Archive for November, 2011

My next favorite memory is the night that Kesner asked me to be in an exclusive relationship that was heading towards marriage…

It was the Tuesday after our amazing Good Friday and Easter Sunday dates. He invited me over for dinner, promising not to boil the meat. I had to go to a Sorority meeting that night but I left early and met him at his house at 8PM. I had on a grey pencil skirt, a white blouse and black pumps.

I loved his house.

It was my first time there and it was classic. He had dark leather furniture, hardwood floors, and African artifacts around. There were also many oil paintings on the walls; different landscapes, scenes in nature.

“Did you paint these?” I noticed the artist signature said KD, with the ‘ufresene’ running together in a small squiggly line after the D.

“Yes. Oil painting is a hobby. I paint in my basement.”

He looked so handsome that night. He had on blue jeans and an un-tucked white button down shirt that fit him perfectly. And he had this really great dog, “her name is Ce-Ce, she followed me home one night while I was on the campaign trail.”

We spent time in his dimly lit kitchen while he finished his culinary masterpiece: Trenton pork roll, corn and spinach.  I sat on a stool and talked to him while he cooked. We talked about Haiti. He told me about this time he’d gone there when he was eight and played with a cousin his age. They’d climbed trees and made kites out of leaves and these had been some of his fondest childhood memories. Then that cousin died and it was unclear how. Kesner had been very sad about that.   

….I imagined this child climbing trees and flying child-made kites in heaven. Happy.

“Would you like to try some peanut butter from Haiti?”

Some had just been shipped to him from a man he met when he’d been there during the earthquake. I said “sure.” He spread some on a celery stick and gave it to me. It was spicy. It tasted like someone had taken regular peanut butter and mixed it with hot sauce. I finished my celery stick, I wouldn’t be going back for seconds.

Dinner was better. We enjoyed his simple meal with a glass of wine by candle light. Anthony Hamilton played in the background. It was there that he told me he wanted to be in an exclusive, committed relationship that was heading towards marriage.

With me.

Wow I thought. Nobody had ever been that direct. In so many relationships before I’d played guessing games, trying to decipher mixed signals, wondering: “where is this going?”

Kesner made his intentions clear.

He was just that into me.

In a radio interview that I did with my friend, Andrea, she encouraged women to know where they’re headed in a relationship. She said “when you get in a cab you don’t just ride around aimlessly, you have a destination. Why not treat a relationship the same way?”

My friend Jocelyn’s husband Courtney calls this being emotionally responsible; an emotionally responsible man makes a decision and has a clear direction in a relationship.

Kesner was clear. He told me that he had been observing me for months and that he’d made a decision about me.

I did think his pursuit was impressive. We’d gone on dinner dates, and he’d purchased tickets to plays and fundraisers that I was involved with. He ignored the fact that I’d told him I just wanted to be friends, and he just kept at it. He’d even done an official site visit at my job; we’d scheduled it after I learned that he was Vice Commissioner of the Trenton Housing Authority. He came and I gave him an official tour of the facility. The following month he arranged for us to have Thanksgiving baskets of food to give away to our clients. These were very large laundry baskets, each with everything one needs to make Thanksgiving dinner, including turkeys. Giving them away felt like Christmas.

Yes Kesner’s pursuit had been tight. He later told me: “it takes a while to climb to the highest apple on the tree.”

"It takes a while to climb to the highest apple on the tree..."

He was always saying the right things.

He told me that he’d made a list of the top ten qualities he wanted in a woman, this was the list that Drew/Angel told him to make. He said: “you blew my top ten out of the water…”

That night I entered into a committed exclusive relationship that was headed towards marriage with Kesner.

After dinner we sat on his couch and called my dad on speaker phone. I’d arranged the call because my father used to be a city councilman in Cleveland and I thought he might have some advice for Kesner. Sitting there next to my man and listening to him talk to my father felt surreal. This was happening. My time had come.

I’m going to marry him.

I began to look around the house and visualize where my things would go...

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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Counseling was definitely a first priority when we arrived back in Cleveland. We reached out to the Hospice of the Western Reserve, they have great grief therapy programming. It just took a short interview over the phone, and I was booked for my first one-on-one grief counseling session at the end of the week.

The next order of business was exercise.

The Comforter (mom) had had knee surgery several months prior. Since then she had been going to physical therapy at a place called SportSpine. They also have a personal training component there. Mom decided this would be a good compliment to my counseling and she treated me to my first six personal training sessions. 

On my first day at SportSpine I had terrible back pain. I sat for my fitness consultation with Marcus, the owner, and I told him about my pain. He put his finger on my shoulder and applied pressure, and within seconds it was gone. Then I proceeded to have a challenging hour-long work out with a trainer named Roberto.  Roberto made me work hard; we did a scrambled muscle memory routine with interval sprints in between each circuit.  The challenging workout was what I needed, focusing on my physical fitness helped me stay present; and the endorphins boosted my energy.

Mom was right, this was going to help.

The focus needed during my personal training sessions took my attention from my self pity. I felt like Kesner was there with me, cheering me on, pushing me. He had been so into his own fitness at one time. Friends would tell me how they’d seen Kesner running with intensity and passion. By the time we were together, he didn’t work out as much. I thought it was because of the campaign but it was probably because his body was tired. But he was still so solid and so strong, Kesner was very very fit.

Kesner was very fit

Working out made me feel connected to him. When I ran I felt like he ran with me. My summer membership at SportSpine was a great idea and it helped that Marcus and Roberto were tall and handsome like Kesner.

I also had my reconciliation coffee with Tasha that week. We met at Starbucks. She looked the same to me but we were both different. In the time since I’d seen her last, she’d been married, had a baby, gotten divorced and had to fight the custody battle of her life. In many ways, we were both the wounded walking and our trials brought us back together. We listened to each other over coffee. I was glad to not have the worst story at the table, for once. Things had been bad for both of us, but we had one thing in common: we were still here.

I also had a nice dinner with Lynnette Jackson that week. Lynnette had been my babysitter growing up. I saw her at the Links convention and she’d offered to take me out to dinner the following week. We had tapas and she listened to my love story, I thought that was so nice. I appreciated any opportunity to talk about Kesner, it seemed like people were beginning to stop asking me about him. I guess they thought that maybe if they didn’t bring him up then I would eventually forget the whole thing happened.

I was thankful for my time with Lynnette.

And then It was finally time for the main event, counseling 101. I went to my first session directly after leaving my second physical training session at SportSpine. I had on my athletic gear and I was an absolute emotional mess. I started crying as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. The crying never stopped and it followed me into the waiting room and then the counseling room where I waited for Monica.


I’d expected an older woman in business casual or a suit perhaps, but Monica had on shorts and Teva sandals and she looked to be about 30. She carried a water bottle and wore a bandana on her head; she violated my expectations…

Her energy was kind.

I couldn’t stop crying.

We had some paperwork to fill out and I cried through that. Then she asked me to tell her what happened and I cried through that also, but I got it out.

Wow, so you are experiencing two things at once: the shock of finding a dead body and the grief of loosing your boyfriend. You’re balancing missing him with sheer and utter horror.”

Yes! I thought. She had given me language for what this was. I went on to tell her about the funeral and how I’d felt so disconnected from the family and so scarred by the eulogy.

“Disenfranchised Grief” she called it.

Yes! I thought. I hadn’t known there was a term for it. It meant that I was not alone, someone else had felt this way before.

Monica went on to tell me that Grief is like a wave. Sometimes you are in the calm part of the wave and everything is ok, and then other times you get swept up and it takes you under deep. And you can’t see anything but darkness.

She told me that the emotions of grief are that unpredictable and that I should be gentle with myself as I grieve. I should allow myself to live into what I’m feeling and not try to resist it. It helped so much to hear that, it began to explain how irrational and awkward I’d been behaving. It was all a wave.

I began to trust her. I would definitely come back next week.

Before I left I wanted to tell her about this pack of cigarettes I’d purchased. I bought it after the Links convention and would go to horseshoe lake and smoke one-a-day on a park bench there. I hate the smell of cigarettes, but this activity was relaxing to me.  She suggested that perhaps it was the breathing pattern that I was drawn to. “Try breathing that way without the cigarette. Deep inhale, light exhale. Its called meditative breathing.”  That hadn’t occurred to me. I would try that.

I walked out of counseling better than I came; but before getting in my car, I sat for a moment on the curb to cry a little more. I pulled out the box of cigarettes when I remembered what Monica told me. I threw them away in that moment and I breathed. I sat on the parking lot curb in my gym clothes and breathed in and out until I calmed down.

Then I looked around.

There were yellow flowers everywhere.

The parking lot was lined with daffodils. They were beautiful. I laughed to myself.

The day after Kesner died, Talithea had gone to the grocery store and she was gone for two hours. When she came back she said it took her so long because she was having an argument with Kesner in the store. Apparently his spirit had come to her in the store and told her “buy Kim some yellow flowers and tell her she’s my Sunshine.” She had an argument with him and decided not to do it. She was angry at him for dying, we all were.

But looking around that lot I thought to myself: well he found a way to get me my flowers..

Kesner is here.

And with that I smiled, got off the ground, and got in the car and drove home.  Grief is like a wave, and I was back in the calm part.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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I first spoke publicly at a Links Convention in 2003 when my mom went out of office as Central Area Director. I wrote a speech that she now has framed in her bedroom called “watching”; it was about how I’d been watching and learning from her my whole life. The following year I was asked to give a “Linkspiration” at the national assembly.A Linkspiration is an inspirational few words, offered just before we enter into official business. And In Detroit, in my role as national chair of the Taking Care of Mind Body and Spirit Committee, I was asked to give Linkspirations during two of the Plenary meetings.

The only problem was that I didn’t have anything inspirational to say…

In years past I’d relied on creative energy. But this year I had no creative energy and Heaven forbid I actually say what was on my mind. I decided to turn to Oprah:

Several weeks prior, and before Kesner died, I’d purchased a sweet little book at the mall : “Words that Matter: A Little Book of Life Lessons.” The book is filled with short little quotes that are, according to Oprah, “every day truths to guide and inspire.” I chose two short and clever quotes from this book to offer as my Linkspirations, and they were received with rave reviews. My short little sound bites were a hit and they masked the fact that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever say anything original or creative again.

Would I ever be able to preach again?

I sat with these questions of fate and future while I was at the Links convention in Detroit. It was hard to find alone time there, but I managed to carve some out. I took long walks along the waterfront promenade in the mornings, and I went to the gym alone a few times. And then there was one afternoon during a plenary meeting when we were listening to a group make a program presentation about Haiti. It made me think of Kesner, Kesner was Haitian American ( he actually called himself AHA! – Afro-Haitian-American). Sitting in the meeting and listening to the presentation about Haiti was too much, I had to get away. I sent a text message to my chaperon, Glitter Pop: “I need to get out of here, I’m going for a walk.

I walked down to the Detroit River Water Front and took a seat next to a homeless man who was taking a nap on a bench. There, in my kelly green Calvin Klein sun dress and dark sunglasses, I sat and thought about Kesner and the book I wanted to write, Thank You Very Sweet.  How would I do this? I wanted to write about Kesner, but I also wanted to write about my family and friends, how amazing they had been during those first days of grief. ‘Maybe this book could be one big thank you note to everyone. To my friends and family, and to Kesner…’ I thought.

Just then I heard the click-click of designer heels and I turned around to see Glitter Pop standing on a landing and waving at me in a pink St John knit. “Kimmy!! You can’t just walk around Detroit by yourself. I know you want to be with Kesner but you need to be safe! You’re gonna get me in trouble!!” That afternoon Glitter Pop and I played hookie. We took the Detroit downtown train around the city, we window shopped and we stopped at a restaurant for shrimp po boys and long island iced teas.

Later that night there was a reception in the suite. Somebody’s very nice, tall and handsome son was there from Chicago and several Links wanted to introduce me to him. Apparently there were several Links that thought this was a good idea, but it was way too soon. I sat for a few minutes alone with this very tall and handsome young man. He said that he couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a boyfriend. I told him: “I do have a boyfriend. He’s dead.”

Clearly that didn’t work out.

Even though I wasn’t ready to move on personally, I had begun to think about moving on professionally. I had a conversation with one of my chapter members, Valerie, one afternoon. She told me that she had been in contact with the managing editor of Essence.com. They were apparently looking for a writer for their religion and spirituality column. She thought it would be a good idea for me. Perfect, I thought. I would pursue this. I began to look forward to it.

I was also ready to entertain thoughts beyond grief. I had a really meaningful talk one morning with Alice Strong Simmons,who was the Central Area Vice Director at the time. She lost her brother forty years prior. “It was so long ago. How do you remember him now?” I asked. I was feeling very insecure about forgetting things about Kesner. “I created a memory book. And whenever I want to be with him, I just go and sit with my book.” A memory book. Brilliant, I thought. If I were to create a memory book for Kesner it would have to be absolutely perfect. I would spend the next few months keeping my eyes open for someone who could help me with this.

The climax of the convention was my mom’s win. The room erupted into applause after she gave her campaign speech and then again when she was elected 15th National President of theLinks Inc.

My mom (far left) and her newly elected executive team at the White Rose Banquet in Detroit

She was brilliant and I was so proud of her. She really was the right choice for our organization. It was all very exciting and it was hard not to get swept up.

On the final afternoon of the convention, my brother – The Man, came to town. He was there to see my mom get sworn into office and it was so good to see him. We stole away for a few moments and went for a walk. On our walk we saw two women dining outside. One woman was my chapter member and the other was a woman that I’d been making a point to snub for the past few months. I’d met her a year prior at a luncheon. She’d invited me to sit at her table then asked me to get up when she thought someone more interesting might want to sit there. The interesting person never showed up and I ended up being invited back to the table, but not without a chip on my shoulder.

I saw her a year later at the white coat ceremony at Howard Dental School when my brother, Gary, graduated. I decided not to speak. Then two weeks later I saw her again at an afternoon reception at the state capital in New Jersey. She made a grand entrance and seemed to know everyone in the room. I began to question whether my snub was really a good idea. Would I just keep seeing this woman? That night I remember coming home and talking with Kesner about her. I was feeling pretty self righteous and was looking for his support but all he said was: “I need you to always take the high road, for us.”

And now here was my opportunity to take the high road. I had to speak. She was sitting with my chapter member who I would never not speak to. It was all too much. As The Man and I  approached the table I broke out into hysterical tears and apologized for how rude I’d been. She and I  made amends and my brother just looked at me like I was nuts. In just a few moments I had gone from happy and talking to hysterical tears in the middle of the street. I felt a little nuts.

That night we celebrated again in the suite.

Celebrating in the suite that night..

At one point I cornered one of my mom’s chapter members who is a doctor. I told her about the vomit on the floor and the high blood pressure medication that Kesner wasn’t taking: “Sounds like he had a heart attack, right?” She suggested that I get the autopsy report, then later suggested to my mom that I get counseling. She was right. I was all over the place. Happy. Sad. Hysterical. I did need counseling.

When the convention was over I cried for 24 hours. The trigger was my menstrual cycle. It came on the last day and it only meant one thing: I wasn’t pregnant. I’d hoped that miraculously Kesner had impregnated me before death. It would be a baby boy and we would name him Kesner. Then me and his mom would move into Kesner’s house and raise the baby together. We would live there together forever and I would never date again. As I tried to explain myself to my mother, while fighting off fits of hysterical tears, there was one thing that became absolutely clear:

“Yes we definitely need to get you in counseling!”

My incredible mom…

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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The Links Incorporated is one of the largest and oldest volunteer service organizations of African American Women in the country. .

It was founded in Philadelphia in 1946 as a group of friends linked together in service to their communities. It has since grown to have a global attitude, providing impacting programming around the world. The membership is dynamic, and the conventions provide wonderful venues to gather, reconnect, learn and celebrate the outstanding work of the chapters. Conventions are where we conduct the official business of the organization..

And also where we have a simply fabulous time, Linking.

It did not take long to get into the flow. Our first days at the conference hotel, Monday and Tuesday, were chill days; but by Wednesday things picked up. This was the day of our Scott Hawkins graduation. After two years of retreats, webinars and case study assignments, our cohort was finally graduating. We were named the “loving cohort” and we had a sweet commencement over a lunch in the hotel sponsored by FeDex.

our lunheon sponsor

With all of the LOVE  flowing in our Scott Hawkins session, my only goal was to make it out without opening a flood gate of tears. The mission was almost complete when one of my Scott Hawkins sisters gave a tearful thank you to everyone who’d supported her when her mother passed months earlier: “..and just like everyone was there for me, we are here for you too Link Kimberley..“.

Open flood gates.

I had to get out of there. Once the tears started they were difficult to stop.  The hotel was like a maze, but Monique and I made it back to Home Base and my childhood friend, Maya, joined us for a visit. Maya is a member of the Richmond VA Chapter and she is a writer, editor, and wife of famed college basketball coach, Shaka Smart.

Shaka and Maya

Maya asked me about Kesner and it was a comfort to talk about him to her. I told her that I was interested in writing a book. She thought that was a good idea and said that she would introduce me to a friend who’d recently been published…

Just then, Glitter Pop surprised us and popped into the room with a high pitched:

“Heeeey Kimmmy!!”

Mom had asked Gayle (Glitter Pop) to stay in the room with me and be my chaperon for the week; this was because I’d developed the tendency of wandering off to be alone with Kesner and nature. Glitter Pop was happy to do it and I was happy to see her. ……………………………………………..That night we went to a welcome party at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. It was there that I saw my God Mother, Marcella. Marcella is a philanthropist from DC and she is a beautiful person. We’d met and developed a spirit connection on a trip to South Africa in 2007. I’d been wanting to see her and talk to her. We stole away to a corner of the room and talked. She wanted to know everything about Kesner and I told her.

“What did he call you, Kim?” She asked.

“He called me Brown Eyes and Beautiful and PYT and Phenomenal Woman, and Sweetheart, and Babe, and Darlin’ and Wisdom…”

You’re so blessed Kim. Most people don’t get to experience love like that. Dancing in the park?..”

The convention would continue to be filled with memorable moments; I was overwhelmed with support and love. Everybody knew. I couldn’t walk through the lobby without Link Sisters stopping me to tell me how sorry they were for my loss. So many women had experienced tragedy in their young lives and they wanted to tell me about it, to encourage me. They wanted to tell me that there is light at the end of dark tunnels. One woman’s husband and new born baby were killed in a crash, another lost her husband just ten months after they were married.

They were so beautiful. So strong. so resilient.

And then I shared a special moment one night with my aunt Gretel. Ten years earlier her daughter and my God Sister died in a tragic car accident. I was a sophomore at Spelman at the time and it was horrible. Her name was Heather and I loved her with my whole heart.  Sitting alone on the couch with Aunt Gretel, I asked her if she thought that Heather ever came to visit.

 “I believe she does come to visit, and when she visits she’d like to see us doing well…”

She went on to tell me that I was a survivor. My twenties had been bookended by two significant deaths: Heather at age 20 and Kesner at age 30.

I thought to myself: ‘hmmm, she’s right.  I sure hope it gets better from here…

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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