Sunday, January 6, 2013

Top Ten: The Deanna-festo (aka "The Not-Eulogy.")



Today has been awesome so far. It started with a lovely run (yes, run!) with one of my favorite people in the entire world, Lesley M. She was so totally encouraging and that was awesome. She's run a bunch of races including a half-marathon and is a sho nuff and bona fide runner. And me, I'm not any of those things but do aspire to be. Lesley has agreed to be a part of that plan.

Half of Lesley's head after some exercise one day.

So yeah. We ran and talked and caught up. Which was extra awesome considering we hadn't seen each other since before holidays. That part was good. We talked about all sorts of things, but one of the things we talked about was Deanna. And not so much in that sad way but more about her and her special qualities.

"The more I hear you talk about her, the more I wish I'd really gotten a chance to know her," Lesley said.

"Yeah," I panted back, "She was super awesome."

"I love that you've been telling us about her. Reading and hearing about Deanna makes me feel like I really do know her."

And that? That warmed my heart. Because even though so many of you have been so very kind about listening to me speak of Deanna so much, that tiny voice always creeps up to make me second guess it all.

"It's a bit indulgent," that poisonous little whisper has murmured to me. "Don't you think it's a bit self important to think that all of these people who came to your blog for other reasons want to keep hearing about this one person? Surely they have lost people and have their own crosses to bear."

And since I know it's poisonous, I counter back, "Indulgent? I don't know. I think talking about Deanna is like talking about love. The people who read here believe in love and peace and the power of family."

"Yeah, their own."

"I don't believe that."

"But you worry about it."

"No. I don't worry about it. Sometimes I wonder about it. But I don't worry about it."

"Someone is surely annoyed by it. I assure you."

"Someone is always annoyed by something."

"I guess."

"I think it might help someone. You know, to read about her."

"Or it only helps you. And you don't care that it's indulgent."

That's when I shake my head hard from side to side. Trying to shake these poisonous thoughts out of my head. Because this is the same little voice that tells me that I'm not really a good doctor or a good teacher and that I'm actually just an imposter. So I've learned how to deal with her.

"Enough already. Already enough." I've had to say that out loud more than once. This was a new slant that the little voice had taken, trying to give me doubts about actively and openly speaking and writing about Deanna. She tried to disguise her voice at first. But then I recognized her for who she was and flicked her far away from me.

I was appreciative for Lesley's comment. It was really reassuring and . . .just. . .I don't know. . .really moving. Like, it's one of the kindest things someone could say in a time like this. "I love that you've been telling us about her."

Yeah.

So anyway. As it turns out, Lesley's husband is also a runner. He was supposed to run the New York City Marathon that got cancelled after Superstorm Sandy hit. The point of me mentioning this is that their rescheduled weekend to go to New York (where they also have family) ended up being the same weekend as Deanna's homegoing celebration. She was really upset about the conflict, but I would never expect her entire family of four to forgo those plans to see family. No way, no how.

And so. This really convoluted preamble leads me to the point of this post. Partly inspired by Lesley, but also for me to have a place to go back and reread this very special top ten.

Yes. This is a very special top ten. I call it the "not-eulogy" because Poopdeck finds words that suggest death and funerals to be really depressing. That's probably kind of true.

Yeah, so for that part of the program, I was asked to speak. And since Deanna and I both watched the final episode of Oprah together and cried uncontrollably (don't gag, Sister Moon) I immediately knew that I wanted to focus on "What I know for sure about my sister, Deanna." She was a huge fan of my top ten posts so I blended the two into what became the words I spoke at her homegoing celebration.

And so. I bring Lesley and all of you a very special top ten:

THE TOP TEN THINGS THAT I KNOW FOR SURE ABOUT MY SISTER DEANNA

This is pretty much what I said at the service with just a few modifications to make it work on this here blog. Otherwise, consider yourself THERE. Feel free to smile -- that's the difference between the not-eulogy and the sad and depressing alternative.

Oh and, in advance, forgive all the font weirdness. I couldn't figure it out and Blogger can just be weird like that sometimes.

Que sera sera, man.

Now for the top ten:

Like to hear it? Here it go!*

*(By the way, me saying that part was her favorite thing about all of the top ten posts. Ha ha.)


#10  --  I know for sure that Deanna was an EXCEPTIONAL auntie.




She took this role seriously. How amazing is it that God saw fit to not only have her in the lives of her nieces and nephews, but also in such a substantial way? She was the champion hair presser, the loudest of all game cheer-ers, and an extraordinary tutor. She was the master encourager and somehow, someway knew how to bring out the best in our children in ways that we couldn't.


But she wasn't stingy with that special quality. No, she wasn't auntie only to the biological children of her siblings—but to so many of her friends' children as well.  I used to always feel like I was hogging her as an auntie. . . occupying so much of her time and energy with my own kids that Will's might miss out. Interestingly, Will felt the same way with his four children. And her friends felt that way, too. Somehow, someway she managed to make us all feel like OUR kids got the lion’s share of her time. How she did it, we don't know. But she always did.  


Kids—what I know for sure is that Auntie had high expectations of you and still does. She expects you to honor your parents, work hard in school, and to live up to the potential she always saw in you. Do this and think of her, knowing that she, your special angel, will be right on your shoulder watching, coaching, cheering and protecting you. 



#9 -- I know for sure that Deanna knew how to have FUN.



Whew. Man, could she have fun! 

At every single Tuskegee homecoming, every single year, there was one thing that you could always count on. Dee arriving with a loud, happy voice on Friday and completely being without one by Sunday. Without fail! One year I asked her, "Did you have a good homecoming this year?" And her answer was, "I ALWAYS have a good homecoming!" Nothing could be truer when it came to Deanna. 

Let me tell you -- Deanna made the simplest and most mundane things fun. Homework with the kids? Fun. A project? Fun.  A sorority committee meeting on a dreary weeknight? LOL-smiley-face-FUN.  Man. She even did some fun things with Jello and Pudding that I won’t go into much detail on since it's kids here and all. Just know that it was legal and it was fun.

Ha.

I WOULD ask everyone under the sound of my voice who did something fun with Deanna to cheer as loud as they can . . . . BUT. . . . the sound would be far, far too loud and would likely shatter some glass in the back of the room. So, if you did something fun with Deanna, you can just give a knowing nod of your head to your neighbor (especially if you know first hand about her Jello and Pudding creations.)

#8 --  I know for sure that Deanna was CREATIVE.




So, so creative. Like CRAZY-SUPER-MAD creative, y'all. Don't believe me? Then tell me this: 




Who else could take your LEFTOVER plastic bags from Kroger or Publix, cut them up into strips, and then CROCHET it into a frickin' POCKET BOOK? She even made a matching WALLET to go with it. Seriously? Who does that? 

Deanna, that's who.

And of course there were her other crochet masterpieces--too numerous to count! 



 


Her programs, her projects, her ideas were just as stars always are—out of this world. Many of you can recall something you saw that she had a hand in. And like me, you remember saying, “How did you even think that up?” It’s because this was her way. 

Here's just a few more of her creations:

The Lakers quilt she made for JoLai out of old championship t-shirts . . . 




Can't you just see the love in it?

Then there's the scrapbooks she made. . .talk about masterpieces! This one, given to me as a wedding gift, was covered with LEFTOVER FABRIC from their actual bridal attendants' dresses!


Don't believe me? Check this out:



Only Deanna!





Then there's the one she made for JoLai's fortieth birthday--covered with an old Tuskegee sweatshirt she found lying around. 





 What's crazy is that COUNTLESS others are nodding and thinking of their own scrapbooks, party favors, scarves, afghans, quilts, etc. that Deanna made for them, too.



From scrapbooks to crochet projects to paintings to her adorable hand-made cards (because "everyone should occasionally get mail that isn't a bill")—if Deanna did it, it was one of a kind. 
 
Deanna would want you, too, to push yourselves to think outside of the box and to be more creative. Don't see what you want? Make it. Haven't found what you're looking for? Create it. Push your mind’s limits to see what more can be done and what different ways they can be achieved. Don’t settle for the status quo—put some “Dee” on it next time!


#7  --  I know for sure that Deanna was steadfast in her commitment to our sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. 



My sister personified sisterhood. With us, of course. But this totally carried over into our sorority in exponential ways. As far as she was concerned, no soror had control over HOW she came into our sorority--that is, the initiation process--but EVERY soror has full control over what she does once she gets initiated. Deanna never lapsed a single time in her dues or her commitment as a Delta from the day she was initiated on April 3, 1998. 

Not even kidding.


Deanna was what many called a "super Delta." She chaired countless committees, participated in membership intake and could always be counted upon for any and every thing going on in Delta. She never missed a National Convention and even replaced my sorority pin when I lost my own--just to leave me with no excuse but to stay involved. 

Deanna loved sisterly acts. She loved hearing of linesisters remaining close and all sisters embracing other sorors. When Deanna said she would be true, she meant it. 



And not just Deltas. She liked knowing that every sister who'd ever pledged or who had a biological sister stayed true to that commitment. 


To our Delta sorors:

Sorors, I know your hearts are sad and that you will miss her. I also know that you’re sad that she won’t be able to be with us at the centennial celebration of our beloved sisterhood on January 13, 2013. 

But guess what? 

She WILL be there. AND she'll get to celebrate the 100th with all 22 of our Founders! You tell me who has the better deal? Just imagine her yucking it up with the Founders, crocheting a scarf for Barbara Jordan and asking Langston Hughes "Where the Ques at?" I assure you, they’re going to have a lot more fun than we all will in D.C.

See, Deanna wouldn’t want your energy spent on sorrow. She’d want you to spend your days trying to OUTDO her in your Delta commitment. Out-think her, out-serve her, out-love her, out-imagine her. Give and forget the gift. Squash beefs. Embrace each other. Keep your financial promise as well as the promise of your time. 

And if you can’t do it for Delta, then do it for Deanna, our everlasting violet.


#6 -- I know for sure that Deanna loved the Lord.



I know this because she told me so. And while she’d be the first to admit that she hadn’t found a church home, her life serves as an example of what it means to let your light shine. 

The bible says in John 13:35:

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples—that you have love one for another.” 

Nope. No fire and brimstone. But a heart so full of love that all you had to do is LOOK at her smile and you’d see the God in her.Yes. The God in her.

Yes. She believed that Christ died for her sins and confessed believing. And one day when I was having doubts about whether or not this was true, I found out that she had told our mutual friend Horatious the exact same thing. I believe that this was a gift God left us with as a comfort. 

For this reason, I try not to say that we “lost” her. Because when something is “lost” you don’t know where it is. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord--and if the Lord has a sense of humor, I’m sure Deanna is cracking Him up right now. BIGTIME.


#5 --  I know for sure that my sister Deanna was loyal.

 

Like, to fault. If a boy broke your heart, you needed to think twice before telling Deanna. Because see, you would be all lovey-dovey again and that Deanna? She’d be mad on your behalf for the next decade. She was the person to call when someone did you wrong and you needed someone on your team. And if you needed her to wait for the girl who did you wrong in your freshman dorm? That would be Deanna. Waiting with a balled up fist and a a flattened palm to pound it into. Oh, and she could give the hairiest eyeball ever. 

Man. Deanna gave a hairy eyeball better than any other.

Anyways. She took "having your back" to whole different place. She was one of those people that you wanted on your side or on your team because with her, you knew you'd win. 


#4  --  I know for sure that Deanna was a really good friend.



It’s funny. Deanna had this way of making every person feel like they were the only person in her life. Her attention was full. Her affirmations were honest, positive, and bountiful. And we already talked about the loyalty thing. 

But as a friend, another of her wonderful qualities is that she was honest. If your dress wasn’t cute, she didn’t lie to you. Nope. Not her. She'd tell you. If your singing voice wasn't up to snuff, she'd let you know. "That ain't your gift, Pookie!" she'd say. And then she'd shrug as if to punctuate that statement. 


"Pookie." That was Deanna's pet name for all of her favorite friends. It makes me smile to write it because I can hear her saying it clear as a bell. "Hey Pookie!"

She had a quick smile and was always game for a good time. And since she never met a stranger, any time Deanna encountered someone, they left feeling like an old friend.

Deanna held on to old friends and she even held on to my friends. From every stage of my life, Deanna befriended my friends, too. Deanna and JoLai have always had this in common. I call it “friend hoarding.” They collect friends but never, ever get rid of them. This was made even more evident in these recent days. We heard from elementary school friends, high school buddies, her closest college friends took planes, trains and automobiles—not only to be here for this celebration—but to be with our family on that weekend after this happened.

Deanna was a friend to the friendless. One person said that Deanna was her friend when it wasn’t cool or popular to be. This person held that memory all the way from elementary school. She had buddies from all walks of life, too. Daughters of African royalty, former convicts, those with the fanciest of pedigrees to those without a pot to piss in.

Moreover, she was a friend to her family members. She wasn’t just a sister or a daughter or a granddaughter or a cousin or a niece. She had an unusually close bond with Mudear, our late paternal grandmother. Her tight bond with our grandmommy Ernestine transcends life. For Will, JoLai and I –we could count on her for a laugh and of course to be the most loyal part of our army in any kind of battle. She was a friend, of course, to my father. But perhaps the most special of her friendships was with our mother. It is for this reason that my heart has cried the most.

For my mom, who was Deanna's very best friend. 

The very last voice mail I received from her was with Tounces and her riding to see a movie together. They were asking me some really obscure medical question and both of them were talking in unison. I can't bring myself to delete that message. No matter how hard I try.



#3 --  I know for sure that Deanna was an amazing sister.






 
For every single person who met her, they met us, too. Dang, she was so proud of us. She loved being our sister and one of the "Draper four." And even more? She loved us no matter what. It was always enough for us just to be who we were. It was unconditional. 


For this reason, when Will took Fran’s hand in marriage, Deanna took it, too. And she loved Fran. She loved everything about her and always said to me that Fran is as much her sister as any of us. 


And she meant that, too. 


When Harry and I entered our marriage covenant, again, so did Deanna. She took those vows seriously. She bent over backwards for Harry. Yes, Harry. She first loved him because he first loved me. But then she loved Harry for Harry. He was her brother and that was enough.



#2 -- I know for sure that Deanna was and shall always be a cherished daughter. 


You see, a child who draws love to her is a testament to the very best a parent can offer. She loved to make you proud. She loved knowing you, talking to you, loving you and being a part of your lineage. You raised her to be strong-willed, self-aware and with a strong sense of self, so even when things would frustrate you, know that it was that part of her that made her the joy and wonder that she shall always be.


No. It’s not natural for a parent to let go of their child. It isn’t. But perhaps, it is instead supernatural. You see, the same God who will see my parents through this is the same God who will equip us all with the best ways to support them. But even more. . . He actually knows how they feel. He knows what it’s like to lose a child, to see that earthly body lifeless and to try to comfort those whose hearts are broken in the aftermath. But guess what? He also knows what it’s like to be reunited with that same child. To celebrate, rejoice and embrace again. He knows. 

This is what I believe.

#1 --  I know for sure that Deanna genuinely liked the person she was. 


She really did. First of all, she liked her name: Deanna. Anyone who had a girl baby was told very directly of the perfect name for their child—(let's say it in unison) Deanna! 

She knew she was smart, creative, different, and gifted. And I loved that about her. See, Deanna wasn’t one for self deprecation or self loathing and didn’t tolerate it in others, either. Sure, she would admit her imperfections but she never let that consume her. Perhaps she wanted a husband, kids of her own, and many more things—but Deanna rejoiced in the blessings God had given her right now

On the last night that I saw her, she told Zachary that she didn’t need to have any kids because she had all of them. And then she said “’cause your mama needs help!” (I still do.) She was a sister to those without sisters, an auntie to those without aunties. She remembered people but always remembered herself. No. She wasn't some kind of selfless martyr who never looked out for Deanna. She looked out for all of us but made sure she lived her life and did things that brought HER joy, too.

One of my favorite Deanna stories was when she was in elementary school. A boy told her that he was the smartest boy in the school, to which Deanna quickly retorted—"So what I’m the smartest PERSON in this school!"  And you better believe she 100% believed that. Later when she went to middle school, Dad warned her that the competition would be stiffer. The kids were from other schools and some would be smart—maybe even as smart as she. Deanna wasn’t even there three weeks when she had an epiphany. She looked around and said, “Am I tripping or am I smarter that all of THESE kids, too?”  One of her teachers sent a note to Mom and Dad saying he remembers her because he always had to find harder work for her to do.

Probably because she told him so. Ha ha.

People like that can see the best in others, too. They can push you to do things that you never thought you could. This was Deanna’s way. Always, this was her way. Because of that, I knew I could speak today. 

Deanna once asked me to “speak a word” at the Sunday/church service during our Delta sisterhood retreat one year. She said it was her vision and she believed that I could do it. "Say WHAAAT? I’m no preacher!" I told her. But she said, "Kimberly, you have a gift for encouraging and speaking. Use it."  And so, I did –with Deanna behind me.  

"I knew you could do it," she said. (image from that day beside "my Ruth")
  
 That day, I spoke of Ruth from the bible. The woman whose loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi went above and beyond. And now, I know that Deanna was my Ruth. Her loyalty to me was radical. Her vision of us so much greater than my own. She was a Ruth to us all. 

And she was never, ever ruthless.

This is hard. It will continue to be so. I know that. But I also know that God entrusted us with Deanna, if only for a short time. And in that short time she had a life well lived and well loved. I know that we will see her again.

So I ask you. What are your gifts? No, really--what are they? This is what Deanna would want to know. Are you using them? Are you sharing them? Are you afraid of them? What are your gifts? Find them. Develop them. Use them. 

Deanna would also tell you this: Like who you are right now. Don’t complain. Work on your shortcomings but don't wallow in them. And trust in God.

The words to this song have ministered to my soul since this happened. I share them with you as they have encouraged me immensely. (Don't worry, I won't sing them, I promise--since I know Deanna would say "That ain't your gift, Pookie!")

I hope these words will do the same for you:

"He bottles up every tear,
Understands every fear;
So we must put our trust in God.
He knows the reasons why,
Nights we must sit and cry;
So we must put our trust in God.

Even though sometimes the load may
make you feel your life is almost gone.
 
Just look up tomorrow’s sun
will let you know your life’s not done,
Just look around—love’s pouring down;
Trust in God
 
He understands every thing,
Healing is in His wings;
So we must put our trust in God.
He shows how much He cares,
By sharing the load we bear;
So we must put our trust in God.
 
Even when we don’t understand
and it seems our world just falls apart.

Just look up
Tomorrow’s sun
Will let you know your life’s not done
Just look around—love’s pouring down
Trust in God."

Thanks.


***

Happy Saturday-Sunday. (Sorry, started this Saturday but didn't finish until today!)

Geeze. This Deanna-festo was long, I know. So to whosoever of y'all stayed with this super-long post to this point -- hey. . .thanks, man. You have honored my sister and my parents by reading this. 

'Preciate you.

From the old school Winans' CD . . .the beautiful "Trust in God."
 

25 comments:

  1. I love the way you live your family. We are blessed, aren't we?

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  2. You honored your sister and parents by writing it!! Beautiful.

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  3. Having just come home from an emotional First Sunday church service, this right here just sent me over the tear filled edge (in a good way)LOL. I too, love that you loved your sister the way that she obviously loved your family & that I am getting to know her through you. This was a phenomenal tribute to a beautiful spirit ! Your life and your family are truly inspirational. You have no idea how much I love your blog and the way your writing makes me feel whenever I come here. Thank you for sharing so very much.

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  4. I have a couple great brothers but have always loved hearing about what it's like to have a sister. What a blessing!

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  5. " One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been. " -Sophocles. Your stories let us, your readers, know that Deanna personifies splendid !!!!!!!!!! You have honored her, and then some.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

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  6. What a beautiful, honest and lively tribute. It makes me feel like I knew her, a little bit--and it makes me sad I didn't, because she was clearly an amazing person. I LOVE that quilt.

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  7. Each time I read your blog, I feel the love you have with and for your family. You've not only given me an intimate look at Deanna, but your posts have lifted the grief of losing my dad two months ago. I'll celebrate him as you celebrate Deanna.

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  8. What a wonderful tribute to your sister. I am so glad that her nieces and nephews, and all who love her, will be able to come here and see reflected this amazing soul. You honor her. You truly do. So tell that little voice to go away, because whatever comes up in your heart to write here is pure and true. Don't question it. We need to hear about Deanna as much as you need to write about her. Hugs.

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  9. Beautiful....thanks for sharing.

    Cassandra

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  10. What you've done here for your sister is just amazing. I have loved reading about her, seeing her photo and seeing her with all of you and with her friends. I feel that I've known her, a bit, and it's been a privilege. I feel, too, the love you have for her -- it just bursts out here and in the other posts. I imagine her to be so grateful for you and filled with pride and love as you remember and sing her.

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  11. What amazing words for you to share about your sister?! Each one chosen and so lovely...and so perfect you could feel the warmth. I feel most blessed to have read your post this morning. One would be so lucky to leave a legacy whose impact and remembrance is lifelong. Thank you for celebrating your sister and the love you share in such an inspiring way.

    Melanie

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  12. What wonderful sentiments about your sister. I have enjoyed, through smiles and tears, reading about her and her relationship with all those that she knew. A week ago, I gave birth to my 3rd daughter. I hope my girls have as special of a relationship as you have with your sisters!

    Lauren J

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  13. Sharing the love you have for your sister and the amazing beautiful woman she was is not, nor could it ever be, annoying!! I was in tears by the time I got to number 1, jealous that I never got to know her and moved to be more like her. Thank you for sharing her with us!

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  14. Dang Kim, this post made me cry. All those photos of love beaming off your sister's face. It was the gifts she made with such love and talent that did me in.
    I never met her, but I'll miss her. And you keep on honoring her, she is a special person. We keep them alive by remembering them with love.
    xo

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  15. I am leading a retreat on finding wholeheartedness in your grief in a few weeks and I appreciate all that you have shared in the days since your sister's death. I am referring the participants to your blog because you show such a wonderful broad range of grief. And I know when you posted that picture of Poopdeck in those shorts, you knew that Deanna would be lol at that one.

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  16. Of course this brought me to tears. And of course this has made me understand even more the gift that your sister is. I wish I had known her. Thank God that she was such a blessing, and thank Him that you will see her again. And please, tell that little voice in your head where she can go :)

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  17. Beautiful does not come close to describing this and certainly does not come anywhere near describing your sister Deanna or the love you share.

    Please know that in my heart and mind I have thought so many wonderful thoughts and so many great wishes directed at you throughout the holidays and for this new year. Chief among them is my wish for you to see your wishes and dreams, and Deanna's wishes and dreams, for you and your family come true - every single one of them!

    I have come to realize that posting while tired is like posting while drunk (as evidenced by an embarrassing novel of a comment I left not too long ago), so I will stop here.

    Hugs...

    P.S. "Indulgent" is not a negative word! I just want to mention that, in case that voice in your head insists on calling your writing about Deanna indulgent. Please, do indulge us!

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  18. From the deck of the Poop,
    You know that I love you writing and I love this post but the hole or void created in my heart and soul when my Big girl left is so gigantic that words can never come close to filling. Long sentence huh?

    Much love
    PoopDeck

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  19. This is beautiful. What a special family you have and what an amazing testimony to your sister this is. Thank you for sharing it.

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