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.
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.