What does a eulogy or an obituary have to do with writing? In this case, quite a lot for if not for my sister-in-law, Annie, I would never have submitted the first draft of my novel to the Gather.com First Chapters Romance competition in 2007 and thus, would not have met Mike Simpson and the rest of the great gang of folks at Second Wind.
In 2007, Annie was living with us as she struggled to get back on her feet after a long stint of unemployment. She believed in my writing but she felt that I was making excuses for not taking it to the next level. One day after work, I came home to find the details around the Gather.com contest printed out and sitting on my placemat at the dinner table with an “I dare ya” on her lips. Long story short – I took the dare and here I am.
Anyone who ever met Anne DeNitto will tell you, she was a force of nature. She was not the sort of person who fades into the background or stands on the sidelines of life. Annie lived life to its fullest, embracing adventure or new experiences with no hesitation. Charismatic, intelligent, headstrong, gifted artistically, and passionate about the people and animals that touched her life; Annie was a lot of things to a lot of people.
To me, she was a friend and at times a stand-in for a mother-in-law. We shared a love of music, reading, food, flowers, and my husband and kids. Annie was easy to talk to and she understood me in a way that few people do. We could disagree or be angry with one another one minute and forgive/forget the next. Time could pass between conversations and we’d always pick up again where we’d left off seamlessly. She knew her brother, my husband, well enough to advise me on how to handle the ups and downs that all married couples go through, and well enough to shed light on some of his motivations for those things that make one go “huh?” In fact, she has much to do with why my husband and I are still together. It was Annie who convinced me to give him one more chance, and that chance was the one that made the difference.
To my husband, she was a beloved older sister – which means sometimes they fought and sometimes they were a formidable united front. His grief during her illness and upon her death has been hard to watch. In many ways they were two peas in a pod, yet they were polar opposites in others. To my children, she was part aunt, part stand-in grandmother, and part fairy god-mother. Both boys loved her dearly and miss her terribly. Annie had a rapport with my boys that at times I can admit to being a bit envious of. She was also the sort of aunt that sent the really cool educational toys and books that children actually like, sent mementos from her varied travels, and remembered to send cards for every single occasion.
If I had to pick one adjective to describe her, it would be eclectic.
She was an actor and usually became involved in community theatre where ever she happened to be living. In her younger years she even toured with several troupes. When I first met my husband, she and he were in a community theatre production of “Oklahoma!” I recall sitting in the audience realizing I should be paying attention to my boyfriend, but being struck by how good his sister was. Annie was so far and above the best actor on the stage – a star somehow misplaced among the rest of us.
Annie was also blessed with a lovely voice. One night shortly after she’d moved out to return to Sarasota, my oldest son lamented her absence during story time. “Don’t sing mommy,” he said. “It makes me miss Aunt Annie.” “Because she used to sing to you sometimes?” I replied. “No, ‘cuz she can sing and you can’t.” Out of the mouths of babes, but she did have a beautiful voice. The choir director at our church was practically stalking her while Annie lived with us.
In addition to her artistic side, Annie was an incredible cook. All of the Waples, with the exception of my father-in-law, have a gift for food. Annie and Joe, my husband, in a kitchen together was a recipe for some spectacular clashes that resulted in some mouthwatering, waist expanding delights. She and her sister are well known for their rum cakes, and friendly competition between them aside – Annie’s rum cakes were amazing.
In one of those ironic twists of fate, this incredibly rare woman was struck down by a rare cancer. My husband and I took the kids to see her in October. Joe and the kids went out to get her a Wendy’s frosty and I had some time alone with her. In the midst of talking about general things, she admitted to being scared of dying. I reminded her that of all things, she was at heart adventurous and had to my knowledge never backed away from a new experience, challenge or adventure. This was just the end of one adventure and the start of a new one – ultimate adventure. She spent a moment thinking it through, then she smiled. “Yeah, it is. I just could do without all this discomfort,” she answered as she gestured at the hospice bed and assorted paraphernalia. We spoke some more about general things, and how thrilled she was to have finally become a real grandmother. Her oldest son and his wife had their first child this year and Annie was able to see her granddaughter. When we said good-bye, we both knew it was probably the last time I would see her in this life.
While the end of this adventure we call life for Annie wasn’t comfortable, she was able to know her grandchild and she was surrounded by the love and presence of her many friends, her family, and the staff at Heartland who became like family.
See you on the next cycle my friend.
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.