They never thought it would be their last goodbye. When members of the Willingboro, NJ chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. celebrated service and sisterhood throughout the North Atlantic region with their Golden Soror Shirley Jones at the beginning of March, they expected to see her weeks later at their chapter meeting in April. It came as a surprise then that on March 18, Jones was admitted into the hospital with an uncontrollable cough, by the following week she was in a coma, and on March 31 she lost her fight with what was later diagnosed as COVID-19.
“I was really, really surprised. I don’t know. I really thought she was going to be one of those stories where the person turns around,” Dr. Kelly Walker Moore, Jones’s chapter sister, told ESSENCE by phone. “My heart just fell when I heard the news last week. It just hit. It was like, ‘Wow.’”
In the state of New Jersey, 47,437 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Last week Jones became one of the more than one thousand to have now died in the state. She left behind a host of loved ones, church members, and community associates. Among them, a number of sorority sisters who were forced to reconcile their feelings in isolation, apart from the tangible support of the women who shared her common connection.
“Normally we would have been at somebody’s house,” Moore shares. “Whenever there’s been any kind of loss, like when our soror’s husband passed away a few years ago, people were at her house right away. When my mom passed, it was the same. We’ve always been able to gather and having that piece missing, I think, is the hardest part.”
After reaching out to a number of sorority sisters and hearing similar sentiments from members, Moore, a child psychologist, came up with an idea to spread love during a time of social distancing and quarantining. She coined the initiative the “Precious Pearls Caravan,” and last Friday, members of the New Jersey Chapter drove to the homes of older sorority sisters to sing to them from their cars.
“I knew we just needed a way to somehow make our chapter feel like we’re together while we’re going through this terrible time,” says Moore.
For the women who were still reeling from the passing of their beloved soror, the caravan visit came as a nice surprise. Moore asserts that most of the ladies at this time are in their homes alone or with one other caretaker. But they are typically very social, often getting together at each other’s places, going bowling, or connecting over their book club. Shirley Jones also organized an annual cruise, among other events. A number of the women belonged to the cohort of couples known as “Shirley’s Cruising Group.”
“I really didn’t think it was as meaningful to them as it was,” Moore shares of the spontaneous show of love, “but I was getting calls and texts afterward from sorors who were expressing so much gratitude.”
On Tuesday Shirley Jones, a 51-year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., was laid to rest. During her virtual service attended by more than 100 people online, and a select few in-person, her pastor recalled the gentleness of her face, the kindness of her heart, and the way her spirit made him feel at ease.
“I feel blessed to have known Soror Shirley,” Kim Hayes, a member of Jones’ AKA chapter echoed. “She was an amazing woman with a beautiful spirit and was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. I along with many others will miss her greatly. I thank God for sharing His gift of Shirley with us for the time that He did.”
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