November 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Colleen Ramsey has always written what she knows: love, adoption, grief, and—more recently—aging.

“I have to feel something,” Ramsey says. “I have to have some emotion connected with it.”

At 85, Ramsey has self-published more than two dozen books. While most are shared with her friends and family, some are recommended reading for adoptive families at Catholic Charities and for grieving adults at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries.

Ramsey became a writer out of necessity. She battled depression in her early days of motherhood. Her psychologist prescribed writing. He told her to get up an hour early and write, write anything, even if it was just her name for an hour.

Though she was not a natural-born writer, she wrote. On her second day, she started jotting down things that were bugging her—and the words overflowed.

In her Ralston home, over hot tea, Ramsey recalls what writer Anna Quindlen wrote in a 2007 essay: “Writing is not just a legacy, but therapy. In the end, writers will write mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.

Eventually, she decided her stories needed to be told. She and her husband had five teenagers, all adopted, under their roof, and her first book, We Touch Each Other’s Lives, deals with issues of adoption and family.

Her kids did not know where they came from because in those days adoption was kept secret.

“I wanted to give them their story,” she says, even when some of those stories involved seeking out birth parents.

It was an account of adoption from an angle that doesn’t often get told: the adoptive parent’s perspective. Catholic Charities has, with permission, reprinted and distributed We Touch Each Other’s Lives to families for 19 years.

“Colleen is a wonder,” says Sue Malloy, family services program director at Catholic Charities of Omaha. “She gives a voice to so many things that are a part of the adoption journey for people. She has a perspective unlike many other people. She just has this incredible intuition about the adoption journey.”

When her husband, Bob, passed away in 2005, Ramsey turned to writing again. This time to process her grief. Those were the hardest books to write, but also the most helpful for her.

Sharon Zehnder, director of aftercare at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries, keeps Ramsey’s writing on grief in the mortuary’s support group library and shares passages on the mortuary’s website. Zehnder says Ramsey’s words are extremely relatable to people.

“They can identify with so much that she has written,” Zehnder says.

Her writing has helped others, and for that, she’s grateful. “I like to share what’s helped me,” Ramsey says.

Since writing We Touch Each Other’s Lives, Ramsey has penned her memories of growing up in the 1930s and through World War II, discussed prayer in her writing, and written books for each of her grandchildren. She types all her books, searches through family photos for illustrations, and then begins the time-consuming process of printing her books at home, placing photos on pages gently with tape, and then binding them herself.

There may be easier ways to do it, but this is the “write” way for Ramsey.

This article is printed in the November/December 2017 issue of 60 Plus.