Archive for March, 2012

I went to see Monica on the Tuesday after I returned from Gayle’s wedding in Vegas. It was to be my last grief counseling appointment, I would be heading to New Jersey the following week.

I was a mess. 

The week prior I’d been so positive, hopeful and happy; but this week I was a hot mess. I wore a plain black dress, no make up and no wig. I cried the entire time, just as I had on the first time we met. “Grief is like a wave..” She reminded me.

Grief is like a wave

Then she gave me three stones to take with me. The first was a jagged rock that was to remind me of the way I was when I came, Raw.  I forgot what the other two stones symbolized. I was focused on the raw one. I still felt that way. She urged me to be gentle with myself. “It’s still fresh, it hasn’t even been three full months..”

“I feel so overwhelmed,” I told her. My move back to New Jersey was only one week away, but I had so much to do before I left. I had to organize all of my clothes and pack. And the Links executive council was coming to town for a leadership summit. And my new step mother was having a post-wedding bridal shower;  I was expected at that also.

And not only that, but I had all of these commitments that I would be expected to uphold when I returned to New Jersey. I held an office in my sorority, and I had  commitments to other social clubs and community service organizations. And my church. And I was starting a PhD program…

The thought of it all was so overwhelming; it was too much. All I wanted to do was be still.

“Right now you only have a certain amount of energy,” Monica told me. “You can’t do everything, so I suggest that you prioritize. Give your energy to people and situations that are giving energy back to you.”

She was right. I was over-extending myself; and in many cases, those relationships were not reciprocal. I would have to decide what to keep and what to give up. I couldn’t do it all, I only had a certain amount of energy.

I decided in that moment that I would not go to my step mother’s post-wedding bridal shower. That decision had to do with my father. I had only seen him three times since I’d been in Cleveland, grieving. And one of those times was his wedding.  He hadn’t even called to check on me. And then there was this one morning when I called him and asked if I could visit. He was at IHOP picking up breakfast for he and his wife. “Pick up something for me, I’ll stop by and join you,” I said.   “No, now’s not a good time…”

I decided that going to the shower was not in my best interest. That was a situation that wasn’t giving back to me. I would save my energy for my mom. My mom had been so present with me, I would be present with her for the Links summit.

Having made that simple decision, I felt so much lighter. Monica had done it again. I hated to leave her. Our weekly appointments had helped me so much.

Before I left, she told me she liked my haircut.  She was the first person to say that..
That afternoon I decided to take a drive out to the country. I ended up driving to my old high school, The Hawken School.


I hadn’t been there in years.

The sprawling green campus was breathtaking to me; it was more beautiful than I ever remembered. I was filled with nostalgia from days of old. I felt so lucky to have gone to that school. It was so rigorous, and outside-of-the-box; the exposure was incredible.

When other high schoolers were taking basic english, we were taking classes like “The Life and Times of Buddha and Jesus,” and “Bio-medical Ethics.” I was so thankful for the great sacrifice that my parents made; sending me to this incredible school.  Our motto was : “That Each Generation Introduce it’s Successor to a Higher Plain of Living.” My mom loved that motto. That became the motto of our household as well..

Going to Hawken that afternoon was a great idea! It lifted my spirit. The campus was empty, but the main school building was open. I went in and ran around, remembering. I ran in and out of classrooms, I peeped in teacher’s offices; I went in and out of the bathrooms, to the library and the auditorium. I ran across the field to the dining hall, “The White House” is what we used to call it. Then I ran back and stared at a wall of photographs of teachers that I once knew; many of whom had retired.

And then I sat on the bench where I always sat in high school, and I looked up at a copper hawk mounted on a stone slab. I thought about Kesner; he’d been sending me hawks all summer long.

And now, here I was at my alma matter and I was staring at a sculpture of a hawk. It was our mascot.  How fitting. Yes coming to Hawken was a great idea. It lifted my spirit.

I was alone, but I wasn’t. As I sat there on my bench I felt a presence so strong and so certain. But, this time it wasn’t Kesner. It was..



Jaimie – My friend. My high school friend who died suddenly six days before my 30th birthday. I hadn’t grieved her death, the guilt of it all had been too much….

Jaimie and I had been friends since we were eleven and we remained so into adulthood. She was smart, and funny, and beautiful. But she was sad a lot of the time. She worked in the Cleveland public school system with poor children who were mentally and emotionally challenged. We kept in touch through the years. When we got together we mostly spent time catching up on the Hawken rumor mill: who’d gotten married; who’d had babies…

The last I saw Jaimie was Christmas time 2009. We had coffee at Starbucks. I had my camera but I didn’t take a picture, it was too awkward to ask a stranger to take a photo of the two of us…

Two months later she died. Suddenly.

“I’m sorry to hear about Jaimie,” was the text I received at midnight two days after her death. It was from Damon, another Hawken friend. “Huh? What happened to Jaimie?” I responded.  He called.

Then I checked my voicemail. Amanda had been trying to reach me also. Then I checked facebook and it was all over the place; condolences for Jaimie.

I venture to say that, among our Hawken friends, I had remained the closest to Jaimie through the years. And when she died, I was the last to know. I found out through the Hawken rumor mill; the irony.

By the time I found out, the funeral had already happened. The family was sitting Shivah in Cleveland, and I was in New Jersey; I couldn’t get there in time. And what made it worse was that I had a voicemail from Jaimie from the Thursday, prior.

“Hey it’s Jaimie, give me a call when you can….”

I hadn’t gotten around to calling her back. I was so damn busy. She died suddenly on the following Saturday. The guilt of it all was incredible.

So that afternoon, on my visit to The Hawken School, I sat with my friend on our bench. We shared a peaceful moment and I felt her say I forgive you for not calling me back,” and “I’m better now.” I cried healing tears. This time, for Jaimie.

And I promised to be different. I promised to live on a higher plain: To be present in my relationships. To give energy to people and situations that give energy to me. And to say no to some things; to have boundaries.

Right then and there, in the place of my youth, I vowed to change me.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012

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It was so difficult for me to say I love you to Kesner, I felt so guilty about that in the months after Kesner died. I knew I loved him long before I said it for the first time, but I was afraid….

I think a lot of people thought it was the campaign that killed Kesner. I’m sure the stress of it all didn’t help.

Kesner (left) on the campaign trail

Neither did all of the unsolicited advice, especially my own. The more invested I became in the campaign, the more IT came –  the advice. “Men register advice as criticism,” my Dad told me once. This was just after he’d given me this book about how men need respect and women need to be cherished. But that obviously didn’t fully register with me; women offer unsolicited advice to one another freely and often. For many of us, it is how we love…

But I wasn’t loving in those moments with Kes. I wished I had been different.

We became serious towards the end of his campaign. It didn’t look like he was going to win the election.  Part of me wished I could save the campaign, but it wasn’t for me to save. What frustrated me is that he spoke so broadly; he spoke about macro level changes. “I think you need to be more specific about what you’re actually going to do in office,” I told him. But he was persistent in speaking broadly about change.

He also refused to form alliances with people who I thought he should. Instead I think he saw himself as a grass-roots Barack Obama of sorts, bringing about change for the people of Trenton. “Things shouldn’t be this way,” he’d say.

I just wanted him to win.

And somewhere along the way, while spouting off bits of unsolicited campaign advice, I missed countless opportunities to say I love you.  I cried about that in the grass at Horseshoe Lake. How could I have been so negligent? So selfish? How could I have been so hung up on three simple words?

The night that the election results were announced was a quiet night. Kesner didn’t win, he placed fourth.

quiet after the election...

We said goodbye to our guests that evening, those who’d helped along the way. And then we went to bed. As I laid there next to my man in the peace of that night, I wondered how to love him through this defeat.  I know it hurt him, but he didn’t let it show.

The next day I was so relieved when he told me that he wanted to go away for a few days. He was making it easy for me. We decided on the Poconos and it was an incredible trip – rest, laughter, love,  and a two-hour canoe ride down the Delaware River:  he paddled, I sang, we loved.

“You’re becoming my heart,” he told me. But I couldn’t say those three words yet, it was too soon.

I was afraid.

A week after our trip, I was recording a radio show with Andrea. Excited, I called to leave Kesner a voicemail before we went on the air. “I love you!”- I blurted out before I hung up the phone.

Ooops! I hadn’t meant to say that then, it just came out!

I spent the next 24-hours obsessing over the fact that I had “accidentally” said I love you. The next day I was at his house acting strangely. It had been 24 hours and he hadn’t mentioned that voice message I’d left on his phone. I finally had to explain my odd behavior:

“Didn’t you hear what I said on your voicemail last night??” 

It turned out that the voicemail was muffled and he hadn’t even heard me say it. That was even more embarrassing, I rushed home.  I ran away.

The next day he didn’t call me or text me, that was unlike him. After not hearing from him for what seemed like forever, I went to his house -only a little frantic- to make sure he was ok. He had diabetes after all, I just wanted to check on him. I found him on his deck smoking a pipe. We laughed about the fact that I’d overreacted, thinking some horrible thing had happened to him. I was being silly. It was just that..

I loved him.

That night I said it again, properly, and he told me he loved me also. I knew that already, though; he showed me in every way. He cherished me. Even when I disrespected him with my unsolicited advice,

he cherished me.  I felt that.

That night Kesner also told me that he thought he would die young. I asked him to stop thinking that way, for our family’s sake. We were planning a life…

Three weeks later he died, young.


I wish I had said I love you to Kesner sooner, more often, every day.  Every hour.

but I was afraid of being vulnerable and exposed and out of control, so even when I wanted to say it  – I didn’t.  I held it in… 

and I missed my opportunities.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012

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The days of summer were winding down. In just two short weeks, I’d be heading back to New Jersey to begin a new chapter at Rutgers. I felt good about everything.

I returned to my young  adult grief support group that week (this time with Courtney) and told everyone the good news about how everything had become so very CLEAR. By this time I was feeling like the poster child for how to “do grief.”

“You’ve done all the right things,” our group leader, Diana, said. “Most people don’t get to take time off from work (and life) to grieve.”

She was right, I knew my experience had been special. And because I’d done it so well, I was all better. That was a good night in support group. The group let me know that my presence would be missed and we promised to reconnect in the winter months for a reunion.

Having said goodbye to my young adult grief support group, there were just a few more things that I needed to do before leaving Ohio. One of those things was to fly to Las Vegas for Glitter Pop’s wedding. Gayle was getting married at the Bellagio and I was the presiding minister.

Glitter Pop was getting married at The Bellagio

My mother had been asking me all summer if I really felt up to this. “Do you really think you should be doing a wedding right now, given the fact that you’ve just lost Kesner?” Gayle even asked if I still felt up to it. “Of course I do, don’t be silly,” I told them. I could separate my emotion from the joy of this celebration. And I didn’t want anyone else to marry them.

Plus I was better, healed from grief, I would be fine. 

I flew to Vegas the following weekend…

I treated myself to a private lunch in a piano bar when I arrived at the Bellagio on Saturday afternoon. I would only have a few moments to myself before the events of the wedding began. As I finished my smoked salmon dish, I heard the click click of heels coming around the corner, and a high pitched:

“Hey Kimmy!!” 

It was the bride-to-be.  Glitter Pop had come to meet me and take me to the chapel to rehearse the ceremony. The wedding would be the following day; a mid morning ceremony, followed by a fabulous Sunday brunch.

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were lovely. There was so much love and excitement amidst the wedding party and it was a gift to meet the family and friends of the bride and groom. I was having a good time, except for occasional thoughts I was having about Kesner. I could control them, though.

I was better now, and this was a celebration.

That night I stayed in the hotel room with Glitter Pop; it was just her and I in her room on the eve of her wedding. It was special. Her ivory wedding gown and my ivory preaching robe hung sided-by-side in preparation for her big day.

Before bed, I took off my wig and showed Gayle my jagged two-inch home-cut afro. “I know this hair cut wasn’t part of your ‘vision’ for the wedding, so don’t worry, I promise to wear my wig,” I joked. We had a good laugh about that for a few minutes before bed. My impulsive home-do was definitely not apart of the “vision.” I would continue to hide it..

The next morning I woke up at 5AM; I was still on east coast time. It was dark outside (sans the vegas lights), and the television was on with low volume. Gayle was sitting up in bed next to me with a green avocado mask on her face. “Good morning!!” she said- cheerfully- as I cracked my eyes open; she was so excited.

Rather than go back to sleep, I decided to join her. I got up and put on an avocado mask also; and the two of us sat side-by-side in the bed, with green faces, waiting for the day to begin. We ordered room service and watched television. It was cute.

I was having more thoughts of Kesner though: What if this was our day? What would I be doing right now? What would he be doing? Who would be around us? 

I would keep these thoughts at bay. It was only natural that they were surfacing, but this was Gayle’s day. A happy day.

Things moved quickly after that. The bridesmaids came to the room to fetch Gayle. They were already dressed and it was time to get her to the bridal suite to get ready. I stayed back in the room for a few minutes longer to look over my wedding sermon and get myself ready. Then I met the party in the bridal changing area so that we could pray together before the ceremony began.

As we waited in the bridal suite, I got a text from Klay: “hey just arrived, is there anywhere that I can change?” Klay had just been at another wedding on a vineyard in North Carolina the day prior, he’d taken a red-eye flight to get to Vegas just in time for Glitter Pop’s nuptials. “Tell him to meet us here,” Gayle responded. And a few minutes later, in walked Klay.


Everyone errupted into applause when he entered. I am not sure why we were clapping, Klay just has that affect on people. It was a dramatic entrance.  The wedding could begin. Klay was there. And I was so happy to see him.

I could do this.

The ceremony was beautiful. It all went so quickly and before long we were at the reception. Klay and I were seated together and we had a great time cutting up and cracking jokes. I needed him there. I was mostly fine, but there was one moment when I got a little teary, wishing it were me. Thankfully that moment was brief and Klay was there.

All was well.

That afternoon, as we were leaving the reception, Klay and I ran into Hazel Dukes walking out to the pool area in her bathing suit. “Come out and join us, Toni and I got a Cabana..” She said. Hazel and Toni are my Link sisters who had been amongst the invited guests at Gayle’s wedding. They were smart to reserve a cabana by the fabulous Bellagio pool for the afternoon. And Klay and I were lucky beneficiaries of their gracious invitation.  “We’ll be right there,” we told Hazel.

Klay hadn’t brought any pool attire. We stopped in a store to see if we could find him some swim trunks, but they didn’t have anything that suited his taste. He decided, instead, to go to the pool in his Calvin Klein underwear.

“Nobody will notice if I just act natural” he told me. And he was right. Klay walked through the Bellagio lobby and sat by the pool for hours in a grey Calvin Klein V-neck Tee and black Calvin Klein briefs and nobody had a clue. It was hilarious.

We had a nice afternoon, with mango martini’s by the pool. And later we went out with a large group for seafood. Everything was just as I’d expected. All was well.

That night, Klay and I stayed at the Flamingo. Our time at the Bellagio was up. We’d paid for a cheap sixty dollar room for our last night in Vegas, but when we arrived, all of the cheap rooms were full. “We’ll have to put you in one of our penthouse suites for the night,” the front desk manager explained. “Of course,” we obliged. The suite was fabulous, the next comfortable place where I would stay. But we didn’t stay up for too long; utterly exhausted, we each climbed into our beds and went to sleep almost immediately.

That night I dreamed that there was a man panhandling in the bellagio looking for change. He was deaf and mute and his face was covered, but you could tell he was young. In my dream, I knew with absolute certainty that this man was Kesner.

This was my first dream about Kesner and he was a deaf mute panhandling in the Bellagio!!??

For weeks I’d been desperate to dream about Kesner. Talithea told me that when her brother died she had frequent dreams about him –  visitations from him. Talithea’s brother was shot and in her dream he came to her with one half of his body paralyzed. He told her that this is the way he would have been if he had lived; she wouldn’t have wanted him to live like that.

Well what was I supposed to make of the fact that Kesner was a deaf mute panhandling in my dream??! Would this have been the way he would have lived if I had “saved” him? Would the stroke (I was certain it was a stroke by this time) have left him in that condition? Was this my visitation?

I woke up in tears. I was so not ok! I was hysterical. Nothing about me was ok. Why the hell did I think I would be ok? I was not better at all!!!

I had an early flight and all I had to do was get my few things organized to get out of the room and into the cab. It was the hardest task ever. I cried and cried and cried. At some point Klay got up and sat next to me for a bit, but nothing was helping. I was better off dead!

I proeeded to cry profusely the entire way home: On the way to the airport, in the airport, on the plane, in cleveland airport, and in the car all the way back to my mom’s condo – I sobbed. And for the next two days I sat on the couch under a blanket in the den and watched TV in the dark.

I guess I wasn’t as healed as I thought.

I do not regret performing the wedding, but I wasn’t as good as thought I was. I wasn’t better, I wasn’t healed.

Grief is like a wave and I guess I was just in the calm for a while. But the calm passed; and just that quickly, I was swept up into the darkness once again.

Grief is like a wave

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012

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The drive home from Bethany Beach felt endless. Mom wanted to stop at every rest stop. She even suggested that we sit and have a cup of coffee at a roadside Starbucks. But I was anxious to get home.  Maya had arrived in Cleveland and she was waiting from me at my mom’s condo.


Maya was my absolute best friend at Spelman College.  We met in a sociology class during the second semester of my sophomore year.  We were sitting next to each other in class, watching a film on the civil rights movement, when she asked me to move my head because she couldn’t see the television.

I didn’t think I was going to like her.

But then we went on this 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; and everything changed after that.

The purpose of the class we were taking was to prepare us to participate in the re-enactment of the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.  Twenty students from Spelman had been selected to take this class that would end with our re-enactment of this civil rights march on its 35th anniversary in March 2000.

During each class, we met in the evenings and learned about some aspect of the civil rights movement. And on Saturday mornings the class would take 5-mile walks around downtown Atlanta to prepare us for our 54-mile journey. We ended those Saturday walks with breakfast at the historic Paschals Restaurant.

The Historic Pashal's Restuarant - Atlanta, GA

Paschals was a popular meeting place for many of the famed Atlanta civil rights leaders.  And along the way we got to hear from surviving heroes like Representative  John Lewis, who marched in the original march in 1965. He shared his stories of being beaten with clubs by Alabama police officers on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma .

non-violent protesters were brutally beaten by Alabama police officers on their first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Congressman John Lewis was among them

 It was a very cool class.

And somewhere along our 54-mile journey from Selma to Montgomery, Maya and I became friends….

Maya and I became fast friends after the march, spending an exorbitant amount of time together the following summer.  She was a fun friend that I could keep it totally real with.  She is grounded and responsible and I could always count on her to tell me the truth.  And she could always count on me to tell a good story; to make the mundane things of life interesting and funny.  We also shared two fascinations: a fascination with medicine and a fascination with hair.

We aren’t actually fascinated with medicine itself, rather with diagnosing ourselves when we are sick.  I might call her with symptoms and together the two of us will figure out what I have.  Maya was always much better at this than I was.  And several years after Spelman, she went back to school to earn a second bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Maya is my nurse friend in Atlanta who was the first to tell me just how serious type-one diabetes is and just how difficult it is to manage.  And several weeks after that call, when I found Kesner dead, she was the friend to tell me that she would come to visit me…


 “everyone is around when it first happens.  I want to come in a few months when no one is around.  I will come and visit you in Ohio in August….”

And she did.

Maya and Me

When  mom and I finally arrived home, there was Maya sitting in the den with my brothers.  My brother Gary had gone to get her from the airport.  I told them all about the Dr. Clear story and they agreed that it seemed like confirmation that I should go to Rutgers.  And shortly after that, Maya and I broke away and delved into our obsessions: health and hair.

“I want to see your hair cut,” She told me. I was still wearing the wig. I reluctantly took it off and showed her my uneven afro. I was ashamed.  I still thought it was ugly.

It’s not that bad,” she said. “you just have to figure out what you’re doing with it.  Why don’t you shave it all off? You’re going to be starting school soon, nobody will know you. You can start with a fresh new look.”

I gave some thought to what she said, but I wasn’t ready yet.

we spent the entire evening watching “Miss Jessie’s” natural hair styling videos on youtube.

Miss Jessie's...

And the next day we went to the hair store to buy new hair products.  There were wigs galore in the hair store, and instead of looking for natural hair products – as we had planned –  we spent the entire afternoon trying on wigs. It was a blast. We laughed at our different looks; surprising each other with our various wig selections.  But while this excercise was supposed to be ‘just fun,’ I ended up buying another wig in the process.

Another covering.

This one had a crimpy kink to it.   Looks more natural, I convinced myself.   In reality it was just another excuse to avoid dealing with the raw me.  Maya sensed that…

Beyond the hair stuff, we also spent a lot of time talking about what killed Kesner.  I was thankful to have a friend that would go there with me.  I was sure it was a heart attack until she said:  “do you think it could have been a stroke?” 

A stroke! I thought.  Of course it was a stroke!

He wasn’t taking his high blood pressure medication.  And the dizziness caused by stroke can cause you to vomit….  Thanks to Maya, I was now almost 95% convinced!  Kesner didn’t die of a heart attack, he died from a stroke!

Maya’s visit was too short.  I was glad that she came later in the summer; her timing was absolutely perfect.


The following week I shared the story about Dr. Clear with my grief counselor, Monica.  I was so happy in my meeting with her, a far cry from where I was when we first started meeting.   “I never say this,” she told me “but I really do think that you should write about your experience of grief;  you have an incredible story to tell.”

Monica and I both agreed that writing my book ,‘Thank You Very Sweet,’ was a good idea,

but how would I do this? 

I told her that I didnt think that I had the discipline to commit to writing an entire book; to write at length without some sort of audience along the way. I am a preacher, I am used to call-and-response. I’d never just written for the sake of writing. I never kept a journal as a child.  How would I write an entire book?  I’d get bored. I’d quit.

Also I wasn’t quite sure how to organize my book.  By this time I knew that it would have to consist of more than just thank you notes to my friends and family.  And more than just me and Kesner’s love story.  Somehow I would have to incorporate different parts of my life also, those things that make me who I am.  This story – and Kesner’s death in it – are the culmination of many things.

And the beginning of many new things…

This story is not just about grief… it’s about living.  “How would I do this?”

The thought of getting it all out on paper seemed so overwhelming…

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Monica told me, “maybe you should ask The Universe.”\


After that appointment I went to Horseshoe lake and I sat on a bench and I asked God  (AKA “The Universe”):

“Please tell me how to write this book.”

And then I went home.

I didn’t have to worry about it or think about it again.  I had asked, and God would answer…

 in God’s time.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012

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