Day 19. Strongest Woman I Know


“Annie” 11×14, oil on canvas, $150 [button link=”″ type=”big”] Buy Now[/button]

When I first dreamed up this project, one of the stories I most wanted to tell was my friend Annie’s. I wrote a little about her back in April when I did my first 30 in 30 challenge.

Annie and I met in May of 2013. I was newly separated, a new mother in a new home. Ezra was ten months old. I think I had just mastered sleep training, and, for the first time since he was born, was sleeping through the night. I’d left all my friends when I’d moved (albeit I didn’t move far, but sometimes distance is relative). One of those dear friends sent me a flyer in the mail. It was for a retreat. Divorced. Widowed. Separated.

I’d been looking for something, anything, to help me through it. I did countless google searches that left me discouraged. A support group in California? Not very helpful. I was desperate for something because I felt an outsider. I’m sure we’ve come a long way, but in 2013, divorce still felt taboo. Most people didn’t talk to me about it, probably because they thought I didn’t want to. When other tragedies strike, we at least can talk about them, organize around them, provide resources to the ones in need. When someone dies we make casseroles, send flowers. When a marriage dies we talk about the weather and football, what we will have for dinner.

So I went on the retreat and met one of my very best friends, a widow. By some great streak of luck or divine providence we were placed in the same small group.

Even in its talk of “magic pens” and a very formulaic, often rigid format, the retreat helped. Taboo things were not taboo but normal, expected. “What’s your story?” meant “Why are you in pain?” and not “What is your job?”

But what changed me was not the retreat itself but meeting Annie, whose husband came home sick from work one day and never went back. He had a brain tumor and slowly lost his ability to do the most mundane of tasks. Annie was also a new mother. She diapered her husband and her child simultaneously. She cared for one helpless human being who didn’t know any different and another, who every step of the way fought her for the independence he wasn’t willing to part with but whose body had surrendered.

And, somehow, she came out of that okay. Not okay, but good. She is infinitely strong and wise. She listens when you talk to her, opens up when it would be easier not to. She’s a really good mom. A once-in-a-lifetime friend.

On the retreat, we were frequently reprimanded for talking (whispering) during ordained “silent writing times”.  Our “magic” pens were sometimes more interested in doodling into our notebooks, resting, while we talked to one another.

A month ago, Annie and I started going to a life drawing class together. We chatted as we drew, and, again, we were reprimanded by a woman near us who said she could not draw with our constant chatter. We laughed and laughed.  It was the Sadness Retreat all over again.

So last night, she sat on my front porch as the sun started to descend, and I painted her, the strongest woman I know.


Today, Annie wrote what follows, a reflection on starting over, loss, uncertainty.

“Boom, crack, lightening struck, and I fell hard days before I gave him a letter about shooting stars; I didn’t want that to be “us.” but driving home a few days later as quite literally a sign from The Heavens, a shooting star, blazes right before my eyes like it was meant only for me– I chose to ignore my sign from God. That’s not the first time I’ve ignored the messages.

I’m becoming a little confused. How much of a role do I get to play with choosing a mate? And how much has already been decided in The Heavens for me? Should I be following random signs looking for a road map to my God-assigned soul mate or do I get a say in the matter?

Its seems like every time I chose my choice is taken away from me. Maybe my purpose is to simply be my son’s parent. Is this because I’ve disobeyed and want to pick my love? The first commandment is to love God before everything. I thought I had this straight, but maybe I’m supposed to accept the answer, “No,” from God sometimes. Maybe I need to trust that He has something better in the plans.

My goal for myself is to not try and push so much, to accept good experiences that I’m given for whatever reason and be thankful for what I have been given.

Our time on Earth is finite. For me to remember that we are put here to know and serve God (catechism 101) puts things back into perspective for me. It makes losses and little easier to bare. I am here for a reason, to purify my soul through all the lessons learned.”


Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

September 19, 2014

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