Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” In other words, hang with the winners. A few months ago, my therapist gave me the assignment to think about the wise women in my life, warriors who had persevered through difficulties in their lives to emerge as stronger figures, examples of resilience who could serve as my teachers. I went even further and interviewed each one, asking them about the force or philosophy behind their strength.
The following women have survived illness, divorce, deaths, lay-offs, but pressed on with a tenacity that inspires me. They are world travelers, executives, communication professionals, caregivers, and master healers who have made the world a better place.
1. Rose Pike
Angel Rose holds a special place in my heart because she has showered me with kindness at difficult crossroads in my life. She was my editor at a health website three years ago when I experienced a severe depressive episode. Instead of berating me for my slower writing pace at that time, she sent me flowers and cut my workload in half. Kindness is synonymous with Rose. Her imprint of compassion is evident in every feature she publishes for the different websites she has worked for. As a writer, I am inspired by her unwavering dedication to disseminate stories of hope for persons faced with chronic conditions.
An adventurous spirit, Rose told me one of her biggest obstacles was breaking free from the routine and comfortable life of her family life growing up. Although difficult, she moved away from her hometown in order to find a new life of her own. “That distance helped me become my own person,” she said. The support of her daughter and daughter-in-law and her friends helps sustain her today.
Her advice to young women is to persist and to not resist change because things are always changing. To that end, her favorite quote is the chorus of Bob Dylan’s song, “Things Have Changed,” which says, “People are crazy and times are strange, I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range, I used to care, but things have changed.”
2. Carolyn Casey
Carolyn was seven when her mother committed suicide. Her father abandoned his children and left town. The bottom fell out of her world. She and her 2-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother lived with their grandparents, and Carolyn became the caretaker for her younger siblings.
Some years later, her father married a woman who despised Carolyn and was abusive to her. Her stepmother would lock herself in her room reading and separated herself from her children, which numbered seven at that time. Carolyn turned to a higher power and prayed for strength and courage. In her darkest moments, she knew from deep within herself that there was something greater than herself.
At age 40, Carolyn found herself divorced with three children. She now understood the pain her mother felt and why she wanted to end her life. She turned the struggles of her past into strength and courage, and a desire to help lift up others from their suffering and facilitate healing. She could have given up and become an embittered person, but through the grace of a higher power she continues her journey in gratitude and knows for certain that there is something greater than ourselves that loves us even when we don’t. A feisty, single woman who devotes her time to causes, her children, grandchildren, and friends, she inspires me with her tireless energy toward service to others. Carolyn’s favorite quote is Soren Kierkegaard’s observation: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
3. Eileen Bailey
I consider Eileen the female Job; however, she never whined to God. She simply took the next step to make her life better. Eileen endured the most difficult loss when she lost her son two years ago. Proactive in her grief and with everything in her life, she turned her pain into love and created scrapbooks of her son’s life for her grandson and formed a tighter bond with him.
I asked her how she was able to persevere through such a tragedy and keep a positive attitude. “Just do it,” she said, “like the Nike ad. Break your day down and do the thing in front of you.” She stays busy as a regular contributor to HealthCentral in addition to a day job.
Laughter and friends also keep her sane. After her second divorce, when her daughter moved away to school, she found herself lonely. She looked up a group on Meetup for women over 50, but they didn’t have many activities, so she created her own group. They met for breakfast six years ago and are still friends today.
Eileen’s favorite quotes are:
- “We never truly get over a loss, but we can move forward and evolve from it.” – Elizabeth Berrien
- “The journey never ends…”
- “If you want to have a friend, you first need to be a friend,” one that her mother told her often and what drove her to create the Meetup group.
4. Lisa Hillman
Lisa never meant to become a poster child for parents coping with a child’s drug problem. She was an accomplished health care administrator, a fundraising executive married to former Annapolis Mayor Richard Hillman, and a mother of two.
Few people knew about the nightmare that was unfolding at home starting with a phone call from her son’s high school teacher the start of his senior year, alerting her to his possible marijuana use. Jacob’s addiction unraveled from there, resulting in a dependence on opiates that threw his life into reverse. Jacob’s story has a happy ending. He eventually got sober and stayed sober after visiting a few inpatient treatment centers.
Lisa chronicles the journey to hell and back in a riveting, poignant book called Secret No More: A True Story of Hope for Parents With an Addicted Child. But even more inspiring than her pages is the woman who wrote it. Her life, as well as her words, speak of the journey of shedding shame and guilt to make room for a bolder kind of love. In her blog, she shares powerful anecdotes on how to lower expectations, walk through fear, ask for support, let go of control, and hang on to hope. Whenever I experience bouts of insecurity about sharing my story, I call up Lisa for a much-needed reminder to be authentic.
Lisa has several favorite quotes:
- “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” – from her father
- “You are stronger than you know.” – from her mother
- “One day at a time.”
- “You can glance back at your past, just don’t stare.”
- “We are here on earth to serve others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.” – W.H. Auden
5. Jen Brining
Jen is the lay Mother Teresa, traveling the world and giving back in her unique way. She divides her time between her son’s house in New Jersey, helping with her new granddaughter, and leading Habitat for Humanity group trips in Asia, Africa, and Central America. These “volunteer vacations” entail more than erecting physical infrastructures, they build community. For Jen, there is nothing like the rewarding, emotional feeling she has every time she leaves a build.
“Although the initial intent is to help families by building a house, latrine, or a stove,” she explained to me, “we are immersed in their community, in their homes … in their lives. There is a unique bonding of friendships between fellow volunteers, the deserving homeowner, the local community, and international cultures.”
Jen’s hardest obstacle was losing a child, one of two twins at birth. She overcame it by being the best mother she could possibly be to her amazing two children. Her advice to young women? “Be yourself, follow your dreams, but take the opportunity to travel internationally as soon as you can. It will change your outlook on life.” Her favorite quote is “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” often attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien.
6. Michelle Rapkin
Even as Michelle’s professional life blossomed early with several executive positions within the publishing field, her love life took a little longer. In her mid 40s, Michelle met and married the love of her life, Bob, and lived 10 years of happy ever after until he died from complications from gall bladder surgery. She took the tragedy in stride because she was well-trained in the school of hard knocks.
Just two years after marrying Bob, Michelle was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which she eventually beat, achieving remission. One of Michelle’s best gems concerns the 14 days between her blood tests and a diagnosis. “Don’t waste 14 days,” became her motto, not just about that time of uncertainty but about life with cancer and anxiety and loss. She made a very deliberate intention to live life to the fullest.
Today Michelle’s cancer has returned, and she is in the midst of different treatments. Once again, she concentrates her efforts on moving forward and does not waste any time in regret. Michelle’s favorite quote is “This, too, shall pass.”
7. Mary Beth Beaudry
Strong women make remarkable mothers. Mary Beth’s absolute devotion to her two daughters immediately impressed me as well as her ambition to live a life well lived with a strong moral compass, characterized by integrity, respect, and service and love toward others. While her marriage of 20 years was collapsing to take better care of herself so that she could, in turn, take better care of her daughters, she was proactive in four ways: she relied upon her faith, embraced Transcendental Meditation, focused on her work as Research Nurse Manager and Program Administrator for the Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins, and pursued her own growth gaining admittance to a top doctoral program. Her ambition is to be the greatest mother and role model for her daughters that she can be.
Mary Beth is a personal cheerleader to countless persons, including me, who battle mood disorders. She was the first one to send me an encouraging note after I published a very raw post about my suicidal ideations. Her compassion and optimism, combined with her skills as a communicator, spread hope to those who desperately need it and inspire those burdened by different conditions to take the next step toward wellness. Mary Beth shared she adopted Kesha’s “Praying” as her personal anthem during the most challenging time in her life: “I’m proud of who I am…. I can breathe again…. and now the best is yet to come.”