A week ago, I gathered with my family at my hometown church of St. Mary’s in East Eden, N.Y. for the funeral of my beautiful big sister, Jennifer (52). The 300+ people who couldn’t all fit inside the church were a testimony to what a generous and loving person she was. The attendees wore pink in solidarity with all breast cancer patients and in commemoration of the Go Pink For Jen campaign that her god daughter started when she was first diagnosed in 2016. Here is the poem I read at the conclusion of the Mass.

“St. Mary’s Church, Eden, NY by Thelma Winter”

I want to believe what I don’t believe


that one day soon you’ll go on a never-ending creek walk

canopy-dappled on smooth slate 

under mirrored rivulets over 

catfish, minnows, and newts 

where trilliums line the banks 

where the flies don’t bite 

and the occasional duck starts

a finch, a thrush to chirp

to a rippled drum beat I want to believe

that when we go, the memory of us will breathe

for a series of seasons

until the photo albums get tossed

faded as names are lost

like leaves to the new buds—

the fresh I want to believe

that our soul leaves us and enters a new body

to try again at perfection—

at reconciliation

that the saints are here

that Mary will cradle you like her son off the cross

the sting of the piercings lessening


in her competent hands

for the saints intervene on our behalf—

that’s our good luck

Grandma’s face in a daisy

and the puddle seeping into my sock

another reminder I want to believe

that Grandma is a saint

that when we go, we get to look down to the Earth and watch everyone we love carry on

that here on Earth, we pay for our sins 

and there is no retribution 

in the afterlife

that what we do here makes a difference

somewhere in a beyond

a beyond the lives

of the babies we sat, the lives

they toddled into

UNICEF boxes of 

trick-or-treat dimes I want to believe what I don’t believe

that good deeds matter

that there is an afterlife

that you will be with Grandma and Uncle Danny again

because you loved them more than most

but all the others too

and Sunshine and Frisky and Muffin and Chrissy

and the zebra finches that shared our room

at Grandma’s house, named Benson and Kraus

by somebody else—uncaged now—free 

I want to believe what I don’t believe

that Heaven is the right here—the now—if only we would see it, but also

that your soul goes to Heaven perfect

and your body keeps falling 

apart on Earth, back to Earth, 

it falls back to Earth—

a seed that sips rain

that Heaven will watch the Earth burn

someday—by asteroid, volcano

or self-immolation— I want to believe

that Heaven will sob a rain

to cool the charring continents

a rain that starts

it all over again

that you’ll return to me

in the morning, a Pegasus,

nuzzle me awake with your muzzle

we’ll fly in the troposphere

your dappled grey sparkling

me hanging on terrified—no saddle, no reigns

—as we visit castles made of spun sugar

and ice, and Tourmaline caves

with Topaz stalagmites

I want to believe what I don’t believe

that you’ll understand the universe

all at once, understand all the things 

we never thought about— 

particle physics, circadian rhythm, general relativity—

and you’ll see us, the unfortunate 

left-behinds, struggling

in ignorance and you’ll whisper 

the answers into our scorched ears I want to believe

that heaven is down on Earth

—here—where the light shaft

shoots through a downpour,

the rainbow, the charcoal sketched 

rain cloud, the snowbell piercing ice

to make way for the grape hyacinth,

the snowflake, the whiteout

that in the hours we spent on our bellies

in the sun on the front lawn

when we were six and seven

searching for four leaves

among the clover blooms, how

we weren’t looking for luck,

but the Heaven we always believed in.

~ Cathy Wittmeyer 2023