Caryn Sullivan: Choosing “Pulling Together” Makes the Bitter Better


Caryn Sullivan is a storyteller.

In a world in which people need their stories told there is a need for people like Caryn Sullivan.

In a column she wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2015 Caryn, who lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack, explained her reasons for being a storyteller:

“Everyone is grappling with something, be it addiction, mental illness, caregiving, autism, disease — fill in the blanks. While uncomfortable, sharing struggles and indulging vulnerability can foster kinship and understanding. Solidarity engenders strength.

I’m drawn to people who deal with challenges with tenacity and grace. I’ve woven many of their stories into my first book (just released), “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page.” The stories remind us we are both students and teachers in life.”

Spare Key, an organization celebrating its 20th year of helping families with critically ill and seriously injured children in the hospital “Bounce and not Break” has been privileged to have Caryn tell our story.

In doing so she has helped raise our organization’s profile which, in turn, has permitted us to meet others to support our mission of providing housing grants to families with sick and injured children in the hospital.

This coming Saturday, June 10th, Caryn is helping another organization, Fraser,

From its website, Fraser explains that it “ Minnesota’s largest and most experienced provider of autism services. Fraser also provides services for mental health and other developmental disabilities for children and adults with special needs through healthcare, education and housing. Our programs are nationally recognized for their high quality, innovation, and individualized, family-centered approach.”

Caryn, unlike many of the organizations and people she writes about in sharing their stories, has a personal connection with Fraser.

As she writes on her fundraising page for the upcoming Pulling Together” event to raise funds for Fraser,

“My son’s autism diagnosis rocked my family’s world 23 years ago. He had what? 

Today the boy we called Jumpin’ Jack Flash lives in a bachelor pad with support from Fraser staff. He needs help with things most millennials can do without a thought – but he’s making strides. With his Fraser team leading the way he’s honing skills so he can live a life filled with purpose and joy.

Isn’t that what we want for all our kids?”

Caryn is right.

We all want our kids to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

Whether it is the children served by Fraser – or those served by Spare Key – the ultimate goal of any of us who are privileged to do the work we do is to help children – and their families – to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

Jack Sullivan is the son of Caryn Sullivan.

He has autism.

He is also somebody we, at Spare Key, have had the privilege of getting to know on his weekly trips to our office to help us with work that we need to have done to help advance our mission.

He is just like anybody else’s son.

He could be my son.  He could be anybody’s son.

He just so happens to be Caryn Sullivan’s son.

I’ve gotten to know Caryn through my work at Spare Key.  I have also gotten to know her as she continues to find ways to share the journey of so many others who have found themselves confronted by life’s tragedies and challenges.

She is dauntless.  She is courageous.  She is committed.

It’s what one has to be to write the stories of others suffering and loss while not allowing your own to consume their narrative.

In writing her book,Bitter or Better Grappling with Life on the Op-Ed Page”, Caryn shares with readers her own personal journey of loss.  She also shares with them the stories of others who have found themselves confronted by nearly unimaginable challenges.

In doing so she doesn’t hide the pain, grief, agony or anguish of loss.

Nor does she shy away from having to confront the unknown of what it meant to have a son diagnosed with autism.

Being a storyteller is a remarkable gift.  Those who do it well honor those who are the subjects of their work.

Spare Key, and the nearly 3,300 families we have served, has been honored by Caryn’s sharing of our story and our journey.

For those of you looking to help tell the story of Fraser and the important work it does please helping Caryn’s efforts this Friday in “Pulling Together” to help children live with joy and purpose by joining her Team at:

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