Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I'm extremely sad to interrupt my trivial musings about drawing on walls, watching old cartoons, and losing meaningless competitions to report that Miriam Engelberg has died. Miriam wrote a graphic novel titled Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person that came out shortly after mine, and for several weeks we shared press coverage in USA Today, National Public Radio, and elsewhere.

Miriam and I traded a few e-mails before meeting briefly at one of her book signings, and we had more time to talk when we were both interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered" in June. In August, I blogged that the breast cancer she never quite beat had metastasized aggressively and she had decided to stop treatment.

I thought Miriam was a first-rate humorist who precisely captured essential (in the sense of "the essence of") insights into her cancer experience. When I read some of her cartoons, I was amazed by both their raw honesty and the guts it took to write and draw them. As two people who both decided to tell cancer stories with words and pictures, I think we shared something unique. And I just liked her as a warm and funny person very, very much.

©2006 Miriam Engelberg

Miriam kindly added me to her mailing list and I received the e-mail below from her friend and Web helper Gina a few minutes ago. The fact is that although I sent a note to Miriam after she entered hospice care, I didn't hear from her again after our NPR date. Even in June she felt the symptoms of brain tumors coming on, worried about what the seemingly inevitable would do to her husband and son, and felt as fragile as a bird when I hugged her goodbye. Still, in the absence of news it was easy to imagine the best, making this e-mail a shock if not a surprise. I barely knew Miriam and she must have had a thousand closer friends than me; I can hardly imagine what they're all feeling now because I feel as desolate as I have in quite a while.


This is the email I've dreaded sending out since I took over Miriam's online mail and I find myself trembling as I'm writing this.

Miriam Engelberg died at home earlier today. She had her family and close friends with her and was not in a coma. As far as I can tell, she didn't suffer and was spared the intense pain many go through with cancer. I like to think the love, humor and good karma she shared with everyone protected her from the worst aspects of dying.

During the past several weeks, Miriam had been sleeping more and more and was getting increasingly confused and was having a harder time hearing and seeing. But she was still able to eat (donuts and fried chicken were recent favorites) and, for fleeting moments, could still provide glimpses of the spirit we all loved. But she was certainly fading.

No funeral service has been set and, as you can imagine, Jim, her son Aaron, sister Elise and best friend Gail are all in major shock and everyone's just trying to give them the support and space to help themget through this. Miriam's parents only returned to Kentucky a few days ago after spending over a month here. If there is a public service, I will try to let you all know the details.

It's so painful to imagine a world without Miriam and the magic she brought to everyone around her. She was a very unassuming person about just how special a woman she was but everyone she touched knew it andtreasured her. We've all been so lucky just to have had her in our lives.

be well,


patricia said...

This is heart-breaking news.

I discovered her blog through you, and found her to be an amazing person, full of life and humour.

What can one say? It's so bitterly unfair.

sarcasticjournalist said...

I 'met' her through an interview I did about breast cancer. I got the same email this morning. And, as much as I knew it was coming...I just can't stop thinking about her.

Dee said...

Very sad news, Brian. I was so impressed with what she was doing, all learned through my connection with you.

I've been fortunate thus far, not to have had to deal with cancer in my immediate family, but I'm devastated about what this disease is doing to women in particular. I have recently decided to donate as much as possible from my sales to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation ( because I believe she's more in tune with what is causing so much cancer and trying to find a cure.

I realize that all the cancer org.'s are doing good things, but I feel that sometimes they lose their focus when they become so big. When we make a donation, how much actually goes to what or who?

Anyway, I would encourage everyone to read about the work Susan Love has done and is doing, and if you're going to give, please give to her research foundation.

Kid Sis said...

Thanks for letting us know. She will be missed.

ronnie said...

I heard the news on the car radio today while driving home from a business trip, all the way up here in Canada.

The fact that her death was a feature story tonight on "The Arts Report", CBC Radio's prestigious and venerable nightly newscast about arts and culture, is a testament to the stature she'd reached and the recognition she earned with "Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person".

How sad it is to lose her light, even for those of us who only knew her through her work. For those of you who knew the person and who are losing a friend, my deepest sympathy.


Lynda said...

I know how much you admired Miriam and I am sorry to hear of her passing.

Steve Bergson said...

I went to your blog site after visiting Miriam's. Before the page had fully loaded, I saw the title bar index_goodbye_miriam and felt a shudder. Since I knew that you 2 had met, I checked your blog next and the news was there, as well.

I was going to congratulate Miriam, having seen that a page from her book was reprinted in the new issue of Lilith (the Jewish feminist magazine). Lilith also had the teaser "Cancer in Comics" on the cover.

May her name & memory be as a blessing.