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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