Monday, December 17, 2012

Turning Point

On Friday, I promised to talk about Mom's visions.  Over the past few weeks, she has been intermittently seeing people she knows and has known.  Here and passed on.  At first, she was pretty frightened by them.  She refused to take the pain medication until we ultimately switched medications.   Shortly, she realized that they would continue.  She remembered each vividly.  She awoke to a turbaned "Mandingo" (her words) slowly fanning her with a huge palm leaf.  She yelled for him to get out of her room (an action she now regrets).  She saw her Grandmother Elsie dressed in anachronistic Native American clothing and hair.  She has seen each of her granddaughters at her bed quietly waiting for permission to crawl in with her.  She has felt different people get into bed and rub her face or back.  She's seen different people standing over her smiling.  Sometime last week, she explained to me how interesting the evolution of her visions had become.  At first she was scared, but slowly she realized the common thread to all of them.  They were comforting.  They reassured her.  The leprechauns dancing on the stack of pillows weren't there to make her fear.  They were there to make her laugh.  And so she did.  She began to welcome the visions.  And the people she saw.  She knew that she wasn't going through this alone.  There are angels standing post in her room.  She explained to Elois and I that she knew why those angels looked like people she knew and  had particular recognizable characteristics.  "Glenda has just such a peaceful and angelic face.  It is comforting."..."Cheryl sings so sweetly."..."No one was as tough as Elsie."   She sort of jokingly said to Elois and I (and she was probably talking to both of us) "You know why I don't see you?  Because if I did, I would think I was getting bossed."
     Yesterday, was an intense but clarifying day for her.  It began with visitors.  My godparents came to support.  Glenda will be here all week to help around the house and deliver her famous New Orleans cooking.  We hoped the smell would entice Mom to eat.   One of Mom's brothers and her sister also came to town.   Cheryl to stay and support; Ronnie just for the day.  The amount of people was a shock to the noise level in the house.  It has been very quiet in recent weeks, and adding a handful of adults that aren't familiar with the protocol was obvious immediately.   Ten minutes after people showed up, I was taking the whole bunch to breakfast just to return the house to some normalcy.  With so many people, even whispering turns into inadvertent competition that graduates to talking and then near yelling.  While Mom slept the adults had to be closed off into the far part of the house so as not to disturb her.  She slept most of the morning and afternoon and into the evening.  However, the truly transformative time came later that night.  After most of the crowd left (including her sons and their families), she asked her present siblings and lifelong friends not to leave her bedside.  She confessed to them that she had decided not to continue with chemotherapy.  She also confessed that she expected it to be her last night among us.  Mom led prayer and prayed for each of her family members, friends, and foes.  She asked the Lord for forgiveness for her sins.  She announced to Him her acceptance of His plan.  Then came the singing.  Ronnie, Cheryl, Mom, Elois, and Glenda all took turns requesting, playing, or singing their favorite gospel songs.  I made it back to her house around 11:00 pm.  The iPod switching continued until almost 12:30.  Mom slowly sunk into her pillow.  She asked to keep the playlist on repeat and that someone remain with her.  I insisted.  As she slept, I monitored her breathing for about an hour.  Finally, I laid down next to her and went to sleep myself.   I am happy to report that the Lord had different plans for her today.  And while none of us may be, and her body might not be, and the Lord might not be, she is ready.   She is waiting.  Waiting on the Lord.

Mom has touched very many peoples lives and we all feel that it is important to see her and to let her know how much we love her and the effect that she has had on us; however, her energy is extremely limited.  And none of us will get the amount of time that we want with her. Especially, the closest to her.  She has asked me to help her see certain people that as she put it, "I will go get on a plane by myself and go see them if that's what it takes."  As God grants her more time, she will be able to see more people.  If you would like to see her, please email or call me with your availability, and I will help her to arrange visits as she chooses, but please respect our protocol, and realize that whether or not you get to see her that she loves you and wants to.   Also know that there is a way that she can see your face and hear your voice.  Nearly every computer and phone has a camera nowadays.  Record a video and link it in your comments here.    Her email time is almost nonexistent these days, so emailing me is a much more certain way of getting it to her.  Those of you that have so far have really brightened her days. My contact information is: (505) 620-0383


  1. Anthony, thank you so very much for keeping us informed on Arlene's condition. My intent has been to come see her on December 30th; and now I realize it must be sooner. I'm working on those arrangements now. I'll be in contact with either you or Cheryl.

  2. Arlene,

    I just received the devastating news that you are suffering through advanced cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. I’m writing to send my thoughts and prayers as you endure this process, along with immense appreciation for all of the contributions you made to the Fellows who went through the Broad Superintendents Academy, to the staff, and to me. Your wisdom, joy, passion, and sense of fun rang through every time you were with us. I am grateful for all of the lessons, both large and small, you taught me personally. I am also grateful for the work you did to prepare others for success improving the life outcomes for our nation’s children.

    Most of all, I am grateful that you chose to dedicate your life to serving the children in our country who most need leadership, for fighting to improve their access to a quality education, and for inspiring others to do the same. Please know that the entire Broad Center family and I are incredibly grateful to you for this, and may this give you strength during your battle with cancer.

    God bless,
    Greg Francis

  3. I love you and I will always cherish our friendship. May god grant you the strength to carry on

  4. Arlene,
    Your quiet and sometimes not so quiet guidance introduced me to the world of public education and for that will always be thankful. I remember listening to you the first day as you recounted your work with John and how you and he loved the children. That remains my daily goal and to try and not be too high of maintenance as you cautioned.
    Amy and I have been blessed with our first great grand baby and I know you continue to have fun with your grand kids. Draw strength from their love, the love of your family and of all those you have guided and led. We are with you now and always. Thanks for your friendship, leadership, counsel and dedication to our shared mission. We will keep you in our thoughts, prayers and hope for a successful road ahead. God speed and I know he will hold you close forever.
    John and Amy Scanlan

  5. Arlene,

    I just heard of your battle. There are a number of people who have passed through my life that I have considered to be great mentors. I count among those my mother that I lost much too early to cancer and my dad whom I lost a little more than three years ago to Parkinson. You taught me a great deal about being a humble public servant and you helped me understand never to negotiate my core values. You engineered my very successful entry into the superintendency and I leaned on your words and wisdom whenever I was faced with a challenge or crisis of conscience. I remember your wonderful singing voice each morning at class at Broad and all of my worries seemed to melt away when you entered class.

    You were always jovial in class but we all knew that there was a no-nonsense side of you especially when children were involved. Thank you for all you have done for me. You will always be a cherished mentor and friend.

    Jean-Claude Brizard

  6. Dear Arlene,
    I am so grateful for you and for your contribution to our world. Not only do you light up any room you enter with your presence and your special style, you also serve as a model and a mentor to so many. Thousands upon thousands of children continue to benefit from your work both directly as a leader and also through the education leaders you have helped to develop.

    Thank you for supporting me in my development through the Broad Superintendents Academy as well as before and after that experience. There have been some difficult times for sure. You’ve supported me through them, and I’ve watched you weather them yourself. However, through it all, you always knew how to focus on what mattered most—our students. I remember how fondly you spoke of your own mentor, General Stanford, and I think it is important for you to know that so many of us benefit still from your mentorship and leadership the way you benefited from his. Thank you!

    I am so glad to see that you are surrounded by your family. Your face always beamed when you spoke of them! Please know that I am holding you close in my heart. My thoughts are with you, and I am praying prayers of peace, comfort and healing for you and your family.

    With love,

    Deborah Gist

  7. Dear Arlene,

    Many of us at Teachers College are surprised and saddened to hear of this turn of events for you. You were a lively and passionate colleague with us for several years. You were a terrific teacher and mentor to many students, and you continue to inspire them to work tirelessly and bravely for the children in their schools and school districts. I loved hearing all of the stories about your leadership adventures. I remember the relish with which you described the killer spike heels you wore when you interviewed for the job in Philadelphia. When you came to TC, you told me you were an angry black woman, sixty years old, and you weren't going to take it anymore. We had a good laugh, and by George, you meant it! Yes, you generated some conflict, but for anybody who was really paying attention, you taught us a lot.

    We had many conversations about your family -- your own parents and siblings, your former husbands, your beautiful grandchildren (just Soleil and Violet at that time), your interesting daughters-in-law, and of course your sons. You talked about your boys with such love. You seemed to wonder if you had neglected them with your busy career, but you were so proud of them for the men they had become. You always came back refreshed and reinvigorated after visiting your family, and I am so glad you've had time with them in Arizona.

    One Christmas, you gave me a gold ribboned box, and every year I enjoy it as a remembrance of all that I received from your presence in my life. Thank you for everything.

    May God hold you close and give you and your family courage and grace in the time to come.

    Carolyn Riehl

  8. Arlene,

    I just learned of how you're doing, and I'm saddened by the news. And I'm praying for you to bounce back and to continue teaching and leading.

    God Bless You,
    Lee Nunery


  10. Dear Arlene,

    Keeping you in my heart, thoughts and prayers. With love, Deanna Burney

  11. This is for you Arlene