Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deanna-rama Part One: The Atlanta Celebration.

You can look back and say
You did okay
You were loved

So remember to tell that special one:

You are loved
You are loved
You are loved

~ Whitney Houston


The second and final part of our Deanna's Life Celebration is behind us now. And now that the dust is settling on all of these gatherings, can I just say this? It was beautiful. All of it. Every piece. Every part of it.

And now, for those who were there only in spirit, I've gathered my wits enough to bring you there. Sorry I don't have many pictures. Let's just agree that me walking around the services with my iPhone snapping photos might have been slightly awkward. But I will admit that some part of me wanted to. Mostly for all of you. And also for me to look at later and remember.

But don't worry. I captured a lot of images in my head and saved them all in my mental iPhoto library.


Okay. So while it's all fresh in my head, I'm ready to take your hand and walk you through it. Especially those who couldn't be there physically. Or those who were there but, for whatever reason, weren't there in the way they wanted to be. Because that happens sometimes.


Chronicling all of this is also for me. Because those who've read here for some time know the answer I always give when people ask me why I started this blog--those words I stole from Toni Morrison when she was asked why she wrote "The Bluest Eye":

"So I could read it."

Yeah. That. Still. But so you can, too. (If you want, that is.)

So where to start? I'll break this into two parts and start with Atlanta.

Part of the sea of love

All of our family was there. Aunties, uncles, cousins, play cousins and all of those friends who've now become family. Including several of our over thirty-some-odd first cousins. Many of whom have aged unbelievably gracefully and who embody that old adage "black don't crack." My two "big cousins" pictured below--Heather and Shari Lyn--are both well into their fifties.

Seriously? Seriously.

First cousins

Whoops. I digress.

Yeah, so my point was that the family was there in full force. That includes the children.  We knew they had to be there because they needed this just as much as we did. They smiled and wept and smiled again and wept again right along with all of us. They played with their cousins and hugged waistlines.

Man. I'm so glad that we didn't keep them away. So, so glad. In fact, it never crossed our minds to do that. Which reminds me. Can I just pause to say what a tremendous blessing it is for them to have been SO close to a family member who isn't a parent or a grandparent?  So much so that they'd emote over their loss in such strong and open ways as all of these children? Just. Wow.

You know? Each one of those kids has their own, separate memories of their own, separate relationship with Deanna. And you know what's even better? Every member of "the six pack" is old enough to carry those memories into their adulthood. All the way down to six year-old Zachary.

Ahhh. Yet another provision.

Dang. Just digressed again. So where was I? Oh. Atlanta.


So . . . .  in Atlanta, we started out with our Delta Sigma Theta ritualistic homegoing celebration. This final act of sisterly love in our sorority was surely the part I personally worried about the most. At least from a potential-for-emotional-breaking-down-and-ugly-crying standpoint.


See, Deanna was so, so active and committed to our sorority that this--the process of seeing her transition into that celestial chapter of Deltas who've gone before us--was going to be a lot. Plus Deanna always found those ceremonies to be super moving. The last one I'd attended was with my sister and she wept and wept. Even before we got to the sadder parts. "It's just the beauty and symbolism of it that always gets me," she once said.  So I already knew that being in a room with all of these voices lifting up into the sky at once--in shared love for both Deanna and our beloved Delta Sigma Theta--would be hard.

So was it? Uh. . . that would be a solid "fo sho."

Ha ha. But mostly it was beautiful, that part. It was. You know? I walked in and felt okay. I was struck when I looked around and saw the sea--and I do mean sea--of Deltas assembled in that room. Over 400 of them. For Deanna.

Hold up. For Deanna?


It was too much. The wind flew out of my chest and my mouth just fell open to cry but nothing came out. Every single wonderful memory of us and all that we'd shared as Delta sisters and also biological sisters came pressing down onto me. I felt my legs getting wobbly but before I could even think of falling, my linesisters jumped from their seats to surround me. They wrapped me in a big circle of love and let me know it would be okay. Rubbing my face and holding my head. Standing by me as a sister should. And you know what? They sat right there with me through that whole ceremony. Ebony and Joy and Marra and Crystal and so, so many more.

The ceremony is open to the loved ones who aren't Deltas, too. So others got to witness our sisterhood and I think that would make Deanna happy. At one point, JoLai became very emotional and my linesister Marra flew over to her side so fast that it defied even lightning.

So, yeah. My linesisters were amazing. Over twenty of my own sands were flanking me, standing by as their sisters' keepers.  My #6, Falona, even flew in from Denver, Colorado--all the way to Georgia. Denver, Colorado, y'all!

And all of that? All of them being there with us and me and seeing about my babysister and holding me up  meant the world. The world.

 Aaah. All I could think of was my sissy's words -- "the beauty and the symbolism of it."

Yes. Yes. And yes.

Those Delta women marched in looking so regal, y'all. I felt my heart swelling at the sight of all of the love represented by the ceremony participants. And lucky us, a lot of special people in our lives just happen to be Deltas, too, so they were in the key parts.

People like Deanna's best childhood friend since fifth grade--our soror, Deborah. Like my best childhood friend since second grade, Kimivette B., whose Delta letter Deanna personally wrote. And our college friend, Sharon P. who pinned Deanna when she became a Delta and the one who wrote her letter. There was Stacy B., the dear, dear soror-friend that originally met Deanna over the internet but later came to be one of her very best in-real-life friends, too. Then there were all the members of our current chapter--Stone Mountain-Lithonia Alumnae Chapter. Royce and Bev and Crystal and Simone and Toni and too many to even count. They sang and served and loved and celebrated.

They sure did. Beautifully. Symbolically. In the way that moved Deanna the most.


So the very next hour was the celebration of life for everyone. Man. Person after person flooded in to join the sea of Deltas already assembled in the fellowship hall. Y'all. There were easily over a THOUSAND people there. In celebration of Deanna. In support of our family. Collectively. Individually. And you know? All of y'all were there, too. In spirit, I know that you were.

So yeah. It was like a sea of love. A sea of love! For real.

Okay, so we'd be here all day if I listed all the special faces who came. Old friends, new friends, coworkers, medical students, Grady doctors, and many, many more. My dear, dear Grady wonder-twin, David M., surprised me by coming from Philadelphia to celebrate with us. And y'all already remember how bad I showed out when he left Grady and Atlanta! Ha. (I won't even go into how much seeing him meant to me because it will make me do the ugliest of ugly cries, complete with snot bubbles.)

So yeah, that was great. Seeing all of those people, that sea of love. That, too, was beautiful and symbolic.

And the speakers.

My big brother started us off and man, I didn't envy him. He had to go right after the photo montage--whew! But Will did great. He sure did. Sure, he got a bit choked up, but then he locked eyes with his sweetheart Fran. She coached her man to go on and he shook it off and honored our sister as the sibling who knew her the longest. He sure did.

When he came off stage, he had a moment. Frannie stood to embrace him and he cried such a pure cry in her arms. That was hard to see. But you know what? The most endearing thing happened next. When Will sat down, Isaiah leaned forward and looked at his uncle. Harry was between them and Will cast those tear-filled eyes right back on his nephew. Isaiah, in his old soul way, simply extended his hand toward my brother. Without one word. According to Will, the moment that Isaiah closed his little hand around his, clamped down and held my brother's gaze was divine. It was something he said he'll never, ever forget.

Sigh. That boy. He's been here before, I tell you.

Next. Beautiful words came from our sorority sister, Beverly, who even brought some of the cute baby things Deanna had crocheted for her twin baby girls. One of the members of Deanna's book club, Tijuana, also shared some beautiful reflections. That was awesome, too.


Ha. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our very, very dear college friend-turned-family member, Bert D., and his absolutely unforgettable part. Bert, being his absolutely eloquent (and unpredictable) self, started with a poignant proverb. Next, he launched into a formal resolution-proclomation-thingie from our alma mater, Tuskegee University. So yeah. That part was really cool.

But that ain't the memorable part. Ha ha ha.

Dude. How 'bout Bert finished up with the story of his thirtieth birthday where he (crazily) decided to take thirty shots of Jack Daniels. Of course, you might imagine that this celebratory plan was fraught with peril. Well. When Bert fizzled out at a respectable shot #22, Deanna stepped in and took shots 23 through 25, then enlisted others for shots 26 through 29. She handed the glass back to Bert, who took shot #30. So yeah. Bert tells this story and you know? It was all good because we all knew and loved Deanna and knew that, even though we weren't there, that all parts of this sounded accurate and very much Dee.

Then this:  Bert reaches into his blazer, pulls out a half pint of Jack -- and then a shot glass. He then commenced to pour a shot into said shot glass, held it up and declared, "And this shot is for Deanna!" Sure did. Right down the hatch, right then and there.

Let me tell you -- there is NO person who would have found this more amusing and entertaining than Deanna LaShaun Draper! Ha ha ha. And let me just add to this imagery by telling you that the previously crying Will stood to his feet and applauded that shot.

Man.  What can I say? It was just that kind of celebration, y'all.

Yes. We were in church. But I dug it when the officiant said, "Hey ain't nothing wrong with a little communion!" Ha. Now that's what I'm talking about.

Bet y'all ain't never seen anybody take a shot of JACK at a homegoing. No. You. Have. Not.

The BHE says that it was one of the best things he's ever seen.



"The Middles"
Then came Will's daughter, Gabrielle, who bravely spoke to that giant ocean of people about her cherished auntie. She's the third of the other Draper four, and, like me, is the middle daughter.  She was unbelievable and so poised. Man. There was not a single dry eye in that piece. Not a one. Even the BHE broke down, and y'all know that dude cries only once per decade.

My favorite part was when she said this:

"My Auntie Kimberly told me that as the middle children we have to be stronger for those older than us and those younger than us. I believe that I'm doing that right here, right now."

We were all so proud of her. Her Auntie JoLai came up with her and held her hand while she spoke. She had one little sun shower, but with JoLai beside her she quickly pulled it together. She sure did.

Deanna used to say:

"If it ain't your spiritual gift to be singing, you need not be singing, okaaaaay?" 

Then she'd give this mischievous giggle. And that always came after someone got up and tried to sing a song that should have been blending into the choir instead.

So yeah. I passed that sentiment on. And the singers? Un-freaking-believable. They couldn't just sing. They could SANG. Stomp yo' foot, clap yo' hands, shout hallelujah SANG, too.


This is just one of the lovely songs that one of our sorors sang. And did I mention that every song was sung by our sorority sisters? Even a Delta chorus sang--and boy, did they SANG.

Oh! I almost forgot. JoLai and Daddy gathered a bunch of photos and I made a video that really captures her essence. Admittedly, that made us all a little misty. That's what poor Will had to speak behind.


Mom and Dad asked me to give the eulogy. Or "not-eulogy" as I call it because "eulogy" is one of those words like "funeral" that make my parents feel sad. So yeah. That's the last time I'll say that word here. So what I did was the part that spent more time celebrating her through words.

Yeah. That.

And you know what? I felt so happy to publicly honor my sister this way. I mean, I have given talks all over the place, taught in hospitals and classrooms for years and stood before both live audiences and massive televised ones -- but somehow I knew that this would be one of the most important speeches I'd ever give in my life. Like, perhaps every bit of public speaking ever was leading up to this one moment in time.

Hmm. I'm going to put that thought on a post-it note in my head for later.

Anyways. My point is that I didn't feel sad. I felt blessed and grateful to have her in my heart and to have known her. My sister. My Ruth. I could stand up and tell a sea of people about her like it was some sermon on the mount. Introducing her to those who didn't know her and uplifting the ones who did. That made me feel more glad than sad. It did.

Plus, she always liked me to speak and often made me do things for her committees, etc. for sorority functions. Ha ha. I guess that made me feel stronger, too, because I knew I'd have her blessing. I knew I needed to do this the right way and in a way that would please Deanna more than anyone else.

Well, I take that back. I wanted to please Deanna and my parents, too. Because in all of this, that has been paramount to me. Seeing about them and making sure that all of this was okay with them. 


So with a smile on my face that was genuine and not forced, I told that room of people about Deanna. And since she loved my blog and especially the "top ten" posts, I distilled it into "The Top Ten Things I Know For Sure About My Sister Deanna." Indexing those things was therapeutic and uplifting. And funny. Because that was my sister. Funny. Fun. Joyful. Giving. (And the kind of person that would inspire somebody to take a shot of Mr. John Daniels in the pulpit.)

Ah hem.

Zachary kept giving me these super eager thumbs ups from his seat on the front row every time I caught his eye. And Isaiah ran up to me to give me a huge hug when I finished. He said right in my ear, "Mommy, you did really, really good and I know Auntie would be proud of you."

Yeah. That boy. He's been here before, I tell you.

Maybe I'll make a post of what I shared that day. It would make a kick ass top ten, now that I think about it. But I promise that it will be for another time because this post is already ridiculously, oppressively long. Ha ha.

Oh well.

Did I mention? Grandmama was there. Ninety years old and right there seeing about her own baby, my mama. That was a hard sight. It was because what could be more unnatural than making it to your tenth decade and living to see a grandchild go before you? Now that? That's just effed up and all out of order. So that was rough to see.


My grandmama is a strong lady. Super, duper strong. And after ninety plus years, Grandmama understands the circle of life better than anybody. And you know? She was peaceful. Really, really peaceful the whole time. I suppose her peace made us all feel a little more of the same.

At least it did for me.

I know you want to know about my parents and how they are. They are doing surprisingly well. I love that they're transparent about their feelings and that we're all just grieving in our own ways. We're loving on each other and sharing and just doing the things that families do.

And the kids? They are resilient like kids are. They are talking about Deanna and crying when they feel sad and laughing when they feel happy. They speak of her like the force she was and always will be in their lives. Fearlessly and without trepidation. Things like, "Auntie taught me how to crochet this scarf" or "Auntie would be mad if she saw you walking around with your shoelaces untied! Tie your shoe!"

And I love that. So much. I do.

So that day, like most days with Deanna, was a day of love. I'm so glad that you got to take my hand and be there. I promise to come and pick you up for the California one, too, okay?

Oh. And keep on thinking of us and praying for us, okay? We will still need that. And to every person that felt a scab of their own getting unroofed when this happened -- because they either lost a sibling themselves or another dear loved one -- know that I'm thinking of you, too. Because you know and I know that the heart makes room for joy, pain, sunshine and rain. Our own and that of others, too. All at the same time even.  It always does if we let it.

I love y'all. Man. I sure do.

Happy Sunday.

And here is the video--because that's part of you being there, too. One of the last pictures of Isaiah captures the way he looked at his Uncle Will. (You might have to make it full screen because I couldn't figure out how to make it fit when I embedded it.)
VENI, VIDI, VICI: CELEBRATING DEANNA! from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.

And this, one of the solos sung by one of our sorors who indeed has a spiritual gift for singing.


  1. Welp. That did it. I had been reading your posts, praying for your family, but all with a third person view. Something about that video did it, and I'm now in tears. Mostly because as a family of four myself, I know how much our siblings are a part of us.

  2. I rarely cry-but this post here ? What a tribute to Deanna !

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

    1. Deanna rocks. And the shot of Jack? Girrrrrl.

      Kimberly, fellow Meharrian

  3. Thanks again for sharing so much of your life in your little space on the internet. I truly appreciate you showing us how to smile even in the face of the deepest pain. What a beautiful and lovely tribute to your sister ! My prayers continue for you and your family.

  4. Kim,

    I love this blog and I'm absolutely inspired by the grace of your family. I don't know if you remember me at all but I had a opportunity to chat with Deanna this summer and I was so happy to send a card on her behalf to your grandmother in her effort to become the "favorite grandchild". She was funny...our last talk via facebook was funny. She told me that she could tell that I had raised a awesome kid....and to me that's one of the kindest things anyone can say to me. She was also the inspiration for my daughters Halloween grape costume many years ago( its on her FB page she gave creative credit to your mom) As a only child who lost both parents by the age of 12... I can only say I understand. BTW way I read something recently that I really loved it..... says in times of sadness, destruction and chaos look for the HELPERS..the people that show up with acts of kinds, words of comfort, they answer our needs. It seems your family has many helpers...That Burt is fantastic dude! I count you among the helpers.... your blog is beautiful....!

    Skegee Love

    1. Okee, I totally remember you. Thanks so much for the kind words and for checking in. I hope you are doing well.

  5. This is so incredibly beautiful, from the moment between Will & Isaiah to the Jack Daniels incident, to your niece Gabrielle, the sangin', your Grandmama being peaceful...

    all of it tied in with what is going on in Connecticut and our amazing president...

    sweet tears flowing...

    continued prayers for your family...

  6. Simply Beautiful! Bert and that shot - classic lol. All of your family speaking is so brave, it really is! And your niece, knowing her role and taking the responsibility to step in when needed! You and the family continue to be in my prayers. Blessings always!

    1. Hey Kurly,

      Yeah,it was a special day. And that shot? Chile, please. It was the best moment ever. ha haha.

      Hugs to you and hope the holiday is perfect.

  7. Done and done. I have never cried for someone outside of my family as much as I just cried for Deanna. Mostly joy not sorrow. A life clearly well lived and well loved. Thank you Kim for sharing this moment with all of us who could not make the homegoing services. Deanna you will be missed!

    1. I'm so glad that now you were there. Thanks for reading such a loooooong post. LOL.

  8. Your willingness to share your family and all of yourself with us is transformative. I thank you for this gift. You and the family and all the many that loved Deanna are in my prayers and will continue to be as we go through this season of Advent and new beginnings.

    1. Awww. Thanks, Jill. You always have the right words. 'Preciate you.

  9. This was truly a beautiful post, thanks so much for sharing! Be Blessed!


  10. Whew... Had to close my office door for a second. And I only "tear up" every decade or so myself. Ahem.. Thanks for sharing Kim. Bert taking that shot was the shot heard round the world.. I wasnt there but I did hear about that maybe as soon as it happened. You know how the TU Grapevine works.

    You know Angels cant stay on Earth too long. God needs them at home more than ever these days to help him out.

    May the Lord continue to keep you and your family close to him in these times of great need.

    Again thank you for sharing,
    Dave Kemp

    1. "The shot heard round the world." LOLOL. I know that's right. Bert rocks. He's the only person who could have pulled that off!

      Thanks for your support and prayers. Really.

  11. BEAUTIFUL! "If I cannot see your face, I will remember your smile". How adequate. Sending you love, hugs and kisses. Nikki G

    1. Nikki! Your comment came through! Yes! Ha ha ha. I appreciate you so much, girl. I got your sweet card, your emails and your texts. You are simply a gem. Thank you, sister. Hope to see you soon.

      xo, Kimberly

  12. From the Deck oh the Poop,
    I'll simply say that this was as I expected, well done! My chest heaved and shook several times during my read but no snot bubbles. I got her urn yesterday, unpacked it and sat it on the mantle in the living room, gave it a kiss, smile and went back to my learning center. I sat there and waited on my first tutees. Deanna was there to help me through the rough spots.

    Much love,

  13. I am in my office and the tears are flowing. What a blessing Deanna was. I never met her but I am crying for the world's loss.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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