Healing Through Story

Welcome to the official website for I WILL LOVE YOU EVERYWHERE ALWAYS — a children’s book created to help little ones cope with death and loss. The book, like this site, is about hope. It’s about finding the everyday places and spaces to feel the enduring presence of loved ones who have passed on.

Two of the hardest deaths I’ve experienced were that of my grandmother, Madeline Polk, and that of my dear friend, Maleikka Hardy Williams. My grandmother died when I was seven years old. She was the first loved one I ever lost and the first time I asked God for something very big that S/He would not do—bring my Mamo back. Maleikka’s death was hard because she was the first close friend I ever lost. Both left me sleepless, frightened, sad, and angry.

Trying to understand death at 7 years old . . .

Having been raised in the Presbyterian Church and in Catholic school, I grew up talking to God as my father, my mother, and my friend. I memorized important prayers, like the Our Father, and important symbolic rituals, like making the sign of the cross. I knew about God, the saints, and the angels. I had an image of the kind of heaven I would want to live in (it had Nestlé’s 100,000 bars, red cool-aid, and monkey bars). I knew “spirit” was the real stuff a person was made of and that “body” was just a temporary shell. So, when my grandmother passed, the grown folks thought I understood that too. I didn’t. What I knew was that God was good and that S/He could do anything. So, I ask for my grandmother back. That she had ever died would be a little secret between God and me. I believed in magic too. So, I made a little talisman, said one of the sincerest prayers of my childhood, and went to sleep. The next morning, I ran to my Mamo’s room (that’s what I called my grandmother) and it was empty–no Mamo smell, no yellow dress, no Mamo. I didn’t get mad at God, though. I got mad at Mamo. I decided that she must not want to come back. I felt profoundly hurt and betrayed. The new thing I knew about God, heaven, the saints, the angels, and my grandmother were that they were all very far away.

I found Mamo again first in a comforting dream and later in the bathtub. After that, I found her up a tree, in my Aunt Sarah’s cooking, and in the taste of soft-serve ice cream. I remembered the things we used to do together and those memories made me smile. I felt her presence whenever I was quiet and let myself know that since God could be anywhere, so could Mamo and that those shared moments together could be little touches of heaven for me. I take Mamo everywhere. She sat on the front row at my wedding, helped guide my infant son to me on the day he was born, and is looking over my shoulder as I type right now. She lives with me and in me. She’s intimate and everyday not distant and far away. That is part of the message of I WILL LOVE YOU EVERYWHERE ALWAYS.

Trying to understand death at 35 years old. . .

Maleikka and I were age-peers; we were sorority sisters; we were both from same hometown . . . She felt “just like me” in that best-of-friends kind of way. Breast cancer was supposed to be a fear that hovered as a distant “what if.” We were supposed to get to enjoy our marriages and raise our families before we ever needed to talk about that as a possibility. It was a naïveté I clung to like a worn blanket. Her illness and death left me feeling as bewildered as my grandmother’s once had. I wrote I WILL LOVE YOU EVERYWHERE ALWAYS  for Maleikka’s daughters and to remind me of the thing my child-self learned so many years ago—that “passing on” doesn’t mean “passing away;” that our loved ones never leave us; and that, even in the midst of sadness, we can make our loved ones present for ourselves and for others anytime we choose to. We just need to talk about them, tell and re-tell their stories, and carry the best of them forward through our words and deeds.

Writing I WILL LOVE YOU EVERYWHERE ALWAYS  is an act of healing that I hope will continue to pay forward.

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“Meet” me on the @state_of_things at n

“Meet” me on the @state_of_things at noon! I’ll be talking about my life and work, including http://ow.ly/fdDFQ

Gallery Opening for “I Will Love You Everywhere Always”

Please follow the link below and join me on October 24th from 6-9pm in the gallery of the Carolina Student Union for the opening of “I Will Love You Everywhere Always,” a month-long exhibition of award-winning artist Cosmo Whyte’s beautiful illustrations from my debut children’t book. 

The exhibition, like the book, is dedicated to my friend, former CUAB president Maleikka Hardy Williams and her amazing daughters, Sydni and Makayla. Maleikka’s fierce battle with breast cancer may have ended in 2008, but her legacy lives on through 

those of us fortunate enough to have been influenced and inspired by her.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, this gorgeous exhibition features a special 32 x 27 inch canvas edition of the book’s artwork and is meant to give viewers the feel of stepping into the story.

I will share my first public reading of the book during the opening! It would mean so much if you would join me.

Warmest,

Renee

(90) Gallery Opening for “I Will Love You Everywhere Always”.

Open Letter to the Community of “I Will Love you Everywhere Always” Supporters

Dear community of “I Will Love You Everywhere Always” supporters,

I hope this letter finds you well.  “I Will Love You Everywhere Always” is thriving because of your generosity and encouragement. Let me catch you up on where we are in our process and when we look forward to sharing the finished project with you.

As I mentioned in the last correspondence of the campaign, your support allowed me to purchase the book’s 17 pieces of original art, the bar code, ISBN number, and pay for initial layout and design work. The book is currently in the hands of BW&A Book Design and Production studio located in Durham NC. After receiving so much positive feedback on the project, I decided to have the book professionally designed by a bookmaker and go through a traditional press rather than pursue the print-on-demand option. Doing so allows me to produce a much more beautiful and durable book, which meets or exceeds the standards of current bookstores and book buyers.

It is a more expensive process, so I will need to continue to fundraise, but the end result will be well worth it. The next round of fundraising will target businesses and organizations. If you have ideas and/or suggestions, please share them.

Taking the advice of talented children’s book author, Kelly Starling Lyons, I wanted to allow the lead time the industry requires in order to have the book reviewed and evaluated by the appropriate agencies. That said, the “promotional” version of “I Will Love You Everywhere Always” will debut in paperback form in April 2012. This version will primarily be targeted to organizations like hospitals, support/counseling agencies, and hospices to purchase in bulk and share as gifts or make available as resource materials to their patrons. The book will officially debut in hardback in October of 2012, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Again, I truly cannot thank you enough for supporting this project. Please keep an eye on your mailboxes and/or inboxes in the coming weeks to receive your “perks” from the Indigogo campaign. As the project to moves forward, I will continue to share updates and information with you as we continue this lovely journey together.

With sincerest gratitude and appreciation,

Renee

Renee Alexander Craft
Email: renee.alexander.craft@gmail.com
Friend: www.facebook.com/iwillloveyoueverywherealways
Follow: @ReneeCraft and @LoveAlways_Book
Explore: reneeacraft.wordpress.com

 

Something To Chew On

A good Saturday for me = Farmer’s Market + Book Store Browsing  (Used and New) + Good Food (including a food truck or two) x QT With Friends and Family. That said, this past Saturday was WONDERFUL! As poet/musician, all-around-great person, Shirlette Ammons (http://www.mosadimusic.blogspot.com) reminded me recently, summer is made for meandering. I had a “summer” Saturday. Like too many of us, so much of my time is spent in front of one kind of screen or another. It is easy to forget how many shades of green there are in the world. . . the pleasure of walking “in the midst of” community instead of blindly “through” them . . . that plates are made by potters who have hands and names. . .  that beets are grown by farmers with deep roots and rich stories . . . that the internet is convenient, but tracing a curious finger spine-to-spine and stack-to-stack amid bookstore smells and eclectic bookstore conversations let’s me jump down the rabbit hole with so much more wonder than google or ping.

My favorite two children’s book finds this weekend were IN GOD’S NAME by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Illustrations by Phoebe Stone. http://www.phoebestone.com/name.htm
and INDESTRUCTIBLES: BOOKS FOR BABIES  http://www.indestructiblesinc.com/

IN GOD’S NAME is an elegant, beautiful, pitch-perfect book about different communities of people coming together to speak the name of God (healer, father, mother, counseling) and trying to come to terms of which (if any) is the “true” name. Read it. Then give it to a special little person to help plant seeds of inclusivity and loving kindness or a special big person to honor difference with humility and grace.

My six month old loves INDESTRUCTIBLES and I love that they really are (for babies anyway). Finally, he has a book that’s made for him to chew, slobber on, pull and scrunch only for me to get to wash it with soapy water to prep for next time. What’s more, the stories are all short, familiar nursery rhymes told in pictures with no words. So, kids can chomp away, and storytellers can remember the tales as told and have fun making up the difference in-between the lines.

Here’s wishing you a week filled with wonderful things to chew on– big ideas and interesting questions no less than yummy local food.

The Day He Leapt Up

for Dwight

No headline
No flag flown half-mast,
Upside down
Or folded
No womb in the ground
No box
No body

A resonate croak startles the air
Like a Jack breaking free
At first crack of light

Beet colored leaves
Dive from their trees
In courageous departure–
Turning
Like pages
Quivering
Like breath
Falling
in slow motion
Like
Love

A bullfrog
Willful and elegant
Winks in the distance
Tenses his haunches and
Leaps

Podcast of Sephanie Robinson’s beautiful commentary about this project on the Tom Joyner Morning Show

TJMShow Ondemand -“I Will Love You Everywhere Always”

 

Change

Caterpillars recycle . . .

Inch up twigs alone

To become new

Again

 

To sprout wings from no wings

Must be painful

With no loved ones

To give comfort

Or salve

 

Do they know

About becoming

When they inch

Into isolation?

No kinswoman

Has ever

Returned

To story the journey

 

The only ones who

Sankofa

Are butterflies

Who are already

Made

Are already

Beautiful

Are already

Whole

 

What caterpillar

Could trust

Such (un)reliable

Witnesses?

The ones that do. . .

Young ones,

Dumb ones,

Shunned ones. . .

They are (un)reliable too.

 

It must be painful. . .

In that cocoon

Alone

She must resist it

Cry

Beg God to make it stop

To ease the hurt of it

She must

Curse

Beat at herself

In the still, quiet, shell

That looks like peace

Before she tires

Lets it happen

Wills it so

 

And then the pain subsides

And she marvels

At the constriction of space

Becomes less tolerant of the darkness

Becomes less tentative in her attempts

To make herself free

 

The shell breaks

Or rather, she breaks it

And that too

Must be painful

And then the light breaks

Or rather, she embraces it

And emerges

(Re)made

New. . .

 

Young Black Superhero

 

for Uncle Richwood

 

When I was seven

And you were mostly grown

You were the finest man I’d ever seen–

Tall like your daddy, Washington,

Called Wash

Swagger like Billie D in Mahogany

(Before Denzel in Malcolm X)

Copper skin glowing like a new penny

On fresh swept pavement

A suit-dressed action-figure

In a butter-colored Fiat . . .

 

I used to wait for you

When my school let out

Across the street . . .

I would stand

So close to the window

Of your daddy’s funeral polar

That the two white barrettes riding high on my afro

Clanked against the glass

 

Richard Haywood

Rich + wood

Called “Uncle”

Cause you were so much older

Called “Friend”

Cause you were just that cool

 

I never told you how mad I was

That you became the family “don’t do” fable—

That you shrank yourself small enough

To fit inside a liquor bottle

And stayed there

Long enough

To get corked and shelved

You were too brilliant to end up dusty

You were supposed to be the next black super hero

Like Shaft and Ali

Not the “don’t be like” that lingered over James, Brain and me

Throughout our young adulthood

 

Maybe you couldn’t help it

Being raised in the funeral business and all . . .

 

My school closed down

The old funeral home did too

Other things changed

Why Couldn’t you

Just be

That black superhero?

Couldn’t you

Just be?

 

I didn’t look

At the guy

In the box

After you died

Pretending to be you

I never really looked

At the guy

Who kept coming to Thanksgiving dinner

Looking less and less like you

Over the years

either

I wish had

 

Next Thanksgiving

I’m gonna empty a pack of cigarettes on the fine china

Douse it with rum

Set it on fire

And call it flambé

That’s the fancy name people call

Bright, sweet things that burn out quickly

 

I never have smoked

And didn’t touch a drink until 21

Because of you

You always looked at me real tender at Thanksgiving

“Hey little Cuz”

and usually gave me an “I love you”

before the meal was through

I know I said it back

but what I meant to say

Was. . .

You were my first black super hero

In your own way

You kept me safe

And

I just want to thank you.

Remembering Mamo

from Akoma, Afena and Aya by Renee Alexander

Ma•mi

Ma•ma

Ma•mo

Mother of my mother

Beautiful black angel

in a

Day-yellow

A-line

Dress

Lips not puckered

But perched

Mouth muscles

Pressed together

To keep

The giggle in

In my memory

You are always

on the verge

Of laugher . . .

Your hand stretches down

To cradle mine

In the Big Star grocery store

On Graham Street

Momma has said “no” to “please”

And you have signaled “yes”

Without saying anything

We are walking together

Side-by-side

Conversing in silence

Like people in love

I am cuddled close

To your almost laugher

We are connected

Through the soft

Of our hands

You are wearing the canary yellow dress

You always wear

In the picture

On mama’s night stand

You in your dress

And me in my smile . . .

I am five again

And you are alive

again

And we are Saturday and summer

We Need Your Help!

Illustration by Cosmo Whyte

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