoon fundraiser.

Some examples of my Blonde Witch spoons.

Some examples of my Blonde Witch spoons.

The project ran for 6 months. With the help of Donnie, we promoted the fundraiser among friends, family & colleagues with great success. I contacted the ACHA & they accepted my project as an official, voluntary fundraiser for their organization. They, too, gave it some publicity on their website & in newsletters, & sales poured in every day by the numbers. Needless to say, I was so, so busy, but so, so pleased at the same time. Many of the customers who purchased spoons from me also indicated they would be sending separate donations to the ACHA in Colleen’s name on top of purchasing spoons. About midway through the project, Donnie made me aware he had received a letter from ACAH stating they had accumulated over $1000 in donations in Colleen’s memory so far. That was amazing, especially considering the fundraiser was still going!  Throughout the duration of the fundraiser, I received so many heart felt messages from customers, some from strangers, some from friends or acquaintances, but all with supportive comments & loving memories or thoughts of Colleen. It was so uplifting! I shared as many of those as I could with Donnie & Colleen’s family because I felt they needed to hear those comforting words, too. I even received a few photos of how various folks were using their spoons. It was fabulous! The project had exceeded my expectations in so many ways! What was initially a random idea to help ease my own pain had become a successful fundraiser that helped to heal the hearts of so many others & raise critical funds for a wonderful cause. And all in Colleen’s name. Such a fitting tribute to an incredible person & friend.

The Blonde Witch fundraiser ended on January 30, 2015. I am still awaiting a final tally of donations generated to the ACHA in Colleen’s memory, although I am already certain of its financial success. I am grateful for the support of Donnie, Colleen’s siblings & her countless friends in helping a small idea come to fulfillment in such a big way. They will always have my deepest gratitude & sincerest, shared sympathies. Even though the project is over, the best part of it continues on….Colleen’s spirit!  So many people out there now are proud owners of Blonde Witch spoons, & every time one gets used in whichever “potion” they drink, they are stirring a little bit of the magic & light that was the essence of my beautiful friend, Colleen, back into the world! That gives me the greatest comfort of all.

It is still hard to believe Colleen is gone. She had defied the odds for so long & had such admirable strength & an indeterminate will to live that it didn’t seem possible her constant, bright spirit could ever be dimmed. I find myself expecting to see her around every corner or to get one of her regular “it’s been too long” emails; & I can hear her voice inside my head saying my name as clearly as if she is standing beside me. Nobody said my name the way she did. Picture that final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart is watching an extraordinary amount of friends come to his rescue on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t say anything as, one after the other, they each bring money & relay to him what a special friend he has been to them. His face is overcome with joy, a bit of relief, & complete, utter awe. If you could capture those combined expressions & emotions & give them a voice, it would have been what it sounded like when Colleen said my name….as if she couldn’t quite believe it was me but was simultaneously pleased that it was. It always sounded like that, no matter what. I don’t know why I never told her this in all the years I knew her, but I like that reminder of her & it makes me feel like she is still here with me. Perhaps she still is & that is why I can’t truly accept that she isn’t. I have seen her in my dreams many times since she passed & have had numerous occasions where a particular experience feels overwhelmingly like a message that could only be from her. Maybe my initial instincts are correct, maybe it is impossible for a spirit as bedazzling as Colleen’s to truly be gone from this world & it remains with us, in a spiritual form, continuing to light our way if we let it. That would be just like her, really, & appropriate given her faith & philosophies. She was always one to hang around & be the last to leave, after all. So that is what I’m choosing to believe; what I believe I know to be true. It’s kind of like having faith in the moon. Some nights, it is brilliantly glowing in all it’s glory amidst the shining stars & you have no doubt in its existence. Other nights, it is somberly shrouded behind the sky’s dark shadows & nebulous clouds but we still know it is there. It is only a matter of time until it’s magnificent light, once again, illuminates our journey onward.

Dedicated to Colleen….until we meet again, my friend!

* For more information on congenital heart defects, or to make a donation to the ACHA in Colleen’s memory, please visit their website at www.achaheart.org 

 

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14 thoughts on “A Belated Halloween Tribute

  1. As always, I was enthralled with your story from beginning to end. What a wonderful tribute to a unique friend. I can’t say I ever had a lifelong friend like that but I can imagine your grief knowing that it can’t go on, in the flesh anyways! My nephew died at 26 from a congenital heart disease, so Colleen was so blessed to have such a long life with it. So well written. Please take all of your stories and publish them into a neat little book!!

    • You are so sweet, AnnMarie! I am so glad this story resonated with you & your familiarity with CHD, but how sad for your nephew. My heart goes out to you & your family. Thank you for your kind words & taking the time to read my story & share them. ♥

  2. Oh, Pamela… I knew there was magic in my spoon, and now I know why… I think you helped put a bit of Colleen’s spirit into each spoon you crafted. I feel so happy to be the owner of such a wonderfully spiritual Blonde Witch spoon. Thank you for sharing yours and Colleen’s story.
    ~hugs, my friend
    Sherry

    • Sherry, your friendship & support is a true testimony to my Blonde Witch endeavor & tribute to Colleen. She would be so pleased to know you feel her magical spirit around you. Thank you, my friend. I so appreciate you & your kind words & hugs! You are a CB friend through & through!!! ♥

  3. I had to step away from your story a few times while reading; not only because I am working today, but because of the tears that would form (just as they are now). I know I would have liked Colleen, because she liked you so much. You are a great friend to me, and I cherish it. Life is short and we should all life our life like Colleen, to the fullest. Be happy, and work with what you have. She had a disease that would have stopped a lot of people in it’s path, hopefully her inspirational life will be a guide for someone to live by. I am sure it already has. Thank you for sharing this story, as I know it was a difficult but probably cathartic at the same time. Your friend will live forever in you.

    Love & FF
    Daph

    • Colleen inspired so many in the manner in which she lived her life & by sharing her story, you are right, hopefully it inspires others to live fully despite any odds. Thank you for reading & sharing. I appreciate your friendship, compassion & support dear, Daph! FF back at you! ♥

  4. Pamela, what a true and lasting tribute to an extraordinary friendship. Thank you so much for sharing Colleen’s story. Your writing is exceptional, a fitting match to the subject matter. Bravissima!!!

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