Monday, July 5, 2010

Some Somber News

Our friend Mimi Arfin died this past Saturday morning, July 3, 2010,at Stanford Hospital, after more than a five year battle with lung cancer.  She died  peacefully and surrounded by loved ones, just as she wanted. She was 53.

Since June 15th, we had been receiving daily updates from Mimi's husband, Bob, about Mimi’s condition after she had undergone what was supposed to be a straightforward procedure to drain fluid from her good lung.  Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, Mimi's lungs were never able to function properly again, so she remained for the most part on a respirator. Nonetheless, Bob's emails showed signs of hope until about two weeks ago, as we were into the first of our three day crossing from Mazatlan to the western side of the Sea of Cortez, when the tone of his email changed.  He noted that we had all become accustomed to Mimi beating the odds over the last five years, but that the window in which she could overcome the current state of affairs was slowly closing.

It was that same day that I received an email from my friend Dennise to let me know that things were really not looking good.  Because we would not be close to an internet connection for another two and a half days, Dennise graciously booked me a flight home.  I arrived home on Wednesday of that week, to hear that Mimi was, miraculously, once again improving, although she still had a long way to go.  I was permitted to see Mimi on two occasions while I was home, and I believe that on the second visit, she may have registered that I was there.  I simply held her hand, talked to her a bit, told her that I loved her and encouraged her to keep fighting.  When I said, “See you later”, she nodded although she didn’t open her eyes.  Little did I know it would be the last time I would see her. It still amazes me that even as we know when loved ones are very sick, we are never prepared when they die.

Mimi's CO2 levels eventually got to life threatening levels.  She was transfered to paliative care, and each of her family members got a chance to say goodbye.  Bob's email describing Mimi's last few hours was incredibly powerful, and a poignant illustration of how deeply loved she was - and how sorely missed she'll be.

Mimi and I became friends seven years ago when our oldest daughters entered kindergarten together.  I was sitting with her on the bench at the school playground when she was awaiting the phone call from her doctor who would eventually deliver the news that she had stage four lung cancer (she never smoked). Our friendship blossomed after that, but certainly not out of pity or any need she might have had for my support.  Interestingly, Mimi was the one who gave me the support over day to day angsts, she was the one who gave me the encouragement and inspiration, and she was the one who kept me laughing.

We had a lot of things in common.  We both began our careers as lawyers.  She went on to head the mediation program for the San Francisco courts while I abandoned law altogether.  Mediation suited her well as she always had a keen sense for right and wrong, mixed in with a good dose of realism. Even after she ‘retired’ with her diagnosis, she still exhibited these admirable traits in her day to day life. She was someone I’d consult in situations where I needed to solidify opinions – she was a clear thinker, ethical, and so smart about people in general.

We both suffered from migraines, which, ironically, also fed our friendship.  While on our migraine medications, we would suffer from insomnia and therefore email each other at ridiculous hours into the night.  At times she’d be up due to the steroids she was taking and send me the most hilarious emails in the middle of the night, highly detailed about this or that, and signed, “Mimi on Steroids”.

We bonded an awful lot over ‘personal beauty care’ outings.  It started when I went with Mimi to source out wigs for when she lost her hair from chemo.  We visited the hair salon to get the wigs styled, and the cosmetics counter to find paint-on eyebrows.  We went together to a beauty class for cancer survivors where I learned a whole lot about makeup application.  We then began to go for pedicures together, which became our regular outing when Mimi could no longer take long walks. 

Mimi made it a personal goal to write as part of her legacy.  I soon discovered writing as well on this trip as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog – she provided me with much encouragement on this as well.  We spent a lot of time discussing her need to put things down in writing for after she was gone, and especially for what it would mean for her kids. As usual, she set high goals for herself, and just wasn’t satisfied with the amount of writing she had already completed.

On the subject of kids, we clearly shared a lot of laughs and information on raising pre-teen girls. We were always so thrilled that our girls shared a friendship.  She told me that it was being there for her daughters that kept her fighting for as long as she had.

Perhaps what I admired most about Mimi was her sense of adventure, and her zest for fun and living life to its fullest.  While it sounds so trite to say, she really was the poster child for living life to its fullest.  Even after her diagnosis, she and her family travelled a ton to places like Costa Rica, Cuba, the Mediterranean and Israel. She would plan great parties with inventive themes (like the costume party where you had to dress as your favorite invention over the last 50 years, or a cruise in the San Francisco Bay, or an Extreme Makeover party featuring Massages, Makeup Consultation, Manicures, Margaritas and Mimi.  She even had a life-sized cardboard Barak Obama in attendance at one of her parties. She always took an opportunity to celebrate – often with alcohol.  In fact, when we got the news of her death, we immediately pulled out the bottle of rum she had left with us, untouched since last December, and toasted her life (this, of course, together with the crying, left me with a migraine the next morning – Mimi would have laughed).

Certainly the highlight of our friendship was Mimi and her family’s trip to visit us in the Puerto Vallarta area over winter break this past year.  We had traveled together before, but usually with other families in a larger group. How blessed I am to have spent extended uninterrupted periods of time with her during that week in December.  It included a three-day trip to Punta de Mita aboard our boat, which I can describe as nothing less than exhilarating.  It is from this visit that I choose to remember Mimi:  We had been on the beach for the day when the surf got extremely high and began breaking dangerously close to our anchored boat.  Michael advised that we needed to get to the boat as quickly as possible before the waves would cause our anchor to break, sending the boat to certain destruction on the rocks.  He had to shuttle us in two separate dinghy trips back to the boat; Harrison, Michael, Mimi and I were in the first trip. We went over at least three very large waves – the surfers were cheering us on as we made each one, nearly vertical as we rode up the wave, and then taking air before coming down on the other side. Mimi was at the front of the dinghy facing the three of us, hanging on to the handles for dear life as her body would leap into the air right off the seat, the wind blowing her hair, and her facial expressions cycling from massive laughter to surprise to exhilaration and back again. It is this picture of Mimi that I will keep in my mind as I remember her.

Mimi’s funeral is taking place tomorrow, Tuesday July 6 at 1 p.m. She leaves an incredible husband, Bob Rebitzer, two amazing children, Maya, 10 and Elana, 12, her parents, her brothers and countless other family members, and many many friends.  We will miss her.

The healing begins.



  1. Barb, Thank you for this. Written beautifully, and depicting a wonderful and true portrait of Mimi. Love,Dennise

  2. What a beatiful tribute to her. She would have been proud of your writing!! She was lucky to have you as a friend.
    Our thoughts are with you.
    We love you.

  3. Barb,
    Thanks for this wonderful remembrance of Mimi. You not only captured her essence, you painted an incredible picture of an amazing woman that brings to life how much she touched us all. And I love your closing. I wish you healing and look forward to continuing to live vicariously through your adventures and learn and be inspired by your journey and how you share it so openly with us. Hugs,

  4. What an exceptional eulogy. I didn't know Mimi but you painted a wonderful picture of a wonderful woman. Sorry for your loss. She was lucky to have you for a friend.

  5. Mimi and you must have shared a very warm and compassionate relationship. You painted a beautiful portrait of her. You did her and all who knew her proud...
    My deepest sympathy to all of you - Mimi's family and friends on such a tragic loss.

  6. Barb - I have to say that you truly moved me with the eulogy you wrote about Miim. After reading it, I wish I had known her and been friends with her too. You truly have a gift with people and with relationships. You were lucky to have each other - just waaayyyy too short!! We really have to remember to cherish each day we have with the people we love the most - it is not just a cliche!! I wish I could give you a hug right now! xoxox

  7. Barbara,
    I knew Mimi for only a couple of years and saw her only sporadically. I rode in two of the Livestrong Challenges as a Lung Cancer Tumornator. I was impressed with Mimi and her strength and will, especially under such adverse circumstances. I appreciate your telling us a bit more about her and the amazing woman she was. I am working on having the Livestrong Foundation acknowledge her work and all of our loss.
    Thank you,
    Don Fabiano
    Atherton, Ca.

  8. Barb,

    Thanks for such a beautiful account of Mimi and your friendship. She loved you very much. She also loved the adventure that you, Michael, Danielle and Harrison are on now. As hard as it must be to grieve far from home, perhaps knowing this will provide a modicum of relief.