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The Grand Damme of Dignity

What can I say about my mother that hasn’t been said already? Charming, graceful, compassionate, selfless, beautiful and irrepressible are just a few words that capture her essence. The thought of having to sum up a person, someone like my mother in a few words, dignity or dignified seems just right. I've thought about that a great deal over the last few weeks while we were trying to maintain Susan's brilliance and preserve a quality of life. The Merriam-Webster dictionary's definition says the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed; someone of high rank, office, position, a legal title of nobility or honor. I think they described my mother to a T.

If there ever were words more befitting those would be it. In my humble opinion she is deserving of something far greater than a few words. The title Grande Damme of Dignity feels appropriate. This undeniable honor is befitting of someone who lives and dies with the ability of keeping one’s courage, nobleness, and poise intact in the face of adversity. It is something quite difficult to master when the ability to drive fails to get you from point A to point B, or the caring of oneself diminishes, or when the body is robbed by a terminal illness, or when one loses their mental faculties. I want to ask all of you who hear and read this, to close your eyes and imagine a person being able to remain completely majestic while suffering from any one or all of the above afflictions. If anyone appears while your eyes are closed, I am quite certain you will envision my mother, Susan. For those of you who have had the good fortune of knowing her, you know. Susan, a beautiful and graceful person if ever there was one, whose quiet courage and fierce determination took on Pancreatic Cancer, 4 1/2 years ago and let me tell you, she gave it everything she had. Surviving the Whipple Surgery, countless rounds of Chemo, Radiation, additional surgeries, and more chemo she remained an epitome of elegance, a matriarch of modesty, a pillar of perfection, and a woman of wit and wisdom. While some of you may have known her as the Queen of Everything, we can now add this prestigious distinction when remembering her. Susan will reign the Grand Damme of Dignity for eternity. The loss of her will be felt forever, however I think we can all agree that a woman of such distinction should be celebrated often and with much fanfare.

In the face of a crisis, Susan's ability to put on a brave face, crack a joke, or have a conversation about anything, no one would ever have known she was sick. She would often say, I'm the healthiest sick person out there as her nurse would comment on her amazing attitude, great vitals and strong heart, often shielded her caregivers of how sick she really felt. Her upbeat attitude, warm smile and unique laughter kept all of us going and she didn't even know it. My cousin Dean would often say "I call her to make her feel better, and she's the one who makes me feel better" and I couldn't agree more.


When Susan unexpectedly broke her ankle, she came up with an outrageous story about falling off her skateboard so she would spare the other person the details of her weakening bones from chemo. After she healed from that injury and started to use a cane, she made light of the situation by embracing the extra appendage by twirling it around as if the leader of a marching band, dubbing friends and neighbors a special knighthood, or even dueling with another person if they too were sporting a cane. She made the best of the situation,

and that is how she lived every moment. She would say "What choice do I have?" And she was right. She felt that living in the moment beat the alternative. The same when she started using the walker and wheelchair. We were contemplating buying a bell to announce her arrival, but she didn't need one, her presence was always felt, you knew that her greatness was with us. Throughout this unbelievable journey, Susan's positive attitude was far reaching and felt by those who knew her.

As her health deteriorated, we brought in care. At first, she was hesitant, yet she had the wherewithal to embrace it and welcomed an extraordinary caregiver into her manor, sharing stories of her youth, her travels, her life, and her wisdom. If she needed assistance to get up, they termed it "let's go dancing" and came up with a carefully choreographed maneuver of steps and twists, singing "Ta Ra Ra Boom Zee Aye". So many times, my sister would catch the two laughing and giggling with each other, as if they knew each other for a long time. Jennifer became a trusted companion and part of the Queen's ladies in waiting, joining me and my sister Marla. Not once did the Queen of Everything complain and serving Susan was our distinct privilege.

Life as Susan knew it became more challenging and with each turn of events, each indignity that she faced, Susan quickly adjusted her attitude and learned to face the new challenge with the same smile, humor, and gusto she was known for. For Susan, the loss of controlling every aspect of her life was difficult, yet she rallied, made modifications, and rolled with it, often coming up with catch phrases for those said modifications. When she had visitors, Susan would always ask about the other person, remembering the details of their lives as a means of removing the attention from her. If that isn't what dignity is, then I don't know what it is.


The Grand Damme of Dignity will be missed by so many, and life suddenly feels unsettled as my world without her is incomprehensible right now. Not only did I have the privilege of calling her mom, but she was also my friend, confidant, interior decorator, editor, procurer of size 5 shoes, TJ Maxx shopping partner and my favorite co-conspirator. Full disclosure, my mom would help me with elaborate schemes when I wanted to hide a large purchase from my husband, or to swap out furniture, often storing it at her house until the time was right to 'introduce' it to Adam. In my eyes she was the Queen of Everything in my world. My life will not be the same without her, yet I know that every time I walk into Home Goods or TJ Maxx, I know she will be with me. I can hear her say "take it home, if you don't like it, you can always return it."

As we remember our beloved Queen Susan, the Grand Damme of Dignity please think of how she always was and teaching us lessons even through her unbelievable cancer journey. In the face of our own mortality, I hope we can all learn from Susan, by living each day with humor, grace, compassion, and most of all dignity.



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Sharon Lee-Bense
Sharon Lee-Bense
Mar 18, 2022

Thank you Lauren for your wonderful words. You weave such amazing legacy of Susan that is unforgettable. She is still with us through your stories.

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