Insight News

Feb 11th

A Farewell Requiem: Dr. Elvyn Jones-Dube

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2-mcclaurin-solution-archives-001"I really have no regrets. I can go freely. There are things that I didn't accomplish that I wanted to but I have learned how to let go. I would have liked to have done more, and if I had more time, I would have done so." Dr. Elvyn Jones-Dube

Human beings, homo sapiens, or anthropology's political correct AMH (anatomically modern humans) are a unique species among mammals. We have culture, which according to my colleagues, has been our primary means of adaptation.

Through culture we have learned how to adapt to our environment by creating houses to shelter us from heat and cold, clothing to protect us from the elements as well as symbolize ideas of decency and propriety. We developed sun tan lotions to protect us from the sun and solar panels to harness the sun's power for energy. We created cooking to help us digest a variety of foods that contributed to our survival, and may have help trigger the development of our brain. And, we have created cultural rituals like marriage to facilitate the reproduction of the species and further social and economic relations.

Culture and Rituals: "What's Love Got to Do with It?"

Yes, some anthropologists believe that marriage has little to do with love and a lot to do with economic and political social relations, developing domestic unions, and establishing blood lines. Look at the historical marriages of the aristocracy—they occurred to cement alliances, further the accumulation of wealth, produce an heir, and solidify power. Love had very little to do with it.

We might ask ourselves how much has changed in this ritual through the centuries, especially since the sticking points in most modern divorces is property division and custody of the children—sometimes in that order of priorities. Marriage has been a mechanism for upward social mobility, and the entire concept of prenuptials is about making sure that a person entering into the social arrangement of marriage doesn't take more than what they came with, or leaves with a predetermined agreed-upon amount—sort of like negotiating with a car dealer.

"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

Culture and Death

As humans, from the moment we are born, we are destined to die. And perhaps the most meaningful, and as some anthropologists' believe the "...most distinctively human..." cultural practice we have developed is that surrounding death. We have rituals of funerals, burials, and memorial services to celebrate and mourn the dead. They enable us to contend with the fact of our mortality, come to terms with the death of a loved one, and prepare us for life afterwards as a survivor. And our practices of religion, regardless of the faith, help us to explain and understand the inexplicable.

...Not only are they [funeral rituals and burial practices] deeply associated with religious beliefs about the nature of death and the existence of an afterlife, but they also have important psychological, sociological, and symbolic functions for the survivors. Thus, the study of the ways in which the dead are treated in different cultures leads to a better understanding of the many diverse views about death and dying, as well as of human nature.

For all our talents as a species, facing the death of a family member or a friend doesn't get any easier. Death is the final frontier. It is the moment at which we recognize the limitations of our existence and the limitations of our power as one of the most unique species of mammals.

As evolved as we believe ourselves to be, we have not yet figured out how to prevent that final phase in the circle of life. We can prolong the onset of aging and diseases, but we can't stop the death clock. We are powerful in our ability to manipulate our environment, expand the borders of our universe through space travel, and slow down the aging process through replacements of essential parts—hearts, hip joints, knee joints, valves, limbs, and soon even our face. We can forestall the inevitable, but we have not yet found a way to stop the death clock.

"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

A Farewell Requiem for a Friend

The passing of my friend, Dr. Elvyn Jones-Dube, on November 14, 2012, two days before her 64th birthday, is a lesson in dying with dignity that I wish to share with you. I am angry with myself because I had wanted to write about Elvyn's life when she could still read it. I blew that opportunity, but I am determined to complete the promise I made.

After living with breast cancer since the age of thirty-nine and going through prescribed treatments of chemotherapy and radiation, all of which prolonged her life but robbed her of her hair and burned one of vocal chords, Elvyn decided four months ago she had had enough with medical interventions.

She felt the quality of the final days of her life was more important at this juncture. Chemotherapy was proving to be more a hindrance than a help—take the chemo and then spend two weeks in the hospital recovering. Elvyn decided this was not how she wanted to spend the last days, weeks, or months of her life. And so she checked into a hospice program that would assist her with "comfort care," but at home among her own stuff. No tubes, no anonymous beds or spaces surrounded by people and things she didn't know. She would spend her final days at home in the little apartment in Richmond, VA.

She texted me on July 31, 2012, "FYI, I am done with chemo & have shifted 2 hospice. Hope 2 get through 2012. No major pain so far. Talk soon. Hugs." The doctors gave her six months; the cancer had spread. And she almost made it.

We spoke over the next several months and in October, I joined a contingent of children, siblings, and friends who banded together to spend time with Elvyn as she prepared herself to transition at home rather than in a hospital. In total, I was able to be with her for over three weeks.

She was going to do this "her way." And so one day she announced that she needed some sun. The solution was a trip to a sunny climate. Even as we made plans, it was all provisional because we never knew if she would be able to make the trip, but we planned it as if she would. And she did.

We spent eight days in the U.S. Virgin Islands—her last trip, as she referred to it. She was able to bask in the sun, get a tan, and watch water that was at times turquoise, aquamarine, and varying shades of blue, and sleep to the sound of the Caribbean Sea slapping the shore line silly. Every morning, she had tea on the little veranda of where we stayed in Cottages by the Sea, St. Croix. She would then sit for two hours in the sun, listening to her favorite music on her iPad, which one of her sons had given her.

While everyone on the mainland was preparing for Hurricane Sandy, we experienced strong waves but nothing more on our little island get away. We had blue skies and water that looked like a gigantic blue jewel reflecting its brilliance every day and stretched out to the horizon where it sealed its fate with the sky. Our journey ended without incident, though it was increasingly apparent that Elvyn's health was on a decline.

During our time in the sun, I recorded Elvyn talking about her life, and why she had chosen to go to the Peace Corp in Botswana and what had drawn her to marry a man (Mr. Alfred Dube) now retired, who became an Ambassador from Botswana to England, Sweden, Belgium, China and who knows where else, and raise three sons (Nyaladzi Nathan (34), Nkwebi Julien (28) and Wazha Daniel (26) who are truly global citizens of the world.

As we talked, I had a difficult time keeping track of all of Elvyn's global adventures and the people she'd had the opportunity to meet and interact with –former UN Leader Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, and of course all the heads of states she'd met and entertained.

I did meet one of her friends from her tour-of-duty in China who traveled from New York to visit Elvyn. Despite numerous airline delays, Carmen chose to visit anyway. In total she could only spend around four hours with Elvyn. But she was determined, and I was a fly on the wall listening to them reminiscing about their time together in Beijing, China, where, I learned, Elvyn had started a book club for expatriates, Chinese business people from Hong Kong, and diplomatic wives like herself.

"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

Just a Girl from Philly

1-elvyn-stNot a bad life for a Black girl from Philly. Though born in Richmond, VA, Elvyn always thought of herself as "just a girl from Philly (Philadelphia)," where she lived most of her early years through high school. She chose to attend Lincoln University, an HBCU (historically Black College and University). Where else could a young girl from inner city and segregated Philly imagine herself going for college?

A first generation college attendee, like many Black students in the late 1960s and early 1970s—Elvyn (and I also) were among the generation of Black children who had bought into the Kennedyesque belief that we were a generation for whom the country had great expectations.

By the time Elvyn enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. We were among the generation who watched sit-ins and assaults on Black people with fire hoses and dogs televised in black and white. We read about and pondered over the photographs and news footage of proud Black students standing quietly in the face of vitriolic abuse—people spitting on them, yelling at them, throwing liquids on them, threatening them, as they sought to attend classes in historically segregated white schools. It could have been either of us.

Those of us who attended college in the 1960s were the proud beneficiaries of the efforts and activism of the Civil Rights Movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panthers and their ten point program, including the right to bear arms, and the cultural ideology of the Black Nationalists movement. This was a time also when the ideology of white supremacy was the norm, and it shaped the way we saw the world, especially Africa.

Elvyn said it was her interaction with the African students at Lincoln that changed her life. She wanted to know more about their lives and their countries. Those she met didn't fit the stereotypes with which she had grown up. And she wanted to leave America. She considered herself a discontent, who could not tolerate the racial injustice with which she had grown up.

"I first met African [students] at Lincoln University and it had a huge influence on my life. I was one of the disgruntled ones. I'd grown up in Philly, and Philly had little to offer Black people—racist. [We lived] ...under Mayor Rizzo who made no secret of his dislike of Black people."

Upon graduating from Lincoln University, Elvyn Jones joined the Peace Corp and lived for two years in Botswana, where ironically, she could witness racism and white supremacy ideology at play again in the form of South African apartheid right next door. She loved Botswana, though she felt it was tough being a woman there. Some glimpses of what she meant can be seen in the HBO series starring Jill Scott, The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The images of Botswana's landscape are breathtaking, and the show takes on lots of issues: HIV-AIDs, beliefs in magical practices, straying husbands, and domestic violence.

My life intersected with Elvyn's in 1974 when she and I met in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Elvyn completed her coursework for the doctorate in Education, and returned to Botswana to complete her fieldwork and research.

She married, as did I, and we both had sons for our first born. We remained in touch over the years. I visited her in London, received gifts of chocolate from Belgium, and followed her travels through the occasional letter.

After 1996, we lost touch. She was reinventing herself as a psychotherapist studying at the Anna Freud Institute in London. It wasn't an easy time according to her. She was "the only one"— a Black woman and an American.

"I met a lot of opposition. I was the only Black woman, I was the only American. They took their whiteness for granted. And it wasn't always easy."

She prevailed and completed her training and eventually returned to the U.S. where she discovered that foreign credentials are not recognized, and so Elvyn completed a Masters in Social Work so she could practice.

"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

There is a time for everything....

I never imagined I'd ever connect with Elvyn again. But it must have been our time. As Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, there is a time and a season for everything:

There is a time for everything

and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal....

4-elvyn-in-chinaShe heard my voice on NPR in 2011 talking about the hurricane damage sustained by Shaw University when I was President. We reconnected, and it turned out she was only 2 ½ hours away by car.

We shared memories about our time spent in graduate school, caught up on the growth of our children, and the birth of those we'd had since our last meeting. She also shared with me her approach to living with her illness for so many years.

But Elvyn was in good spirits, and determined to enjoy life, even if day by day. Towards the end, we spoke about death. I have faced the death of two very good friends, a younger brother, and my mother, and have come to be able to read the signs of approaching death when the body is fatigued, even if the mind wants to press on.

I taped some of our conversations as I interviewed her about what she wanted people to remember after she was gone.

"I suppose I also want my children to appreciate that I understand how difficult it was for them to travel all over the planet and to be uprooted so many times.

...I think I have instilled in my children some stubbornness. I think they are more balanced than I was but of course my training and psychotherapy practice ...helped me to be more balanced. [But I want them to know] the flow of life must go on."

The daughter of working class people, Elvyn Jones-Dube passed on to the ancestors on November 14, 2012.

She leaves behind for me (and her family and other friends) and for my readers a powerful lesson and legacy of living life fully despite our impending mortality. Nothing is promised to us, and so we must face life everyday as if there is no tomorrow. She frequently commented, "I've led a good life; I have no regrets." She cherished her independence and autonomy and believed in doing good to help others.

She has taught me about how to face dying with grace, and for that I am grateful. She will be missed by all who knew her. But even in the face of death, she left us a gift. How many of us can say this about our lives?

"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

Requiem for Elvyn

Tomorrow is not promised

or so the cliché goes.
And so you struggle
to make the best
of each day—
"I have no regrets; I can really go freely."

battling fatigue,

struggling against
the weight of a body
that no longer works properly,
outmaneuvering death
who comes soliciting
your attention
like a bad car salesman,
part shyster, part seducer, part commander.
But you do not succumb.
"I have no regrets; I can really go freely."

Your life-long stubbornness

serves you well
in this approaching hour.
You are determined
to decide when
it is your time
to ascend
the highway to heaven,
or take the sojourn
with the ancestors (of course).
Your Life.
Your Death.
Your Choice.
"I have no regrets; I can really go freely." EJD

Read More: ; accessed 11/19/12 ; accessed 11/19/12 ; accessed 11/19/12 ; accessed 11/19/2012

©2012 McClaurin Solutions

Irma McClaurin, PhD is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News of Minneapolis. She is a bio-cultural anthropologist and writer living in Raleigh, NC, the Principal of McClaurin Solutions (a consulting business), and a former university president. ( (@mcclaurintweets)

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