Friday, January 11, 2013

Giving all you have

After Christmas, there were only a few days of rest.  On the 27th, family members began to make their ways home.  The only activity at her house was one quick coordinated visit to say good bye.  Everyone promised to return, and some would in only days.  Friday began the influx of a new set of visitors: family, friends, and long time professional colleagues. When the our time together was over, I am sure each person felt no distinction between the three groups.
     Winter dealt a blow to the group of travelers on Saturday.  Some missed flights, some were stranded in unfamiliar cities until Sunday, and some were canceled altogether.  By the late morning, the first visitors started to sprinkle in, with the frequency building as the day got later.  A few of her close colleagues arrived early enough to spend a few joyful hours with her.  Her visits were staggered throughout the day with her immediate family there to entertain and host when she needed to rest.  Sunday, however, was the apex.  Mom rested for most of the morning and afternoon as the second half of the day was a marathon for her.  Early afternoon, the few scores of us all gathered for dinner together.  All being in one room and at two big tables allowed us to reunite with loved ones after varying lengths of separation.  There were some introductions and connections of faces to stories, but there were no strangers.  We all shared a bond evident in each person present: a deep love for her.   We assembled, mingled, hugged, and laughed.  Characteristically, but this time due to the circumstances of her cancer, Mom arrived fashionably late.  The   party rose to its feet and erupted into applause as we noticed the waitress escort her around the corner flanked by Elois and Cheryl.  There was a queue to hug and kiss her, and for some it was the first time she was able to see their faces since they arrived.  After being greeted by each individual she made her way to her seat.  While we ate and visited for a couple hours, Mom made her way around to each face at the tables and spent her precious and scarce energy making sure she gave personal time to everyone there.
     After dark, we shuttled back to the hotel to meet where we could escape the noise of the restaurant.   Once we had reassembled, our gathering quickly became a set of testimonials to the degree to which she had touched those around her.  Those of us in her family learned things about her professional career. Family shared personal stories to those who knew her professionally.  We learned how she was the first educator in the country to have had 1 million children under her tutelage.  They learned how her brother and cousin broke into her diary when they were young.  (We didn't learn what was in it, though).  We learned the type of student and force she was at Harvard.  They learned how her approach to parenting was being repeated by her son.  We heard from previous students she mentored when she taught at Columbia.  We learned the type of leader she was and how her faith and confidence in those around her caused them to soar to their own heights.  Almost each of us spoke to her.  We tried to give back what she had given so abundantly to each of us.  Unfortunately, there were more stories than Mom had energy left for.  Before Mom left with Elois and Cheryl, lots of people and cameras lined up to take pictures as this would be the last time some saw her this trip.  An hour past her medication time, the three ladies made their way back home.  The remaining party shared stories and laughter late into the night.
     Mom took the next day to recover.  Over the next few days, her cousins visited and shared personal stories of cancer survival and recipes for healthy eating (raw vegan, mostly) and Gershon therapy.  All of us, even my girls (big and small) were gobbling down the organic food.  Mickie, who collected the recipes, would carry the torch once they left.   Her cousins' visits were therapeutic.  Malik massaged her feet and body each day, and was a whispering voice of calm at times when it was most needed.  Ajili taught her how to meditate.  Upesi showed the other women how to perform a lymph node drainage rub down. We were all left with a plan to help her live as long and happy a life as God grants. By the 2nd, all of her visitors had returned home.  The house was almost back to the skeleton crew.  On the 3rd, Mom's previous pastor from Philadelphia, Rev. Kevin Johnson arrived to visit.  She and Rev. Johnson connected when they first met after moving to Philadelphia around the same time.  They had become so close that Rev. Johnson spoke at her dad's funeral (who was a pastor himself) even though he had never met him.  When mom needed to rest, Elois and I hosted until she woke.  After dinner, we ended the night in prayer, and I dropped him off at the airport.
     Exhausted from the toll a two week steady stream of visitors took on her, Mom has been trying to catch up since.  The house is quiet again.  After some semblance of peace, it didnt take long for Mom to start enjoying it.  Her stress level has mostly disappeared and her joking has returned.  Although the traffic and noise is gone, the need for a truly regular schedule remains.  We spent the better part of two days interviewing, assessing, and selecting a hospice group.  Mom chose, we think wisely, but the daily arrival of each member of the team has sparked her desire for a set schedule.  She has welcomed and waived different members of the team as she felt she was ready for.
     There is a lot more to talk about: the only aspect of death that concerns her; her new look, our celebration of her 66th birthday, and more but I'll do that tomorrow.


  1. What a cliffhanger! "With bated breath and whispering humbleness", I await the next installment.

  2. Sounds like a lot of love surrounded Arlene following the tremendous amount of love that was there on Christmas. I so appreciate reading these installments and am trying to figure out a time and way to see one of my favorite people and the best boss I ever had. I miss you Arlene ad know we'll have lots to talk about, but only as much as you want to, when I get there in the near future. I'll be working on it.
    Much love,
    Ron Jones and of course Michael, too!

  3. Hi there. So pleased to have found this page! I was in Mrs. A's 5th grade class at Daniel Boone in U. City in 1976. I've tried to track her down over the years, but to no avail. I was a dancer then, and am a writer and actor now. I honored an exchange I had with Mrs. A. in a comedic piece I did recently and I so hoped to share it with her... I have a link to the video to send, if its appropriate. I'd love to think it might elicit that deep infectious laugh of hers