Sydney Coleman – In Memoriam

Sydney Coleman

Sydney Coleman


I wake up this morning filled with sadness at the news that Sydney is gone. The Colemans – Sydney, her younger brother and their parents, seemingly lived a charmed life when I met them, in the early kindergarten years of Ainsworth School, 1990. Those days are gone. Their home, perched on the side of a slippery slope in Vista Heights, was filled with treasures and love, colorful artwork and crafts, beauty and peace.


Sydney was a delightful, happy, giving, talented and treasured child. She had many friends. She was on the ski team. She loved her brother, she loved her dad, she loved her mother, she cared about her friends. Sydney was happy and beautiful and brilliant. She had many talents and gifts. She helped people. She had great wisdom. She acquired great knowledge. She shared her knowledge and perspective willingly and graciously. She painted my son’s room for him. She was a gifted painter. An artist. A photographer. A good and generous friend.

I remember the drama when rain came into her life, incessant rain, and it all happened so metaphorically. It made the news. Their home lost its foundation, a classic Portland tragedy, and most of the back yard and the large deck of that old home literally slipped away from the foundation and down that slope into abyss. Proverbial slippery slope. The family was wrecked. The parents divorced. It wasn’t sunny anymore. Times were not easy. There were oh so many changes, now into middle school years, and it was hard to navigate for awhile.

When they were freshmen (or sophomores?) Hilary and Sydney decided to go to the prom. It wasn’t their time for prom, but they wanted to do it, and they pulled it off. The photos of those two girls with their dates, whom I think they had randomly inveigled into the role of prom date, are fond memories of their uninhibited enthusiasm. I am so sad for my daughter, who conveyed this news to me last night in great sadness. Friends, all of you, I urge you to make expression to each other and to Sydney’s loved ones. Whenever you will. Death will become less recent, that’s all it can do. It does not end.

Tragedy again, when as a senior in high school, Sydney suffered a trauma in a car accident, again rolling down a hill. She told me she had suffered a head trauma but did not think it was serious and did not seek treatment for it. She was unable to graduate with her class. She did not go off to college as the other Lincoln High grads did, but she worked to complete high school, and finishing was a tremendous point of pride.

It surprised me to learn the course her life took next. I don’t know the origin of the decline, but young Sydney was committed and lived in a psychiatric hospital near the Convention Center for most of several years. Normal was gone. Being heavily medicated and living in community with other psychiatric in-patients became the “norm” Sydney tried to fit, with the other in-patients, mostly young adults, but also some veterans of the psychiatric culture. Sydney was popular, as always.

I am sad to write this. Sydney lost her life yesterday morning when she was hit by a Max train, in the rain, while listening to her ipod, her head covered by a hoody, apparently oblivious to the train signals.

She had a child. I am so glad that she was able to know him and to love him. She was able to raise her son and love him, with the help of family. She regained the privilege of her freedom in halfway houses, but years of in-patient psychiatric treatment take away so much, especially for young adults (or children) whose brains are still developing, as was the case for Sydney, only 24 years old when she died, on February 26th.

Despite her partial recovery, Sydney was subsumed into sadness over her circumstances. There were many pressures on her. She called me several times over the last few months. She was emotionally not a 24 year old, like her peers, but it was wonderful to see her catching up. She could have made her life into what she deserved for it to be. Her own art. She was very talented.

I believe that her death was from inattention, only, but my sense is that the inattention which caused her death was a consequence of sadness. And the sadness was from circumstances which she did not create, and became her prison.

A child needs to be free to fail, to fall, to fly. Acceptance is everything. Sydney was a responsible child; she was also an earth child, a hippie child, a bohemian. She was so good at all of that. If only . . . . but her light . . . and now it’s gone. One of the future leaders of her time. Long since unrealizable. So the question matters . . . what can we, her people, do to replace that lost promise? Only learn from it. And go on without her.

One cannot hide from the needs of one’s soul. The soul is the eternal companion to the body/personality/self. Sensitive friends, please pay heed to your soul’s expression, whether it be madness or sadness or joy or confusion. Allow it; do not repress it. The soul will find expression regardless how the mind may try to refashion it! Sadness, differences, even dangerous thoughts must be allowed, if the spirit chooses them. It is the unforeseen which is a danger; not the unwanted.

Be in peace, Sydney Coleman. I know that your soul has made for you an honorable choice in your sad circumstances. You are greatly loved! Be free. Love well. Stay in tune, dear sweet young Sydney. We will miss you often and think of you always. I will not forget the date you died. Love to you on your unleashed journey. Bring us art and joy and the happiness you deserve. I know you will!

By Kathleen O’Brien, February 27, 2010