The answer, alas, is not as lighthearted as the question. I have spent a week trying to cope with the world's most fucked-up medical system. I have been coping with the sad business of committing my mother to a hospice facility.
My mother was born in 1916, before the American entry into the First World War. She is very weak and suffers from mild senile dementia, but there's no actual diagnosis of what is actually wrong with her. She has a host of small ailments, each of which contribute to her weakness, but the doctors have found no smoking gun.
On Monday she was having difficulty getting on her feet, so I took her to the emergency room. She was lucky in being admitted to the hospital after only 11 hours: I was told that some people stay in the e-room for days waiting for a bed.
After a couple days of evaluation, the consensus was that the hospice was indicated.
I recall looking at the paperwork and thinking to myself, "Not only is this my mother's death warrant, but they're asking me to sign it."
And then I signed it, and later in the day went to my mom's house to clear all the perishables out of the refrigerator.
The hospice wing is as pleasant a hospital wing as a hospital wing is likely to get. The room itself is large and has several armchairs and a couple of couches. There's a spare bed, should I ever decide to spend the night there, or take a nap. There is a kitchen for the families of the patients, with sweets and coffee donated by local businesses, and magazines and videos and jigsaw puzzles. The personnel are uniformly kind and concerned.
Nevertheless I suspect the whole arrangement may not work as expected. My mother may yet walk out of this alive. She is a woman of hidden resources.
She has sisu.
Sisu is a quality peculiar to the Finnish people, and can translate (badly) as "fortitude" or "resilience in the face of a merciless and arbitrary Fate." My mother was born of Finnish immigrants, and acquired sisu with her mother's milk.
She is the youngest, and only survivor, of six children. She was born on a prosperous farm in southern Minnesota, but the family sold the farm and moved to a very poor farmstead in Makinen Township, north of Duluth, in order to be near others of the Firstborn.
The Firstborn was the Lutheran cult in which my mother was raised. (Perhaps you have to be Scandinavian to understand about Lutheran cults, but I assure you they exist.) This bunch was known more formally as the Old Apostolic Lutherans, but I believe they are nowadays called Laestadians. They were a sort of Finnish version of the Amish, but without the cool furniture (or the consistency). Listening to the radio was forbidden. So was any music not directly in praise of God. Girls wore braids till married, and a bun thereafter. Women's dresses were forbidden to have waistlines lest they encourage vanity. Men, for the same reason I suppose, were forbidden to wear ties. (That was the only part of the Doctrine I ever got down with.)
The Firstborn didn't have divinity schools or an ordained clergy. They were against education in general, particularly higher education. The local "shepherd of the flock," as my mother scornfully refers to him, was as ignorant and bigoted as the layfolk. She remembers being made to read from the Finnish Bible of 1776, with its heavy Gothic type, and hating it.
She escaped the cult as soon as she was physically able. As a result of her indoctrination, she now has a violent hatred of all religion. In my mother's family, "Christian" is used as an epithet. "He's a real Christian, you know," they'll say, in reference to someone stupid, bigoted, hypocritical, or uptight.
(When I was checking my mom into the hospice, I was asked if she would want to see a priest or minister.
("Only if you want her to cuss at him," I said.)
My mom's father worked as a carpenter until he died when she was eight or nine. He hadn't finished building the family home, and the house remained unfinished until it burned down maybe 25 years later.
Education saved my mother from God and the Firstborn. The children of the family attended a one-room country schoolhouse that took them through the eighth grade. My mother spoke no English until she went to first grade. After graduation, my mom stayed at home for a year, and then heard of a high school opening in the neighboring township of Cherry. There was a New Deal program that paid people a few bucks each month to board high school students, and my mom soon had this arranged. When she graduated from high school--- the only one among her family to do so--- she went to college for a two-year teaching degree, and then returned to northern Minnesota to teach in country schools, again boarding with local families and sleeping on straw mattresses in spare rooms. Among others she taught at the school in the Finnish community of Toimi, now a museum.
She taught through the Second World War, and spent at least one summer working in a defense plant in Detroit. She had the somewhat Freudian job of straddling bomb casings on the assembly line and scraping off the extra drop of paint on the tip.
She had a boyfriend during the war, but he went overseas and jilted her. My father, overseas, had a girlfriend at home who dear-johnned him. Mom and dad knew each other slightly before the war, and became an item after it, and married shortly thereafter. My mom kept teaching until I arrived, and then she was forced to leave.
Elementary school teachers, in those days, were not allowed to get pregnant, even if they were married. If you were found with child, you were driven from the school system, possibly with a scarlet P sewn to your bodice.
My mother then became a housewife, and contributed to my perfect Minnesota childhood. So idyllic was my youth that pretty much everything from the age of 11 or so has been something of a disappointment.
I'm not sure what my mother made of my ambition to become I writer, which was formed quite early--- by age four at the latest. (In those days, I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me.) Probably her greatest contribution to my life is that she took my intention seriously.
She didn't tell me I was crazy, she sent me to summer school to learn typing.
The year I graduated from college, my father had an aneurysm and became a semi-invalid. My mother devoted herself to his service with her usual ferocity, and managed to keep him alive and reasonably healthy for over twenty years.
Is this sisu? Hell, yes.
After my father's death, she announced she had retired and adopted a life so dull and event-free that it would have driven me crazy within the first week. I had to agree with her, though, that she'd earned it.
And now she's in the hospice, being cared for in much the same way that she cared for my father. Except that she did it all by herself, whereas the hospital needs a whole staff.
She retains her strong personality, though much of the memory is gone. Sisu is a part of her character, and enabled her to escape the bigotry and superstition of her girlhood and out into the wider world.
If she walks out of the hospice, I'll be the only one who isn't surprised. Because I know what sisu can do.