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  • Writer's pictureNeil Parekh

Colleen O'Reilly (1971-2024)

I woke up on my birthday (Sunday, June 9) fighting a cough that has bothered me for two weeks. I had been depressed the day before, frustrated that I couldn’t make progress on several work and personal projects, not having much interest in doing anything.

On that Sunday, I woke up to some of the worst news possible. A dear friend from high school, Colleen O’Reilly, had passed away. I found out because her niece had posted something on Facebook. I confirmed it with her brother. I was stunned. It was sudden. It was unexpected. She was 53 years old. She  was two years ahead of me at Hastings High School. In a small school, that didn’t really matter. We were still close.

It had been years since I’d spoken to her. I’d seen her Facebook posts about teaching and Model UN. She had been living in Hastings for a while, teaching in New Rochelle. I knew she had moved to Connecticut at some point. 

I went through boxes of old photos hoping to find one with her. I was disappointed I couldn’t find one. We spent a lot of time in Youth Group together. I still remember a retreat held at Camp Fowler in upstate New York. There was a particularly meaningful conversation we had one night by the lake, in a lifeguard chair. I was so touched when she used that as the basis of a college essay. 

She lived in Downtown Hastings, in the apartments on Warburton. In high school, when I used to walk downtown after school (to go to the library, or more likely King Pizza), I would often ring her doorbell to see if she was home and hang out. 

Our graduating class has already lost a handful of classmates to sudden death and long-term illness. Pam and I also lost a close friend from college more than a dozen years ago, in childbirth. 

Life is precious. This kind of news always makes you think twice. It stays with you for days, weeks, even months. But then, slowly, life moves on. Of course, it hits everyone differently. Her closest friends will feel it longer. Her students (I can’t imagine what they’re going through) and co-workers will miss seeing her every day.

For her family, the pain will likely never go away.

Tell the people in your life you love them. Spend time on what matters. Get your affairs in order. Do it for your loved ones.

May her memory be a blessing. 


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