A poignant account of her mother's death from cancer.
From the Back Cover
A poignant account of her mother's death from cancer.
About the Author
Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris in 1908. In 1929 she became the youngest person ever to obtain the agrégation in philosophy at the Sorbonne, placing second on the exam to Jean-Paul Sartre. She taught at lycées in Marseille and Rousen from 1931 to 1937, and in Paris from 1938 to 1943. After World War II, she emerged as one of the leaders of the existentialist movement, working with Sartre on Les Temps Modernes. The author of many acclaimed works, de Beauvoir was one of the most influential thinkers of her generation. She died in 1986.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
At four o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday, 14 October 1963, I was in Rome, in my room at the Hotel Minerva; I was to fly home the next day and I was putting papers away when the telephone rang. It was Bost calling me from Paris: ‘Your mother has had an accident,’ he said. I thought: she has been knocked down by a car; she was climbing laboriously from the roadway to the pavement, leaning on her stick, and a car knocked her down. ‘She had a fall in the bathroom: she has broken the neck of her femur,’ said Bost. He lived in the same building as my mother. About ten o’clock the evening before he had been going up the stairs with Olga, and they noticed three people ahead of them—a woman and two policemen, ‘It’s the landing above the second floor,’ the woman was saying. Had something happened to Madame de Beauvoir? Yes. A fall. For two hours she had crawled across the floor before she could reach the telephone; she had asked a friend, Madame Tardieu, to have the door forced open. Bost and Olga followed them up to the flat. They found Maman lying on the floor in her red corduroy dressing-gown. Dr. Lacroix, a woman doctor who was living in the house, diagnosed a fracture of the neck of the femur: Maman had been taken away by the emergency service of the Boucicaut hospital and she spent the night in the public ward. ‘But I’m taking her to the C nursing home,’ Bost told me. ‘That’s where Professor B operates—he’s one of the best bone surgeons. She was against it; she was afraid it would cost you too much. But I persuaded her in the end.’
Poor Maman! I had lunched with her when I came back from Moscow five weeks before; she looked poorly, as usual. There had been a time, not very long ago, when she took pleasure in the thought that she did not look her age; not there could no longer be any mistake about it—she was a woman of seventy-seven, quite worn out. The arthritis in her hips, which had first appeared after the war, had grown worse year by year, in spite of massage and cures at Aix-les-Bains; it took her an hour to make her way round one block of houses. She had a good deal of pain and slept badly in spite of the six aspirins she took every day. For the last two or three years, and especially since the last winter, I had always seen her with those dark rings round her eyes, her face thin and a pinched look about her nose. It was nothing serious, said D, the doctor—an upset liver and sluggish bowels. He prescribed some drugs: tamarind jelly for constipation. That day I had not been surprised at her feeling poorly; what did upset me was that she should have had a bad summer. She could have taken a holiday in a country hotel or a convent that took boarders. But she expected to be asked to stay at Meyrignac by my cousin Jeanne, as she was every year, and at Scharrachbergen, where my sister lived. Both of them were prevented from inviting her. So she stayed on in Paris; it rained, and the town was deserted. ‘I’m never depressed, as you know,’ she said to me, ‘but I was depressed then.’ Fortunately, a little while after I passed through, my sister had her to stay in Alsace for a fortnight. Now her friends were in Paris again; I was coming back; and but for that broken bone I should certainly have found her in good form once more. Her heart was in excellent condition and her blood-pressure was that of a young woman: I had never been afraid of a sudden mishap for her.
At about six o’clock I telephoned her at the nursing home. I told her that I was on my way back and that I was coming to see her. She answered in a wavering, doubtful voice. Professor B took over the telephone: he was going to operate on Saturday morning.
‘You haven’t written me a letter for two months!’ she said, as I came towards her bed. I protested: we had seen each other; I had sent her a letter from Rome. She listened to me with an air of disbelief. Her forehead and hands were burning hot; her mouth was slightly twisted, she had difficulty in articulating and her mind was confused. Was this the effect of shock? Or had her fall been caused by a slight stroke? She had always had a nervous tic. (No, not always, but for a long while. Since when?) She blinked; her eyebrows went up, her forehead wrinkled. While I was there, this nervous movement never stopped for a second. And when her smooth, rounded eyelids came down they completely covered her pupils. Dr J, an assistant, looked in: there was no point in operating; the femur had not shifted, and with three months of rest it would re-knit. Maman seemed relieved. In a muddled way she told me about her efforts to reach the telephone, her intense anxiety; the kindness of Bost and Olga. She had been taken to the hospital in her dressing-gown, without any baggage at all. The next day Olga had brought her toilet things, some eau de Cologne and a pretty white wool bed jacket. When she said thank you Olga had replied, ‘But I do it out of affection, Madame.’ Several times, with an earnest, musing air, Maman repeated, ‘She said to me, “I do it out of affection,”’
‘She seemed so ashamed of being a nuisance, so immensely grateful for what was done for her: it was enough to break your heart,’ Olga told me that evening. She spoke indignantly of Dr D. He was annoyed at Dr Lacroix’s having been called in and he had refused to go and see Maman at the hospital on Thursday. ‘I stood there clutching the telephone for twenty minutes,’ said Olga. ‘After the shock and after her night in the hospital, your mother needed comforting by her usual doctor. He wouldn’t listen to a word of it.’ Bost did not thing that Maman had had a stroke: when he had helped her up she seemed a little bewildered but quite clear in her mind. He doubted whether she would recover in three months, however: the breaking of the next of the femur was not in itself a serious matter, but a long period of lying still caused bed-sores, and with old people they did not heal. They lying position was tiring for the lungs: patients developed pneumonia and it carried them off. I was not very much affected. In spite of her frailty my mother was tough. And after all, she was of an age to die.