When you set out to write a book, you presumably make a decision about what kind of volume you are writing. Is it a love story? A murder mystery? A thriller? A self-help book? When the idea of this project first came along, I assumed it would be about grief, since only a few weeks had passed since my husband died. Now that Grace, Helen, and I have completed the manuscript, I realize this is a story about love and love's capacity to pierce through death.
This book was over two years in the making. It started without my knowing that it would ever become a book. It began in August 2009, when my husband, Rob, learned he had terminal pancreatic cancer. I am not alone in the awareness that cancer turns a family's world upside down. This is what happened to us.
I tell this story as Rob's wife and partner, and I feel confident that I can tell that part of the story very well. I know very well what it is like to look after a beloved spouse with a terminal illness, and I feel a personal connection to others who have walked that same path. I know what it is like to be a widow at age thirty-six. I cannot begin to understand what it is like to lose a father, a son, or a brother. Rob was all of those things to his family. In writing this story, I have focused almost exclusively on the interactions that took place between Rob and me. I felt that I had ‘permission’ to divulge those stories to the public, as they were my own. There was of course so much more that happened in that year than is contained in the pages of this book. Wonderful, laughter-filled, tender, heartbreaking moments between Rob and his children, Ben and Jessica, his parents, Brian and Mildred, and his brothers, Andrew, Malcolm, and Howard, not to mention my own parents, John and Maureen, and my brother, John.
I cannot begin to imagine what it has been like for any of them to have travelled on this journey and would not presume to comment on their thoughts and feelings about their own experience. I know they all miss him terribly, and I have no doubt that the experience of knowing, and then losing, Rob has had a tremendous and lasting impact on their lives. When Rob was diagnosed with cancer, I made a decision to leave my job and become Rob's primary caregiver for whatever short period we had left together. Within a very brief time, a team of health care providers gathered around us to help us in our journey.
It was in these early days that I came to meet two very important women, Helen Butlin-Battler and Grace Bradish. Helen is the spiritual care specialist at the cancer program where Rob received his treatment, and Grace is a nurse practitioner who provides care in people's homes. Over the course of Rob's illness, I was lucky enough to have these two wise women guide and support me through this treacherous journey.
Although Rob and I saw both Helen and Grace in person during coun-selling sessions and home visits, e-mail served as our primary method of communication. As Rob's illness progressed, I came to rely more and more on e-mail from each of them, both to sustain me spiritually and to maintain Rob clinically. It wasn't until after Rob died that I realized that both Helen and Grace had decided to keep all of the e-mails that we exchanged. They returned them to me and thus planted the seed of this book.
This is a living story about the irrepressible forces of life, hope, and love that emerge so strongly even in death. Throughout Rob's illness, this journey seemed to draw in more and more people, changing their lives as they encountered Rob and the spirit in which he experienced not only his illness but also his life. This story wanted telling, perhaps so that it could keep finding people who need some soul food for their own difficult times. Perhaps this is why it has found you.
This book has truly been a collaboration. Helen and Grace and I are three very different women with three different voices, backgrounds, and histories, whose life-altering experience of supporting Rob through his illness and death transformed us. For me, I am so grateful that their support continued after Rob's death and expanded into a friendship that is foundational to this book. Preparing this volume required the unique talents and perspectives that each author brings.