The poem started how many poems I had written started. I sat in my black, leather computer chair and stared a blank, white screen with a single, small line blinking on and off. I had to write something, but the direction I was taking was far from the customary.
It wasn’t just another poem. It was a piece I would have to recite before a crowd of mourners at my friend’s funeral. I didn’t even know how I’d recite it, let alone the words I would recite. Just thinking of her triggered a deep sadness within my spirit.
The final moments of my life with her flashed abruptly in my thoughts. I remembered the overwhelming heartache when hearing that she had abandoned the nursing home and decided to live out her last days in a hospice. I remembered her gentle smile as we all said our goodbyes. I remembered reading her sister’s post about her passing away while I was at work. My emotions battled as tears streamed from my face. I could ever write a poem in the midst of my pain.
How could I write a poem to beautify a pain? This pain threatened to be with me the rest of my life. I hadn’t experienced such agony before. Did I really want to immortalize it? I hated the thought. Ernest Hemingway’s quote made sense, but perhaps, too much sense in this matter. He said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I wondered how many more similar pieces it would take to kill me. The Spirit asked me not to be so dramatic.
The intervention of the Holy Spirit allowed clarity to pour over me. Despite her passing, I knew she was with Jesus Christ now, and that she was no longer in pain or paralyzed from her cancer. It brought me peace, though the pain lingered. I had to give that feeling to the people at the funeral. I was always the optimist. I had to bring the positivity.
I began to pray to God to ask for what I should write. I did not expect a direct answer. It was art. It needed to be personal to me. I didn’t imagine He would take over, but then, I knew if He wanted to intervene, He would do so in a subtle way.
I sighed, seemingly unanswered, and wiped my eyes. It was obvious that this task would take a piece of me away with it, but I wasn’t going to let the fear of that stop me from honoring the life of my friend. Thus, the first words found their way to the page:
Today was a strange day.
I woke up with all intentions to write this great poem
Representing all the greatness you displayed in my life,
But all I could do was cry…
It feels like the silence after the last firecracker on the fourth of July.
You hope there is at least one more rocket to brighten up the sky,
But the show is over.
Pack up your things and go home…
As sad as many may feel, there is peace still.
Because we didn’t miss the fireworks when others did,
And if you saw that last firecracker, you’d know: she- is now His.
Instinctively, I had decided I would not hold back the pain. I would not shield those who would hear my anguish. They were likely to see me cry anyway. I could never do extremely personal writing without it. I felt it, I believed it, and it affected me. Since I wasn’t going to keep my composure anyway, I let the pain empty from me onto the page, just like bleeding.
I was impressed with myself, for having such misery empty from me so smoothly. Despite having been a poet for so many years, it was still a surprise when a piece turned out good rather than just okay. I knew it would touch the hearts of her friends and family, but I also knew it would hurt me to say it.
How could I admit those things about her? How could I say goodbye in front of everyone? I started to read the poem aloud. My voice became shaky around, “I woke up with all intentions to write this great poem representing all the greatness you displayed in my life, but all I could do was cry…” As a true showman, the tears came right in time with the word. I couldn’t do it. There was no way I’d be able to say this without crying. Tears were already moisturizing the corners of my eyes.
There are only certain situations that made me hate my talent. This was one of them. I knew as soon as she died, people would call for me to write a poem. Why did I have to be so loved and my talent so treasured!? Would this become a thing I’d have to do for the rest of my life? Are they going to ask me to put on a proper face as I recite a poem written for the death of my mother? My father? My brothers and sisters?
Suddenly, I had found my mind going down the rabbit hole of depression. People were going to die. People close to me. Death had just started inching closer and closer to my peoples. Their names started entering my mind. They were gone, and whether or not they entered eternal heaven or eternal fire was not clearly understood by me. I prayed for mercy for them, but I couldn’t help thinking of the others would follow in their path, risking their eternity for temporary pleasures. Death was a poison to my emotion. I needed a break.
The following day, I returned to work. I had only half-way thought about what I’d say to finish this poem. I knew I wanted her voice to speak throughout, but I hadn’t been able to conceive a single line. I read the lines over and over and over. I had written throwaway lines to support them, but it wasn’t enough. I needed something more personal.
I sat in my office, staring at the partially white screen with the blinking, black line. I started to hate how slow this job was. There was no work to do. There was only enough time to get caught up in the morbid visitations of her final moments.
She sat in her quality, electric wheelchair, just at the entrance to her makeshift apartment at the back of her sister’s house. The church, City of Refuge, had volunteers come, paint, furnish, and beautify a portion of the house for her. More volunteers and friends had to come back and clean it up after hurricane Harvey came and flooded everything out. When you walked into her apartment, you couldn’t tell what it used to be before. She had the kind of aura that took over a room.
I remembered stepping into her “apartment” and seeing so many people encircled around her. They didn’t want too many of us in the room at the same time, so that she wouldn’t overexert herself in trying to meet with everyone, but she loved people, so she bent the rules for certain groups of us. Some were squatting by her feet. Others were sitting in the only two chairs beside her.
After all her frustrations, pains, setbacks, and loss of dreams, she still had the audacity to smile. Though part of her face was paralyzed, you could see the smile emerging from the corners of her lips. It exposed her teeth just enough to marvel at her strength. She was so weak, but her spirit was the strongest I had ever seen it.
I wanted to hug her. I wanted to pick her up out of the chair and convince her to try to walk again. I wanted her to fight… but cancer is a really tough opponent. It had infected her nervous system, her calf, and her skull. It had such a hold on her. You didn’t want to admit it, but the tone of the meeting felt just as what it had become: the final goodbye.
There was no chemotherapy anymore. There were no hospital visits. There were no nursing home visits. There were no more texts about fighting it, keeping her head up, and pushing through it. It was all in God’s hands. Whether she lived or died no longer depended on medicines and herbs, exercise and diet, and strength of spirit. Her life was, as it had always been, in God’s hands... and God took her home.
I hated goodbyes, so I said, “See you later.” Even then, sitting on that couch, holding her barely functioning hand, I could only say, “See you later.” That was the title that came to mind. I typed it in. Now… how could I finish it?
I knew her faith, I knew her energy, I knew her smile, and I knew where she was now living. That’s when it hit me. She was in heaven. I knew that. I just needed to see it for myself. The only one who could show me such things was God. He had shown me marvelous wonders in countless dreams without me asking. Surely, He could humor this request for me, so I asked Him to show me. I wanted to see her alive and well.
Not many nights later, I had a dream about her. I dreamed I had died and gone to heaven, and she was there waiting for me. She was full of life and energy, and couldn’t wait to show me every awesome experience she had found in the heavenly places. He looked like her old self, with all her hair, her smile big and bright, and she was like a kid playing with their new Christmas toy that they asked for.
We met on the campus of history. It was like freshmen orientation at a college in the country. Everyone had a walking buddy, and that buddy was someone they knew from their lives. I was a bit confused that out of all the people, she was my guide, but then I remembered that I asked for this, and I was so delighted to see her again.
We went into a church and I witnessed my first church service in heaven. She wanted to show me that habitual worship still mattered and was still enjoyed. My curiosity led me to a library on the other side of the campus. All of humanity’s history was there for me to read. Whatever I wanted to see was only a thought and a will away.
I wanted to see deserts. I wanted to see metropolises. I wanted to see family. I wanted to see famous people. I wanted to see so many things.
We traveled as if the world was a Rubik’s cube. As soon as a place came to mind, the earth shifted in blocks, and the place we wanted was brought to us on a grid in the skies, close to space. All we had to do was fly to it. Yes, flying was as dangerous and exhilarating as it appeared. It was strange seeing so many people taking flight. You could also teleport, if that’s what you wanted to do. I, of course, had to try both.
I woke from the dream confounded, and yet, happy and at peace. My friend was in heaven. I knew it. It’s not often that something I pray for happens almost immediately. I knew God granted me that morsel of hope. That was all I needed to finish the poem.
I wrote a poem about that vision I had seen of her in heaven went. I was beginning to detail all that we did, how she looked, and all that she invited me to experience. After rereading what I had written, I realized it sounded a little too magical, and that many wouldn’t understand the images that now resided in my mind. I deleted it, and started back from where I left off. Writing is like that.
Sometimes when I write, it’s not about what I intended to write in the next scene, it’s about what felt right to place in the next scene. All of my works have some portion where the words just flowed and the idea, which wasn’t an idea before that moment, presented itself and fit effortlessly. Some would say, “The story writes itself,” and, far too often, it has it done so. As I spent the day thinking about it, the easier writing down the next lines for funeral became:
I wrote another poem about your first day in heaven.
That’s how confident I am in your faith at the end.
I gave you a perfect body with excellent capability,
Probably one The Rock himself would drool over…
But at the end of the day, you are where you are,
And I am left daydreaming about you…
Everything isn’t all sadness and tears.
We are in grieving, but only for a moment.
Tomorrow, we move forward with your shining example in our thoughts.
Constantly, I say to myself, “If Kree can smile through cancer,
I can definitely smile through my little trial.”
I’ll never forget how unreal God’s joy was over you.
Even when I thought you’d be down and out,
You were smiling and grateful for my presence.
You were, and are, such a present in my life.
I do not believe in goodbyes, only see you laters,
So I will not move on as if you are gone.
You are merely far away to my naked eyes.
But my spirit still feels your presence… with Him.
As I have dreamed, so it shall be:
You are now dancing at the feet of the King.
Surrounded by a holy multitude.
Your smile big and wide,
Giddy, and more alive.
You are in a place I hope to be one day.
Thank you for taking that leap ahead of me.
What you leave behind are great individuals,
All unique in one way or another,
All uniquely blessed by you- one way, or another.
Allow me to speak for you, if I may, before I conclude:
As I said, it’s not often that a good poem feels good. I was battling with perfectionism, so I can tell you that “good” was a rare feeling. I always felt I could go back and enhance something, just to change what I had written and still feel like something was off. This poem was feeling the same. I felt many who had heard it would feel it was “good”, but would also feel more could’ve been said. I needed Kree. I needed her voice to speak to her people.
Since she was in heaven, as told to me by a vision, I knew God was with her. If God was with her, all He had to do was let her speak when I prayed. I needed to let her spirit and character inhabit me. I wanted to speak as she spoke, feel as she felt, and be the bridge that sent her first message from heaven to her family. It was a tall task, but no task was greater than God in my mind, so I prayed.
I asked God to let Kree tell me what she wanted to say. I asked Kree to feel free to say whatever she wanted to. I asked this without knowing it was capable, but also knowing that if God wanted to allow it, it would happen. After all, didn’t Moses and Elijah come back from the grave and speak to Jesus?
After I prayed, I sat in my computer chair and thought. I let the conversation play out in my head. What would Kree want to say? I stared at the screen. I had to attempt it. I just hoped she would guide me along the way:
“…I woke up from slumber and experienced no pain.
I rose from my bed and felt as if all the cancer was dead.
I ran to tell you the great news,
But on my way to you, an angel met me at the door.
He showed me great things I hadn’t seen before,
And took me up into the sky.
That’s when I realized, that for you, I was no more.
Everything I had once come to know and love passed behind me.
I flew high in the sky with an angel as my guide,
And found great joy in the opening of my eyes.
I was treated like a bride on her wedding day,
And y’all, you know I was ready for some wedding cake.
I wish I could show you the marvelous things I’ve seen.
It’s only been two weeks, but there’s so many new things.
I wish you could see that in the end, it was all worth it,
And yes, I did get to dance for my birthday.
I was held in the arms of Jesus, my King.
Don’t feel like you have to weep for me.
Don’t regret all things I seemed to miss out on.
Don’t you dare make my life another sad cancer song.
I have won and continue to win with each step.
And let me tell you, I can do more than a two-step, okay?
I can’t wait until I see you all again.
And for those of you lacking in faith, Jesus can be your best friend.
I’m telling you this place is so amazing.
Please know that I am doing okay.
I love each and every one of you forever and always...”
There it was. Everything that I wanted to say was on display before me, taking up almost two pages. It only took me daydreaming all day about her, seeing a vision of her in heaven, praying to God and asking that He let her speak to me and help me, and being a talented poet. I was delighted that I had made headway into the piece that would represent her so well. Not only did it make me feel like a good writer, but it made me feel like I truly knew her. It helped me heal from her passing. With gratitude in my heart, I concluded the piece with:
You’re the closest death I’ve experienced thus far,
And as a result, you’re the closest angel I have in heaven.
Thank you so much for never wavering in your faith of Jesus Christ.
I owe you much when it feels like I only knew you a little.
Thank you for being who you are to me.
In my heart for eternity,
My bundle of joy,
Lakresha Mya Charmaine Norton,
See you later… firecracker…
The final copy required editing, line changes, and section cut outs, but it felt like it was true from start to finish. The writing process was complete. Now all I had to do was perform it.
I cried the first few times I read it aloud. I tried my best to conceal my emotions, but my emotions were on every page, in every line, and with every word. By the day of the funeral, I had resigned myself to just being okay with shedding tears in front of people. To some, it wouldn’t be manly, but who cares. That was my friend. That was a woman I cared for. If they didn’t understand our relationship, and how much we leaned on one another for support, that’s on them. I was going to be me. While I had managed to limit my tears to only one part, I knew, I would probably have to pause to finish this piece.
The funeral was held in our church, the very place we had met. I stood before people I had met because of her, and relationships that had been enhanced by her. I watched people who cared for her line the seats, and the reality of it all, along with my projection of sadness upon them, led to me standing stage left, feeling nervous once again about performing in front of people.
I listened to the opening prayer, the recanting of stories that best reflected her character, and other’s experiences with her. I listened, feeling the pressure to perform, but also the pressure to represent well. It made it easier for me when I heard what others had to say first. When my elder looked over to me and said my name, my feet moved, but I was wading in the waters of emotions.
I couldn’t tell you the clothes I wore. I couldn’t tell you whether my voice dried, like it normally did, or cracked. I couldn’t tell if my whole body was shaking. I couldn’t tell you if I shed a tear, although I’m pretty sure I did.
What I can tell you is that I performed the poem, and paused one time to stop myself from weeping. It was no longer than a few seconds, and it annoyed me when my elder laid his large hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I didn’t need to be comforted, I needed to finish the poem. That resilience led me through the rest of the piece.
I remembered the laughter at some of the lines. I remember how people told me it sounded just like her. I remembered being thanked for representing her well. Her older sister even asked for a copy, so that she could remember Kree through it over the years.
I had no one to thank but God. In my hour of need, He comforted me. In my time of uncertainty, He allowed my friend Kree to speak through me. At the height of my emotion, He allowed a simple hand on the shoulder to push me forward. I learned a lot about who God was through Kree’s life, and through her passing. Death is a punishment we severely underestimated. Yet, death is the last step before we reach a place where God wanted us to be. God truly is there for the broken hearted.