#Cancer: A Blog about Life, Love, Death, Community, and a Day at a Funeral I Shall Never Forget

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By Kevin Powell

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The funeral is this morning. Very profound and unplanned road trip. ‪#‎cancersucks‬ I am here to support, to help however I can. Thinking about life, a lot, about how people treat others, a lot. Life is short. No room in my heart or spirit for people who are mean, rude, disrespectful, unkind, ever again. I am talking about things that have nothing to do with this particular journey, but been dealing with a lot of unnecessary foolishness from folks who call themselves professionals the past couple of weeks. Some act like they are going to live forever. Some act like they can just be toxic and dysfunctional and plain crazy toward others and it is okay. No, we are all going to die one day, like all of us. We need to think about our souls, whether we believe in God or nothing at all (folks have the right to believe whatever they want, or not). We need to think about how we treat ourselves, other human beings. We need to think about why we are on this Earth, and what purposes we serve beyond a job or career or status or credentials. We need to ask ourselves if we are bridge-builders or bridge-destroyers. We need to ask ourselves whether we bring compassion and empathy and love to others more than that, or if we bring disrespect and confusion and trauma and toxic behavior and our own insecurities. You learn much about people when they die, if you did not know them. You also learn much about others from how they behave when someone dies, too. And you learn much from people who do not really believe in democracy, or collaboration, who only want to see and do things their way, which is oppression, period. I have thought about my memoir a lot these past days, this new book coming soon. All I have shared about my life, how liberating writing it has been, and how it has changed me so much, including, now, what I am willing to deal with and tolerate — or not — and the kind of people I am willing to have in my life, for the rest of my life. Going backwards is not an option. Being stuck is not an option. And making myself miserable to make others happy is not an option. Life is short, I am thankful to God, her, for today, and hope to see tomorrow and the next day.


Saturday, August 8, 2015


The funeral service today was alive with the spirit of the woman who died of cancer who I did not know. ‪#‎cancersucks‬ I was there because someone I am very close to is the granddaughter of this woman. I am in the American South, and my people, my entire family tree, is from the American South, from South Carolina. But this funeral was in another state and was for a family not my own, but it don’t matter. Tradition is tradition wherever my people are, and I knew, from years of experience, that the choir would sing in a way that would put chills in my bones. The choir sat, and sang from their pews in the pulpit. There were no instruments, except the clapping of their hands and the pounding of their feet. And their voices. Those angelic voices. Anyone who grew up in the Black church as I did, knows what I am talking about. Anyone whose family roots are in places like South Carolina, or Alabama, or Louisiana, or Mississippi, or anywhere else Down South know what I am talking about: the choir sings, the mourners come and shake hands with the grieving family members, words and phrases like “be encouraged” and “she is in a better place” and “God be with you” were abundant. When one person dies in our community a part of all of us dies. And we come together to remember, but also to put that person on our shoulders and lift her or him up to the God we believe in, in spite of all we’ve suffered through and from. This is why we graffiti images of the dead in our ‘hoods. This is why we get tattoos of loved ones gone on our bodies. We remember, so we will never forget them, and we remember because it helps us to move forward, even with all the hurt. Tears flowed, prayers and acknowledgements were made, and the choir sang and sang. And so did one man, in his remarks, who ended by singing a spiritual called “Be Still.” This is the genius and magic of Black people, one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever given the world: the ability to make music from nothing but air and our souls. No vocal training, just sing like your life depends on it. Because it does. And he sang, and I could feel a lump in my throat, choking back tears. I cannot remember the lyrics at all, but I can hear, right this minute, that man shouting “Be Still” and the community, in our seats, echoing him by saying “Be Still,” too. And then it was over and we were at the cemetery, and after the final words were said, the final good-byes given to the woman whose body was destroyed by cancer in just three months, I finally broke down crying. It was because her husband of 57 years, her soul mate, her best friend, her lover, her partner, her “sugar babe” (as he called her), stood at her closed casket, gripping the sides of it, his body slumped with despair, begging God, the universe, anyone, to give him his wife back. That is love, y’all, that is love. When you love someone so profoundly that you want to go with them when they are gone, or you are asking someone, anyone, for more time with them on this Earth. You could see the heaviness of his loss in the way this man’s body bent into knots of sadness. I felt sad for this man, but I also spoke to the universe and said I want that kind of love, I wish we all could experience that kind of love in our lives, be it for 57 years or 57 days. It is a love that has been kissed by the universe, blessed by the ancestors, and bestowed into two hearts forever—