Suzanne and Andy

I spent most of last week at Green Gulch, a Zen Center, north of San Francisco. I was with 12 women friends--most of whom are writers. Four of us share a 20-year history that traces its roots back to the writing group Suzanne Byerley and I started.

Suz was the 2nd person I met when I moved to the Mendocino Coast 21 years ago. We were both writers, and once a week would go down to Noyo Harbor's Old Dock Cafe (long gone) to write and talk about writing. In 1996, when it looked as if the Mendocino Coast Writers conference was going to cease to exist after the departure of its founder, she and I took it over. For the next 8 years we worked as co-directors. In 2004, she and her husband, Andy, made the decision to move to Ohio to be closer to her daughters and grandchildren. We took over the conference together and we departed together, though I've remained a board member.

On Tuesday, while at Green Gulch, we got word that Suzanne had been killed in a traffic accident. I wouldn't normally use this blog to share a personal loss, especially since it goes to so many kids, but Suzanne was one of the kindest, most gentle women I've ever known. On her Facebook page is a tribute written by a young woman who was a teenager when Suzanne took her under her wing after Ona's mother died. It's a beautiful reflection of the kind of woman Suz was. All our lives have lost luster because she's gone. I've chosen to share this because she lost her life in a split second. If she had arrived at that stop sign in Pierpont, Ohio, a moment earlier, or a moment later, she would be with us still.

I want this to be about living your life to the fullest, as Suz did, reaching out to the people who love you, and to those who need you, to care deeply about this planet and to live a giving life.

Suz loved shards--pieces she would fine of past lives: a beautiful feather, a butterfly wing, a stone with a unique shape. On Monday, before we lost her, I found a robin's egg. It was in the yard outside where we were staying. It was stone cold, so I took it in to show the others. On Wednesday, we had our own memorial service for Suz, lead by a Zen priest. We hung messages to her in a Tibetan cherry tree, and I left her my egg.

Before Suz and Andy moved to Ohio, she took me out on her deck and showed me the web a spider had built. It was huge and in a place where they had to use another door to enter and exit their house. Last night, on my upstairs deck, there was a spider building a web that stretched from the roof to the railing. I put a chair under it so I will remember it's there, and to duck.

This is a poem that Suz sent to Susan, one of the 4 of us with the long, long history. How perfect this final message is to us all.

Last afternoon
up Waverly Lane
The room ricocheted
with my dna
seven humans
with threads of me

What is this about
all buzzing and crackling
made manifest
in lunatic laughter
pounding out
Heart and Soul on the piano
Singing and pounding
out the pain of my mistakes
now their mistakes
their fortunes
and misfortunes
their hearts
their souls
all threaded and shredded
through mine

written at Chagrin Inn in July 2012