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Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene

March 12, 2010

A very good friend of my mother’s, of my family’s, died today.

Arlene has had a very rough road of it. She had a synovial type of cancer that is quite rare. It spread from her stomach, up her esophagus, onto her vocal chords, and eventually behind her nose and eyes, and into her brain. She could no longer speak. She could no longer eat or swallow. Well, you can imagine how it went from there. Then again, maybe you can’t.
Despite having this horrible disease, Arlene accomplished some unbelievable things this past year.
Arlene attended my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary party last January. Despite not being able to speak, and having a scarf covering her the hole in her neck from her tracheotomy, she looked wonderful. She was always a sparkling presence at any gathering, and we are Jewish, so there are many. Arlene was always ready with a a helping hand and a warm smile. I say this in all sincerity even though it might sound cliche–there’s really nobody else my mom would call when she wanted a laugh or someone to drool over Neil Diamond with.
She was also able to celebrate the wedding of her beloved son Jonathan this past year to his lovely bride, Eva, an event Arlene sailed through with amazing energy and grace. If you check Jonathan’s facebook page, his mama is positively beaming in every picture (I included one above). She talked on her own wall (yea, she was that cool) about how she was so thrilled for that day, that life event, that she literally just floated right through it, how she could not stop smiling due to the pure joy she felt in her heart. Arlene put every ounce of her being and attention and love into helping Jonathan and Eva create their magical day. The strength she showed amazed everyone.
She also kept her sense of humor. Not being able to eat, Arlene told my mom cancer sure was a great way to finally lose all her weight. She joked about writing her own obituary so she could finally have the last word. She wanted her future grandchildren to know how much she loved them, how she already held them in her heart. But she had become so, so tired; too tired to write.
Unfortunately, it was all pretty much downhill from there. This once-vivacious woman was now reduced to spending only a few precious hours visiting with her girlfriends, writing on a white board to express her thoughts, or maybe playing a round of mahjong. Yet she made the most of it, squeezing every moment out of what she knew, what everyone knew, were those last few weeks of her life.
Perhaps her truest showing of love, her greatest sacrifice, is what she gave her husband near the end. Hospice took wonderful care of her, alleviating her pain as best they could; her husband and sons (and new daughter-in-law), relatives, and her dear, dear friends staying close by. And yet, despite her pain, she invited construction crews in to completely refurbish her kitchen and family room, complete with a huge big-screen TV. For Bob.
Now that’s true love.
  1. Aahh. I lost a friend to cancer recently too. She fought with a ferocity that surprised no one who knew her, and remained her feisty self to the end. These are the people who show us what it is to live. They are to be treasured in life, and their memory is to be treasured once they've passed.

    My condolences, good lady.

  2. Love this, Rachel, and am so glad you switched gears to talk about the more serious parts of life. Talking about cancer is so important– the strength and dignity that people at the end of their lives can still show. Her smile is amazing, so full of life. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Arlene sounds like a model of love and generosity. I'm sure she will live forever in all who knew her.

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