“There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change.”

—— Anne Morrow Lindbergh


Shortly after he died, I bought a red purse. I knew I needed to have it, but I didn’t know why. For a few years, the purse sat untouched on my dresser, waiting, like a patient friend, for me to take up its call.

The Red Purse tells a story of loss, of transition, of rebuilding. The Red Purse documents a journey, my journey, from young widowhood, where I thrashed in the darkness, to today, where I swim—confidently—in the light.

After my husband passed, a swell of emotions hit. Some emotions were expected—grief, fear, sadness—but others shocked me: a rush of femininity, a burst of sexuality, a pulsing energy flowing through my veins. Alone with two young children, I struggled, gasping almost, with these confusing, and even shameful, incongruencies.

Coincidentally, my mother became a widow at a similar age. In her day, women were expected to shut down, to keep their desires hidden. Divorced women could remarry, but widows needed to sacrifice, to stay devoted to their lost husbands. By the time my husband passed, women’s obligations had softened; widows were not confined to a strict set of expectations. While a blessing, this freedom left me flailing, without a set path to follow.

I had trouble thinking of myself as a widow, unwilling, at first, to join that club. I paused whenever I encountered a “marital status” box on a form, torn between wanting to acknowledge the marriage that was, and wanting to move forward, redefining myself.

From early in the grieving process, one thing was certain: I did not want to raise my boys under a shroud of loss. I did not want people to pity me. I would, however difficult, move forward.

The red purse stood as a daily reminder: despite the enormity of the tasks at hand, I needed to make room for femininity, for frivolity, for spontaneity.

I started with the easy changes, focusing first on my environment. I redecorated my home, rearranged furniture, incorporated my own style.  But difficult decisions awaited: how would I approach the world as an unmarried woman?  I knew I eventually wanted a new partner, a new relationship, a tribute, of course, to my marriage, to what I had lost.  But would I be desirable? Was I too old? Was I being disloyal?

I slowly, cautiously, stepped outside of my grief. First, I challenged my mind; I watched movies, I read, I dreamed. I opened myself up to others, to friends and guides, sharing my hopes, my fears. Then, ever-so-slowly, I ventured out into the world.  I expanded my confines, block by block, exploring new neighborhoods, meeting up with new people, testing new waters.

Rejoining the world did not come easy. When I had fun, guilt ate away at me; when things did not go well, shame prevailed. I alternated between ups and downs, exhilaration and embarrassment. Confusion reigned, for years. Gradually, I became bolder; I dared to experiment, trying out new roles, new personalities, new styles. I flirted; I dated; I risked. I felt, almost, like an actress in my own movie, sometimes a film noir—full of danger, drama, and suspense.

Red: the symbol of passion and strength.  Purse: a container, allowing us to carry personal items on our journeys.

As my confidence grew, I brought my red purse along on my adventures. Yes, it added style to my look, but with it came power and force, a determination to make a statement in the world. Inside, the purse often remained empty, carrying only my story, my struggles, my dreams, all packed safely and secretly, held closely, guiding me on my pursuits.

Nearly twenty years have passed, and I have landed, with strength, in a warm and wonderful space, buoyed by acceptance. Grief and loss stay with me, but they have become silent, almost comforting, companions, a reminder of a lovely time, of a life well-lived. I now have a long-time partner; my sons are grown and thriving. And I, with awe and wonder, walk forward, focused on my passions—photography, my family, my companion—proud of my new life, a rich and broad life, and thankful for the path that brought me here.

The Red Purse project is, in the end, not a tale of grief, but rather a toast to life, to rebuilding, to flourishing. We all, at times, need to reinvent, to rewrite our stories. The Red Purse is meant to inspire, to prompt conversation, to pay tribute to those who have lost, to those who have struggled, and to those who have survived.



Jacque Rupp is a documentary and fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  As a visual storyteller, her work explores themes of loss, connection, and self and she also seeks to shine a light on unseen communities.

Rupp holds degrees from SUNY and Santa Clara University, later working as an executive in Silicon Valley, recruiting top talent for many years. As a photographer, she has studied photography extensively at Stanford University, Los Angeles Center of Photography and Santa Fe Workshops.  She has a lifetime interest in the moving image and is on the advisory board for the UNAFF (United Nations Associated Film Festival), a documentary film festival at Stanford University.  She is also on the Board of The Weston Collective in Carmel.  Rupp also partners with many of the small farmer NGOs in the Salinas Valley, on the Monterey coast in California.

Rupp has exhibited at the Center for Photographic Arts, Praxis Photo Arts Center, Los Angeles Center of Photography, Art Ventures Gallery, among others, and has been recognized with numerous online awards. She was awarded honorable mention in the Julia Margaret Cameron competition for women in 2021 and 2022.  Rupp has been featured multiple times in All About Photo and Black and White Magazines. Her documentary work with farmers in the Salinas Valley has been used by numerous non-profit organizations both in print and online.  And she was a Critical Mass 2022 finalist, top 200.