EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 29, 2013

'A bright light in our lives'

By Gina McDaniel
Colleen Ritzer's cousin

---- — "No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind."

There are many great things that have been said about Colleen in these past days. And it is all true. Colleen's gift was that of inspiration. She possessed an energetic intensity that is rarely seen. Her self-esteem, intelligence, drive and love of humanity affected everyone she met. She made people feel loved, comforted and optimistic. Colleen's grace made her life fulfilling. In such a short period of time, one person has made a world of difference.

"She was a great person, she was an amazing teacher." I have heard these words many times in these past few days. All describing a bright light in our lives who just wanted to make this world a better place by focusing on the adults of our future. Colleen's passion in life was to be a teacher. Her love for teaching started as early as her preschool class with Miss Laura. In the words of Miss Laura, "She was the most amazing person you could ever hope to meet ... so very blessed to have been her first teacher and fiend."

She had a way of leaving a lasting impression on her students. It is difficult to sum up all of the wonderful things her students have said and written. The common theme is that, "Ms. Ritzer has inspired all of us and was always positive. She lit up the room with her contagious smile and bright, loving personality." Some students even said that they didn't even like math until they had her as a teacher. Colleen made her classroom fun by incorporating inspirational quotes and pictures and saying things like, "Yay math! Yay proofs!" She was not just their teacher, but their mentor. You can see the effect she has had and how the community has bonded together to commemorate and celebrate Colleen's life.

Colleen loved spending time with her friends. It didn't matter where they went as long as they were going together. They would often get in a car and not know where they were going and would go through their list of "usuals." Even as a college roommate, Colleen was such a great friend, posting inspirational quotes all over the walls, proof-reading lab reports and listening during "nightly chats." One of her favorite things to do together with her friends was go cruising.

Some of Colleen's other favorite things were the color pink, long weekends, fall, Christmas, shopping at Target and going to the beach to sunbathe (not that you would have even been able to tell!). She also loved being in yoga pants or sweats. For someone who owned so many yoga pants, she didn't actually do any yoga, or any other sport for that matter. Maybe it was because she described herself as an "awkward lefty." She even got mad because she had all A's, except for a C in gym class. Even though Colleen was not an athlete, she loved the spirit of sports and supported all of her teams. You could always count on her to be in the stands at Laura's hockey games, unless it was too early or too cold!

As enthusiastic as Colleen was about her friends and her job as a teacher, her heart and soul were encompassed in her family. She always loved when we had family get-togethers, no matter the occasion. Summer vacations at the Cape with the Craigs and Sam were definitely a highlight of her childhood. Many trips to Florida, visiting Disney and spending time with the Rileys were so much fun. And she always looked forward to driving up to Vermont to spend time with the Vermonters, including her Grandma Bev.

Colleen supported the American Heart Association by participating in Footsteps for Bev in honor of her beloved Grandma Bev, who suddenly became an angel in Heaven on April 3, 2009. She missed her Grandma Bev so much and would say that "we are forever grateful for the time we had with her and will continue to find healing in the many memories." We should all listen to this advice. Be grateful for the time we had with Colleen, even though it was far too short, and begin to find healing in the many fond memories that we have with her.

Colleen loved being a sister. When her brother, Dan, was born, she walked into the hospital and cried. She cried because she wanted a sister, not a brother! She grew to love him, of course, and ended up getting her sister, Laura, a few years later. Colleen, Dan and Laura all shared such a very special relationship with each other. Colleen loved her brother and sister very much and always did her best to be a sister, friend and mentor to them.

She is the daughter that every parent hopes their children will become once they grow up. The love she was given as a child continued to thrive through her life into adulthood. Colleen's relationship with her mom and dad was indescribable. She was so happy to be with them and took so much pride in being their daughter. I have witnessed many people complimenting Peg and Tom on how they raised Colleen to be such a beautiful, kind person. Thank you ... thank you for raising such an extraordinary woman who has touched all those that she has come across in life. I consider myself blessed to have been a part of her life and have never been more proud of the love and strength of our family.

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A thousand times we needed you

A thousand times we cried

If love alone could have saved you

You never would have died

A heart of gold stopped beating

Two twinkling eyes closed to rest

God broke our hearts to prove he

Only took the best

Never a day goes by that you're not in

My heart and my soul

— Author unknown

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"Everyday may not be good, but there is something good in every day."

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"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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"Find something good in every day." Colleen did find something good in every single day. She even kept a memory jar, containing events and good things that have happened to her.

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I could go on and on about my beautiful cousin, but there are not enough words. So I would like to leave you with this:

A heart so big, God couldn't let it live. May angels lead you in. Your memory will live on forever in the hearts of everyone you touched as a teacher, daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend. Heaven stole an angel from us today. You will always be in our hearts; we love you, rest in peace.