Kay’s Journal: My Friend Susan

Hi, I’m Kay Adams. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Last Wednesday, July 18, at 10:05 pm, my friend Susan deWardt died in the presence of her devoted husband, John, and a hospice CNA.

Susan was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer the week after a 2015 poetry therapy intensive which she, Linda Barnes, and I co-facilitated.

Susan underwent several iterations of chemotherapy, was well enough to attend and present at Journal Conference 2016 a year after her diagnosis, was in remission for about a year, and then became ill again late last year. From November to April she fought valiantly. In May she let me know that she was stopping treatment and moving into end-of-life care.

Susan and Kay, Steamboat, March 2018

I saw her for the last time in March, when I drove to Steamboat for a weekend with Susan and John. We played about fifty rounds of cribbage, attempted a large jigsaw puzzle (she stayed with it; I bailed), made art and had the same intimate and deep conversations we’ve had for 20+ years.

Susan was a complex woman with myriad talents, skills and gifts. One of my favorite ways to sum up her larger-than-life personality is that she was a poet and artist who put herself through engineering school as a belly dancer.

We met in Steamboat Springs in the late 1990s when I was invited to be the featured speaker at the Steamboat Writer’s Conference. I was presenting a Saturday workshop on journal writing. Susan plopped herself down next to me at the Friday night dinner and introduced herself. “What brings you here from Denver?” she asked. I told her I was there for the journal workshop. She didn’t realize I was teaching it and immediately launched into a 30-minute testimonial on the power of writing. She even quoted Journal to the Self to me. As dessert was served, she lamented that she had waited too long to sign up for the workshop and now it was filled and she couldn’t attend. I suggested that perhaps she could come as my guest. The expression on her face as the realization dawned on her that she had been speaking with the speaker was priceless. We laughed over that story for the next 20 years.

Shortly after that experience she took the Journal to the Self instructor certification training and became one of our most successful teachers. She taught too-many-to-count classes in Steamboat and became well-known as the local “journal lady.” In 2003 she began poetry therapy training with me and after credentialing went on to became a devoted member of the board of directors of the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy, where she served as credentials chair for six years and president for four more. Her contributions to the standards-based practice of poetry therapy credentialing cannot be overstated.

John and Susan deWardt

Her contributions to my life can also not be overstated. She was/is a powerful advocate, a devoted friend, a smart and savvy advisor, an outstanding coach, a brilliant artist and writer, a highly regarded member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute faculty, a rampantly creative fabric and craft artist, a visual journaler, a strong voice for feminism and self-actualization, a global peacemaker and a beautiful soul and spirit. She will be deeply missed.

Susan died at 10:05 pm on Wednesday. At 6:00 am Thursday, her daughter went into labor–two weeks early–with Susan’s first grandchild. (Mother and baby had a healthy birth!) I have always thought of the hours immediately after death and the hours immediately before birth as the “Betweens,” a liminal space not unlike the Buddhist concept of bardo where the membrane between the worlds is most palpable and permeable, and the soul can travel between them. I love the idea that Susan and her grandson might have crossed paths in the Betweens, and Susan was able to meet him and download a lifetime of wisdom and love and courage to him as he prepared to enter the world as the first in a new generation. I hope he has memories of her.

Godspeed on your journey, Susan, fueled by the love and prayers of thousands of people all over the world who love you and miss you dearly. You will live within us forever.



27 Responses to Kay’s Journal: My Friend Susan

  1. Mary Reynolds Thompson July 23, 2018 at 5:02 pm #

    Dear Kay, I am so sorry to hear of Susan’s passing and so deeply touched by your beautiful words. I, too, loved the full-spectrum woman who was Susan––the belly-dancing powerhouse who commanded attention with her room-filling voice and presence. I also remember her at the Passion to Profit conference, how much we laughed. I delivered a PowerPoint with images of prairie dogs. The next day–Linda Barnes and Susan (who shared a room, and, I believe, a presentation) presented THEIR Powerpoints–which were now replete with a veritable zoo of furry creatures–they were not to be outdone! We howled. Susan could be really, really funny as well as wise. Our community is the richer for her in so may ways, as you so beautifully outlined, and she will be sorely missed.

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:39 am #

      Mary, I am falling over laughing at that “prairie dog” moment at Passion to Profit — hilarious then and now. What a goofball she was. And she and Linda B together — Goofballs Hypersquared!

  2. Kathy Jakolat July 23, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

    Oh, Kay, I am devastated to learn of Susan’s death. Thank you for your kind words about her. I enjoyed the few times I was able to be in her presence. What a creative soul. Bless you and Susan

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:40 am #

      Thank, you, Kathy. She was indeed a creative soul. She added a splash of color everywhere she went.

  3. Linda Barnes July 23, 2018 at 5:27 pm #

    Susan was a larger-than-life presence, and will remain a stronger-than-death spirit to all of us who loved her, learned from her, created with her, and were blessed by her life. She was and will remain my treasured Sister Friend.

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:43 am #

      Linda, you two were so close. What I loved about your friendship is how much of a steadying, guiding force you were to each other when the seas were rough. It was beautiful to witness. And also how much fun we all had!

  4. Karyl Howard July 23, 2018 at 6:04 pm #

    Oh, Kay, I am so sorry to read about this! Susan and I were in many online “art” groups together over the years and I finally got to meet her in person at the Journal conferences in Denver and NC. I know that you were good and close friends and she will live on in your heart and mind. I wish the same for all of the people who met and cared about her. Special hugs to you!

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:49 am #

      Karyl, I’m so glad you shared the journal conferences (2008 and 2016) with Susan — two sister artists! Thanks for your good thoughts.

  5. Jennifer Wolfe July 23, 2018 at 6:46 pm #

    Sigh. I am so sad. What a brilliant light, extinguished far too soon. Thank you for this lovely tribute. I will also remember her and what I learned from her in the Poetry Intensive and the Creative Journaling classes at the NAPT Conference.
    Hugs to you, too.

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:52 am #

      Thanks, Jenn. “What a brilliant light….” indeed. She was absolutely a brilliant light. Our community is elevated because of her leadership.

  6. SUSAN S HENDRICKS July 23, 2018 at 8:42 pm #

    Dear Kay, Linda, and everyone else who treasured Susan, please know that many in this community and far beyond appreciated the talents, gifts and presence of this amazing woman. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt feelings about your long and cherished friendship with Susan.

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:54 am #

      Thank you, Susan. Our community is certainly feeling the loss. The best thing we can do is help her legacy live on in our stories and remembrances of her.

  7. Carol Roberts July 23, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

    Having attended that Poetry Therapy Intensive in 2015, I had the privilege of meeting Susan. I remember her not feeling well and being concerned for her then. She really was a talented woman; someone needs to write her memoir if it hasn’t already been done. Her life would be an inspiration to many. I’m very glad I got to meet her.

    • Kay Adams July 24, 2018 at 7:56 am #

      Carol, that poetry therapy intensive was such a huge risk for you at the time and you leaned right into it with the conviction that it was the right thing to do, even though you didn’t know why. Now here you are after a cross-country move leading poetry groups! I know Susan was a big catalylst for your transformation. I’m so grateful that you were able to absorb her wisdom and put it right back out into your community.

  8. Perie Longo July 24, 2018 at 9:06 am #

    Dear Kay,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words describing your meaningful friendship with Susan. I learned so much more about her. What a force of nature she was. I will always treasure her support and dedication on Federation matters, and how well she listened when issues arose. To lose Susan gives rise to her generous spirit that nourished so many of us. She will be missed more than words can express, but you have done so. Thank you.!

  9. Jill Grumbache July 24, 2018 at 9:45 am #

    Dear Kay – I’m so sorry about the loss of your dear friend. May she have a beautiful journey and next destination. Your tribute to her is beautiful, certainly gives me the feeling that I wish I’d know her.

    Love and hugs,
    Jill Grumbache (previously Boileau)
    Holistic Journaling

  10. Kathryn Lockwood July 24, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear about Susan. She was so kind to me and welcomed me into our tribe at passion to profit and beyond. I will forever be grateful for her wisdom, guidance and encouragement as I learned about poetry and Journal therapy and myself. Her coaching and friendship, her love and kindness were foundations and support for my journey. I am so grateful our paths crossed and I am a better person having had our connection. Peace and Love to Susan and her family. Peace and Love to our community and friends as we remember the Beautiful Soul we knew as Susan. Hugs to all.

  11. Stephanie Christenson July 24, 2018 at 4:58 pm #

    Thank you for letting us know, Kay. I will miss her presence and I know many of us within this community will. I worked and interacted with Susan at TWI, in poetry therapy, and at multiple conferences – including the Poetry Intensive. Describing her as creative, straight-speaking, knowledgeable, helpful, and loving doesn’t begin to capture her nuance and grace. It was a gift to know her.

  12. Kathi Gowsell July 24, 2018 at 6:24 pm #

    I’m so sorry to read of Susan’s passing, Kay. It was at Journal Conference 2016 where I connected with her. I sat at her table at dinner the second night and heard her talk about her experience with cancer. I’d just found out that my sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer and Susan was generous with me in sharing how I might best support her. I was also in her art session the following day. I had a spiritual experience in her session that was life changing. I’m so glad I was able to share about it with her and she was so gracious. I’ll never forget her.

  13. Peggy Heller July 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

    Dearest Kay and friends,
    How fortunate we all are to have been graced with the life force that was Susan. I’m savoring the echoes of the long phone visit I had with her just a couple of weeks ago. We retold our stories of each other going back to 2001 at the brilliant conference you, Kay, led with Dana at Benet Pines. That’s when I learned about Susan’s belly dancing and her book club of anti-intellectuals dedicated to reading trashy novels. Oh what a spirit. I treasure my “pilgrim time” with Susan and Linda, creating and presenting days of exuberance in North Carolina, and sharing them with you I see here, Stephanie and Susan Hendricks. I love your reference to “the betweens,” Kay. Mostly, I’m moved by Susan’s exquisite acceptance of her end of life process, filling it with the love connections and joy that characterized her way of being. She was our “Morrie,” as in “Tuesdays with…” I told her, teaching us all how to face this passage ahead for us all.
    Love, Peggy

  14. Annie Ginder July 24, 2018 at 8:16 pm #

    My sincere condolences to all of her family members and her good friends in therapeutic writing community. She was my very first teacher at The Center for Journal Therapy and I admired her teaching style immensly. I loved her confidence and her clarity. I am so grateful that I went to the conference and had the opportunity to meet her in person but I am so sorry to lose her and the expertise she brought to our work.
    Thank you Kay for letting us know. Keep all of you, as well as her family in my thoughts and prayers❤️

  15. Cathleen Callahan July 25, 2018 at 9:45 am #

    Such a beautiful tribute, Kay, to our beautiful, full-of-light and joy and talent and silliness and bravery Susan. I can’t yet quite wrap my mind and heart around knowing that she is no longer there in Steamboat Springs where she showed Mary Lee and me such warm, fun, endearing hospitality. We shared so many writings and sharings and art makings at Benet Pines and the Loretta Center, and the conferences. She was a wonder. How she’ll be missed by all who knew and loved her.

  16. Lizabeth Smith July 25, 2018 at 3:25 pm #

    Even knowing that this news must be imminent, it came as that shock that always accompanies news of the passing of a friend into the next plane. Thank you, Kay, for your beautiful words about a beautiful (and, yes, very funny) woman. I love that she and her grandson crossed in “the betweens”. My great grandmother and I crossed likewise the night I was born and it always gave me a sense of closeness to her. I pray that Susan and this tiny, new little one have that same Celtic-type relationship. I have no doubt that angels are holding our Susan.

  17. Karen Newcomb August 3, 2018 at 4:25 pm #

    I am moved by Kay’s touching tribute to Susan and others’ precious memories. I want say that I am sorry for your loss. For our loss,although i only met her once— at Kanuga. It is hard to miss Susan’s footprint everywhere within the writing/poetry community.

    I love that you suggested, Kay, that Susan and her grandson might have crossed paths in the “Betweens”. Again, my heart is so moved.

  18. Ann Fitzgerald September 2, 2018 at 5:51 pm #

    Thank you for your tribute to Susan. I had the joy of meeting her at the passion to profit conference in 2015 and meeting with her as a mentor a few months following. I didnt realize her sickness and am reminded to slow down and be aware of people in my life that are such blessings. Ann

  19. Lisa Marie Smith October 22, 2018 at 11:06 pm #

    Dear Kay,

    I am just learning this sad news, and I hope you will accept my belated reply and deep sympathy. As is reflected in the replies above, Susan touched so many lives with her strong, creative, and vibrant self. I am sorry for the loss to her family, friends, and community – including the poetry therapy and therapeutic writing communities. I will always remember her with fondness and gratitude.

    Susan was a big presence in my introduction to poetry therapy training, beginning with the personal letter she wrote to inform me of my acceptance into training. She facilitated my first poetry therapy group experience in the Triple Workshop at the 2014 NAPT conference — an experience which brought to life what I had only been reading about up to that point. Then at the 2015 Poetry Therapy Intensive, she was an enthusiastic participant in the first poetry therapy group I ever led — as well as instrumental in prodding me into the “hot seat.” I was truly quaking at this unanticipated prospect, when Susan sat down next to me at a meal and said, “You don’t have to be good to get started, but you do have to get started to be good!”

    Remembering Susan,
    Lisa Marie


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