Hello friends of Pauline, this is Lagusta, her daughter. I wanted to let you know that right now she’s in the hospital (just for evaluation and safety), and tomorrow we’ll be moving her home with hospice care set up so she can live in extreme pampering from now on.
After 72 years spent in perfect (literally!) health, she has been energetically battling pancreatic cancer for 13 months. She’s survived much longer than predicted, and she continues to survive. Continuing treatments right now would be cruel to her and her worn out body.
Though she’s no longer able to walk or use her computer or phone much (sometimes she picks up when you answer!), she’s still very much herself. She gets a little panicky when my brother or I aren’t with her, so we’ve arranged our lives (with so much help from an amazing community of friends and loved ones) so that one of us is always around. I haven’t left her side since Saturday morning, and I’m not really planning to for the foreseeable future. I am greedy and want as much of my best friend as I can get.
She and I have been having terrific conversations. Her mind is fascinating to witness–it travels through time and space to invite me, her mother, and Jimmy Carter to lunch at a German marzipan candy store on Clark her mother used to take her to, where her mother got a chance to speak German and my mother got a chance to eat untold amounts of marzipan fruits.
She’s living very much in Chicago these days, and I’m learning (& writing down) so much about her childhood and life before I knew her. She talks often of her friends, and of course, of animals, and though she’s eating even more like the elegant sparrow she’s always reminded me of (at 80 pounds and 5’8″ she’s more birdlike than ever before, in an otherworldly way), she talks about food nonstop (what vegan doesn’t?) and it’s fun. She’s very kind, and soft. It’s a treat to see her true nature reemerge so fully after this year filled with pain and her shock and outrage and often anguish at watching her body disintegrate. She always said that her greatest fear was that she would lose her mind, which makes sense since I’ve never known anyone who lives more fully and deeply in their mind, rather than in the “real” world.
Though she’s often not lucid in the traditional sense, she hasn’t lost her mind. She is more inside her mind than I’ve ever seen her, able to pull up amazingly detailed sense memories, gossip, tastes, books she read in college, boys she had crushes on in elementary school, the shoes she wore to Woodstock–everything is there. Who cares if she doesn’t know where she is today if she can remember the fact that her mother wanted to make a doll that looked like her, so they went to Marshall Field’s to get her head measured so it could be as accurate as possible and got Frango Mints on the way home?
I’ve always been amazed at my mom’s energy. She doesn’t care about creature comforts (and she’s slightly suspicious of people who do), she just wants to get her work done–whether that is her full-time job (which she was doing until last week [!!] and which she keeps telling me she needs to get back to), her voluminous personal writing, or, most importantly, ensuring that literally every animal in the world is safe, warm, not harmed, and, preferably, in her lap.
My childhood instilled me a huge desire to comfort and protect my mother. Moving her to upstate New York to be with me a week after her diagnosis meant I could care for her more than ever before, but she is so fiercely independent that she often wouldn’t let me. I often had to guess what she wanted from the grocery store since she was too proud to make a list, because a list would mean admitting she couldn’t shop for herself. Now that’s all fallen away, and for me that’s the true gift of this time. While typing all this up she asked me, half asleep, to fix her blankets, move her bed up, then down, and tell her again what kind of pancakes she could have for breakfast. The huge weight of guilt and shame she piled on herself for needing help has completely dissolved. Moreover, she’s so thankful for my help, which I wouldn’t have expected. Her bottomless and notorious empathy, her most defining characteristic, has only strengthened and deepened.
If you’d like to get a message to her, you can send it to me here through her Facebook account or you can email me at email@example.com and I’ll read it to her. If you’d like to talk to her on the phone, just send me your number and I’ll give a call when she’s in a chatty mood.
The world is unimaginably rough, but being with my mom sure makes it softer.