When Words Fail

I’ve been sitting on a big, long, apologetic post about how terrible it is that yet again I’ve lapsed into a pattern of ignoring my blog, and yet again I’ve failed to hold up the promises I made on here, but, well, all that really just doesn’t feel important anymore.

On Friday evening, I received devastating news. A wonderful friend and colleague of mine passed away, extremely suddenly and unexpectedly. It was cutting news in more ways than one — Colleen was an inspiring and gracious coworker, a generous and thoughtful friend, and just a really, really beautiful person.

Colleen was, without a doubt, the most vivacious person I’ve ever met. She put my own enthusiasm for life to shame. Her million-dollar smile could lift your spirits by a mile. Her hugs were legend. And even if you only saw her in person once or twice a year, it was like no time had passed every time you were reunited. She just always made things that natural, that easy, that wonderful.

She was also one of the most considerate and thoughtful people I’ve ever known. From little notes on social media to handwritten cards in the mail to completely unexpected gifts, love was a language that Colleen spoke fluently. She knew how to make you feel special… even though she was the special one.

I have experienced very little loss over the course of my years, and I fully recognize how lucky that makes me. So I don’t think there is a way I could have been prepared for what I would feel upon reading the news of Colleen’s passing. It was like a tsunami washing over me. Shock, grief, utter disbelief.

I’m an emotional person, you all know this. Crying simply seems to be my body’s default setting — tears come when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry… well, you get the idea. But for all the hours of my life spend crying, I can count on one hand the number of times I have really wept.

For the beautiful life of Colleen, I wept.

Tears fell, thick and heavy. My body heaved with sobs. I was just overtaken with this immense sadness at the loss of my friend, taken so young, so abruptly, so unfairly.

All weekend, I’ve read the words of others on this heartbreaking event. Words expressing heartache, words offering comfort, words celebrating Colleen’s magnificent life. And I’ve struggled to find words of my own that even start to express my own deep sadness. Because every time I tried to pull together something to say, put shape to my feelings, my words seemed to fail.

I questioned if I should even say anything at all. I questioned if it’s even fair for me to feel this loss so deeply. After all, Colleen touched so many people, she was a bright light in so many lives, and while I’m lucky enough to be counted amongst them, there are so many who knew her longer, better. Would it be better to grieve quietly, to let those who knew her best share aloud? Does saying something add to Colleen’s legacy, or… is it just selfish for me to be so affected by this?

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer, really. I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong or what’s appropriate, I just know what I feel. I feel amazed by the community of people who loved and were loved by Colleen. I feel heartache knowing there won’t be any more legendary hugs or gushing sessions over our pups, that I won’t see her at Yelp’s annual CM Week in August, or during my trip to Orlando in November (something I had just emailed with her about a week or so ago.) I feel scared seeing how unpredictable life is, how it can be cut so short. I feel comforted knowing that Colleen will not fade out of our memories. And I feel inspired to live by her example — to laugh loudly, hug people with purpose, make every moment count, and to love — hard.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you SO much for sharing this. <3 <3 <3

  2. Emily Hagedornsays:

    How beautiful and sad. Thanks for sharing. <3

  3. You said it all, for all of us. I feel the exact same way. Thinking of you and all of us who knew her on whatever level that may be. If we feel the loss to this extent, I cannot imagine how her family and best friends feel right now.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss.

  5. Mandeesays:

    I used to volunteer once a week. This manager usually worked during days, so I never really saw her – maybe twice over the 2 years. Then one night she covered for the usual person. I had had a rough day and when I got there, I spilled a little bit of my guts/frustrations/worries to her Bc she just seemed so genuine and friendly. She gave me some really great advice and told her own story that I could relate to (especially since she was only a year or so older than me). About 6 months later I got an email that she had died suddenly of a heart attack. Wow I was shellshocked. She was engaged and planning her wedding, doing great things for this organization, VERY young it was awful. I was sad but I wasn’t close to her so I almost felt like I had no real right to be. I sent a card to the family and wrote about that day when I spilled my guts and how this person who I barely knew made me feel so much better and truly listened to me – a lot more than most people I had known forever. After I sent it I felt stupid and like I had written too long of a note… That, like I said, I didn’t really know her well so I was intruding in a sense. I regretting sending the card. There was a memorial for her, but I did not attend due to work. One day I saw a program from it, took it home and into a dresser drawer it went. I was cleaning out the drawer a couple years later and found the program and sat down to really read it. I hadn’t realized that featured in a special section of the program was my note word for word from the card I’d sent. They were so moved by my words that they’d included it in the brochure in remembrance of how she had the power to touch people. Wow, I was speechless when I saw that. I tell this story because if you’re mourning or paying respects in a way you feel is appropriate for you and your relationship to the person and being 100% genuine, then you have nothing to be worried about. What you feel is what you feel and people will realize that it’s genuine and from the heart.

  6. Timothy Matthewssays:

    made this in your memory
    https://www.everipedia.com/colleen-burns-4/

  7. Katy Hillsays:

    “I questioned if I should even say anything at all. I questioned if it’s even fair for me to feel this loss so deeply. After all, Colleen touched so many people, she was a bright light in so many lives, and while I’m lucky enough to be counted amongst them, there are so many who knew her longer, better. Would it be better to grieve quietly, to let those who knew her best share aloud? Does saying something add to Colleen’s legacy, or… is it just selfish for me to be so affected by this?”

    I was grappling with it this morning, but I didn’t know how to process it all. I think any and all tributes are honoring to her. I haven’t seen her in years, since I moved out of Orlando, but she left an impression on me. Whenever I met someone from Yelp, I mentioned her name and their eyes would light up and we’d talk about how great she was. Thank you for sharing this. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful person.

  8. My condolences. Sending healing thoughts your way.

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