The Last Seven Months of My Husband’s Life Were His Greatest Gift to Me
How caring for her dying husband turned into the most meaningful time of one woman’s life.
The Voorhes for Reader's DigestEleven years ago, the world as I knew it ended. My husband of 19 years, the father of my two sons, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Over the course of seven months, Bill went from beating me silly at tennis to needing my help to go to the bathroom.
It was the best seven months of my life.
Maybe I don’t actually mean that. But it was certainly the time when I felt most alive. I was 42 years old. I had become a respected professional, a responsible and, I hope, loved parent. But I had yet to discover the reason I was on this earth. During those seven months, I came to understand that whatever else I did in my life, nothing would matter more.
I discovered that the petty grievances of an irksome coworker, a child with the sniffles, or a flat tire pales in comparison with the beauty of spontaneous laughter, the night sky, the smells of a bakery. There were moments of joy, laughter, and tenderness in every day—if I was willing to look hard enough. I found I could train myself to see more beauty than bother, to set my internal barometer to be more compassionate than callous.
In the days after Bill’s diagnosis and brain surgery, being his caregiver required me to become the best reporter I knew how to be. I found clinical trials and talked to oncologists in Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York. It gave me a sense of purpose, and it gave Bill comfort—and a few chuckles—to overhear me reading the riot act to some insurance rep who’d told me a treatment wouldn’t be covered. (Read about how the love between this husband and wife helped them overcome immense challenges.)
When I couldn’t sleep at night, I took to praying the rosary, then began praying it daily even if I had no difficulty sleeping. There is a reason that prayer beads are common in many religious traditions dating to well before Christ. Caressing pearlescent beads helped slow my breathing and calm my mind. I came to feel naked if I didn’t have beads within easy reach while scans were performed, IVs dripped, test results were waited for.
In the latter days, being Bill’s caregiver meant being fully present for as many moments of every day as possible. During his last weekend, we had dinner together. Later, a relative visited. I noticed that she’d changed her appearance, and not in a good way. It was the kind of thought I’d usually keep to myself. Just then, Bill voiced exactly what I’d been thinking, in that ruthlessly truthful way he had, and I found myself laughing out loud. (Don’t miss these tips to avoid caregiver burnout.)
I could live with this man, even needing as much care as he does, for the next 40 years, I thought.
He would be dead in four days.
Eleven years later, I haven’t started a foundation to cure cancer. I haven’t left the news business to get a medical degree. I work. I try to be there for my sons. I will never again have that high a purpose. But every day, I try to again be the person I became during those seven months. I try to be a little less judgmental, a little more forgiving and generous, a little more grateful for the small moments in life. I am a better person for having been Bill’s caregiver. It was his last, best gift to me.