As students at Carolina in the early 1990s, Renee Alexander Craft and Maleikka Hardy Williams thought they would spend their 30s building careers and raising families.
“We were both from Charlotte,” Alexander Craft says. “We both belonged to the same sorority when we were on campus and she was my best friend my junior year.”
Hardy was also homecoming queen and president of the Carolina Union. “She was that kind person who was always the leader and making sure things happened,” says Don Luce, former director of the Carolina Union. “You could just tell that she was going to be one of the greatest mothers ever on the face of the Earth.”
Shortly after the birth of her second daughter, Williams received some devastating news that she had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Williams died less than two years later.
As she grieved, Alexander Craft, now an assistant professor teaching communication studies and global studies at Carolina, discovered the way to honor Williams’ memory. “I’m a writer and I fell back on my craft,” Alexander Craft says.
The result was a poem, which soon became a children’s book, “I Will Love You Everywhere Always.” Through the story of Hope, a little girl who loses her mother to an illness, Alexander Craft helps grieving children understand their feelings and emotions.
“One of the things I want people who read this book to come away with is a sense of how to reconnect with the people they love. It’s OK to feel funky and to feel bad. Grief takes time, but here are tools that can help you feel a little better right now. Sharing stories and memories are two such tools,” Alexander Craft says.
“I Will Love You Everywhere Always” is illustrated by Cosmo Whyte. “I didn’t want the book to be categorized as a ‘death book’ and the artwork was really key to telling the story,” Alexander Craft says. “Because each of the panels are so brilliant, vibrant and alive, it won’t let you fall into a dark place with the book. It is truly about the healing power of eternal love.”
The public service that was always an important part of Williams’ life is also part of her legacy. The story created as a tribute to Williams is helping families in dozens of situations deal with grief and loss. “I’ve gotten positive, wonderful responses from people who are in palliative care,” Alexander Craft says. “Families who are dealing with loss, military families, grown folks who are trying to help themselves and other grown people they care about deal with loss. So the response has been really great and very humbling.”