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Rutgers student Kim Copeland bears tragedy through blogging

copelandKim022212_optBY CARRIE STETLER
RUTGERS TODAY

When Kim Copeland discovered the body of her future husband, who died in his apartment from diabetes-related complications, her grief and trauma were almost too much to bear.

But she found something that helped her heal. In the fall of 2010, a few months after his death in June, she started a blog called “Thank you Very Sweet,’’ an often painfully honest chronicle of her descent into misery and the process of moving on with her life.

“I had the feeling, from the very beginning, even though it was this awful experience, of knowing I had to write about it and share it,’’ says Copeland a Rutgers-Newark graduate student who is pursuing a doctorate in criminal justice. “It was a mix of that need and wanting to tell a story.’’

The title of the blog comes from Copeland’s last communication with her boyfriend, Kesner Dufresne Jr., 35, whose dream was to help revitalize Trenton, his home town.

Shortly before his death, Copeland dropped off a bag of groceries on his porch while he was out. Later, he sent her a text. “Thank you very sweet.’’

“There was no punctuation. It was just like that,’’ says Copeland, who is 32.

Her blog details the moment she found Dufresne, who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes Type I diabetes, dead in his home.

Blogger Kim Copeland continues her late boyfriend's reform efforts as a criminal justice graduate student.

“...It was the strangest feeling in the world. Shock and horror. The moment was terrifying yet beautiful all at the same time. Scary yet intimate....I found him. And no one would ever be able to take that from me. I wanted to be close but far away. I was afraid but I wasn’t. I touched his hair and his neck and his shoulders. He was cold and dark and solid as a rock.”

Copeland recounts her bereavement in the days after Dufresne’s death, when she could barely bring herself to move. She describes her feelings at the funeral, when she saw that a photo of a previous girlfriend, who had been close with Dufresne’s family, had been placed in the casket instead of her own. She went to the service expecting to be recognized and consoled, only to realize that Dufresne’s life was filled with friends and relatives who had known him and loved him long before she did.

The blog is also a thank you to friends who have helped her since the death-- and a love story. When Copeland met Dufresne, she was working at a nonprofit and he was a financial planner who later ran unsuccessfully for the Trenton city council.


On their first date, she was far from smitten. He seemed too serious. But she continued to hang out with him. “He’d call and say, ‘Do you want to have dinner? Just friends.’’ or “Do you want to go swimming? Just friends.’’

Eventually, she fell in love with Dufresne’s sincerity and strength of purpose. “There was a light inside of him that made me believe in all the possibilities of where we could go,’’ she says. “He was in every way a chivalrous, honorable man.’’

She knew that Type 1 diabetes might someday cut short his life. But she had faith that he’d survive for many years. They agreed to marry and had been together for about a year, platonically and later romantically, when he died.

Dufresne’s dedication, in part, inspired Copeland’s decision to pursue a degree in criminal justice so she could play a role in changing incarceration policies and prisoner re-entry. She started the program a few months after his death, despite her lack of funding and doubts that it was too soon. “What am I going to do next? God better make it clear,’’ she told her mother.

When she saw that the dean of the Criminal Justice school was named Todd Clear, she interpreted that as a “divine intervention’’ and enrolled.

“We have a lot of students who have a story about why they wanted to pursue criminal justice, but her story is particularly poignant,’’ says Clear. “Grief is an enormous leveler. Not everybody gets a chance to go through it at her age, but all of us go through it at some time. It has a permanent impact on the way you see things.’’

Clear thinks Copeland has the ability to create change.

“She has extraordinary passion,’’ he says. “She’ll make a mark. She’s got all the tools to be an effective reformer.’’

Copeland says she may one day transform her blog into a book, but in the meantime she thinks “Thank you Very Sweet’’ can help others who are grieving find solace and has already heard feedback from readers, who have totaled about 6,000 since the blog began.

“It was for those people to find some resonance and for people who haven’t experienced anything like this themselves to know what it’s like,’’ she says.

The blog has provided Copeland with insight into her own feelings and helped her gain the certainty that she can reach her goals.

“Writing about this has made me more comfortable in my own skin and more comfortable with my story,’’ she says. “It’s just given me a different kind of confidence moving forward. And it’s something I really needed.’’

 

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