Remembering life of a friend who boosted others

The week before Thanksgiving, I learned of a friend’s passing. Usually, I immediately disregard the campus-wide e-mails, but for some reason, I clicked on this one. 

As it opened, it told the story not of death, but of life: of a life marked by strength and determination, but – above all – optimism.

I met Annie in the graduate program. She was a few years ahead of me – writing her dissertation while I started my coursework. In all of those years, we saw each other a handful of times each semester: comings and goings. But in every one of those moments, there was a smile. 

In the e-mail, one of her colleagues remembered that Annie had the capability of lighting up whatever room she walked into. They weren’t just saying that to be nice – it was a truth.

Graduate school can be long and hard. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding self-worth, confidence, the tension between work and family, and, of course, the academic job market. 

But none of that ever came out with Annie. If there’s one word to describe her, it would be positive. No matter what had happened, she would still find a silver lining. That was her way.

When Annie graduated, she landed a job in the university’s administration, working with undergraduates interested in the Honor’s Program, and helping undergraduates seek out scholarships. 

That was Annie – always helping others, always seeking to provide a sense of enthusiasm and have that excitement spread.

As I finished my coursework and began my own dissertation, I saw Annie less and less. But I knew I could always go to her for advice or help. 

Over the summer, I led a dissertation writing retreat,  and Annie was the first person I e-mailed to lead a workshop on writing practices. 

If anyone could remind individuals who were stuck, who were unable to keep going on with their dissertations, Annie could do it. And she did. She walked in with a smile and grace and told her story. 

It was like that with Annie. She was one of those individuals who, even if you hadn’t talked to her in a while, it wouldn’t seem like it. She remembered aspects of your life and asked about them – genuinely. 

Annie was only a few years older than myself. She  leaves behind two small children and a husband. 

I’ll never forget the first time I learned of her illness. While pregnant with her daughter, Annie battled breast cancer.

After giving birth, she embarked on her chemotherapy journey – but only after she had successfully seen her daughter enter the world.

Always caring for others. It wasn’t her first battle – she had been diagnosed in 2016, but only her close family knew it. Always protecting others and those around her.

In the memoriam from a colleague, the final lines revolved around Annie’s struggle with cancer. Annie wouldn’t want that to be what defines her. If she couldn’t find a silver lining, she kept it to herself. 

She would want to be remembered for her brightness, for the positivity that she showed to every individual. She would want to be remembered for her life.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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