Below are the remarks that I delivered as the oldest child at our mother’s funeral, Feb. 11, 2017:
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Our mother Lorraine Allen had her last birthday on 18 January. Eighty-four years sounds like a long time to be on this earth. It is really what is in those years that count. Just looking around this full room with family, friends, colleagues, and community members, we know that Lorraine’s life counted a great deal.
One of the opportunities that children have, but often ignore, is to learn how the lives of their parents unfolded. I admit to being one who was too caught up in my own challenges and ambitions of youth to take the time to appreciate the life journey of our mother, Lorraine. It took the prodding of my wife Ann: she urged me to seek and record my mother’s stories using the book, “To my Children’s Children.”
From that effort, I learned about my mother Lorraine’s life as a child in Alabama and the challenges of her family living through hard times. I learned how she joined the migration with other family members to start a new life full of hope and promise in the North. At 34, she became the widowed mother with five young children to raise and care for. Faced with such immense and daunting responsibilities, Lorraine demonstrated that she was a woman of character and she persevered in faith, hope and love.
For a child, mothers are always supposed to be there. They wake you up in the morning, feed you meals, get you off to school, and bug you to do homework and household chores. My earliest memories with my sister Sheila are being the focus of those familiar maternal duties. I remember my mother always working on something and working hard. I know that we had clean clothes, food on the table, and several projects to improve our home — she worked outside of the home to provide for her family.
And we had many opportunities to be with our extended family — a large collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember that we spent a lot time at Bethel AME Zion Church in Sunday school, in church service, and for a while in the choir — we know that Allens do not sing well. We were always participants in the Christmas and Easter pageants. In the summer, we attended Vacation Bible School. Even as teenagers who thought we had something better to do, Lorraine made sure that we were still in church on Sunday with me, the oldest son, driving.
People often remark about the number of books that I have read. I then tell them of my mother’s charge for me to go to the library each week during kindergarten to pick up a new set of books and return the ones I had finished. She pushed all of her children (and their children) to learn, to persevere, and to do the right thing even when times were difficult — she also knew that those choices were up to us to make — she ensured that we knew right from wrong.
I looked at videos and old photos this week to see a woman always surrounded by family, not just her children but also nieces, nephews, grandchildren and more who knew that she cared about them. Her sister Jackie lived with us during the final years of high school to help with our family. Lorraine made sure cousin Richard who was in Child Services would spend time with family on weekends when his mother was unable to care for him. And when the older four children had left home, the youngest daughter Jeanine had a steadfast companion in her Mother.
Lorraine showed her compassion and great strength by being at the bedside of those she loved as they struggled in sickness at end of their lives — mother Hazel, aunts Essie and Alma, sister Bernice, brother Theopolis, and her man, Guy. She found a calling in being with those in their final stages of life on this earth. The example Lorraine set was repaid in kind with her children at her bedside last Sunday morning when she took her last breath.
But Lorraine’s life is to be shared with the living. I have seen her great pride and joy when she counted the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren she has. She shared stories with us of her “Granny” and others in her life, now long gone, to provide a glimpse of past challenges that, through their love and caring, have created the opportunities and blessing we now have.
Last Saturday evening, Lorraine’s family gathered to be by her bedside and we were loud and energetic — then as today, we celebrated the woman who loved us and whom we love.
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.”
Charles D. Allen, Colonel, U.S. Army Retired, is a Professor, Leadership and Cultural Studies U.S. Army War College.