On January 30, friend and colleague Michelle Begley was killed in a car crash, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter and loving, grieving family and friends. Last Saturday, February 7, I attended her memorial service. It was a time of deep sorrow and loss for a person who impacted so many.
Michelle was a talented writer and a loyal, dedicated volunteer for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI. Without her commitment and determination, the chapter probably would not have a thriving Mentor Program where writers and illustrators have honed their craft, some going on to sign with agents and/or place their manuscripts with publishers. Michelle played a tangible, integral role in helping people fulfill their dreams.
On January 30, her own dreams were cut short.
At the service we were privileged to hear her picture book manuscript, a delightful story of chickens on strike. When it was over, we clapped, teary-eyed. There is talk of getting it published for her daughter and family and friends to cherish and I look forward to having my own copy. The pastor encouraged everyone to take the baton Michelle had passed and run with it, continuing to follow our own hopes and dreams.
Five hours later I was sitting in an auditorium, tearful and clapping for another reason: Writer and friend, Lisa Brown Roberts, was celebrating the launch of her first book, How (Not) To Fall in Love. She told the tale of a girl with a dream, a dream that was sometimes dashed by naysayers, a dream that she put on the shelf for awhile and then dusted it off again, thank goodness. The book is heartfelt, warm and oh so romantic and readers will be grateful Lisa did not give up.
At the end of her presentation, Lisa encouraged everyone in the room to follow his/her dream no matter what it was, to ignore the naysayers (including the voices in our own heads that might tell us we aren’t good enough, it’s too hard, etc). The words were even more poignant and resonant after attending Michelle’s service.
In the span of five hours, I went from deep sadness over the loss of a talented friend and colleague to happiness over a friend’s realized dream–her first book launch.
My heart is heavy and full at the same time. I’m overwhelmed with sadness for what the world lost in Michelle’s love, light and creativity. I’m full of gratitude for the love, light and creativity still in my life. I have a renewed sense of purpose to love and support the people in my life as Michelle did and to continue to create and write stories that matter.
Take the baton. Let’s go.
Your post really touched me. This past week has been a hard one and had feelings of not being a good enough writer; of wondering why I should keep going; of what was the point of blogging. Your message to keep dreaming and never give up is a much needed one. I am so sorry for your loss. She will live on. Thank you.
Though my heart breaks over the circumstances, I’m glad you were able to find some comfort and inspiration in it. All of us have come to that place of “Why am I doing this? Is it worth it?” I still get to that place sometimes, but what I’ve discovered over the last year is that by refocusing my purpose, my writing has become meaningful in and of itself. I started asking myself: What can I give through this story? (something I can control) When that’s my focus, rather than “Will this get published?” (something I can’t really control), I find I’m happier and more fulfilled. Not that I don’t obsess about submissions ;)–see , but I’m able to come back to a more grounded perspective. Wow. Sorry about going on like that! This was a huge shift for me in terms of my happiness as a writer, though, so I thought I’d share.
Thank you for a beautifully inspiring post, Denise. I hope Michelle’s story is published. My heart goes out to her family and friends.
Thank you so much, Vivian. I know Michelle’s story will get published – most likely self published, with the help of some amazing illustrators willing to donate their time. It’s a fun, delightful book and we hope to spread the word once it’s done. Proceeds from the sale can go toward her daughter’s education.
Thank you, Denise, for this beautiful tribute. Life is short and utterly unpredictable, and filling it with hopes, dreams, and friends seems like the only sane choice to make.
Thank you, Laura. It is the only sane choice, the only choice that’s life-giving. xoxo