I awake before dawn, Nancy asleep beside me, her mouth slightly open. She makes soft noises in her sleep. It’s the little things about her that invade my thoughts. She’s my other half, my soul mate, my wife of thirty-nine years.
As if sensing I’m awake, her eyes flutter open. She smiles in half-sleep and my heart lurches with the depth of my love. “Don’t do this,” I say to her.
“Quit worrying, Mike. It’ll be all right.”
But it won’t be all right. It’ll never be right again. We argued last night. I hate disagreeing with her. While arguing, I begged, “Why do you want to do this? I don’t understand.”
“I’m not sure I understand either, but I’m determined.” It’s the tone she uses when trying to convince our grandchildren that more candy isn’t good for them.
“Do you remember when I proposed? What did I say? What did I promise you?”
“Oh, Mike, of course I remember. You said you’d love me until the end of time and you’d always take care of me.”
I sobbed then and she tried to comfort me. I’ve cried a lot the last few weeks. I’ve tried to hide my tears from her, but she knew.
“You’ve always taken care of me, Mike. Such good care that I seldom had to do anything on my own. But you can’t fix this. It’s too late.”
“But I know you so well, Nancy. You’re afraid to do this.”
She took my hand and held it against her rapidly beating heart. “I’m very afraid.” She laughed then. “I’ve spent my whole life being afraid of so many things. Now I want to be brave. I need to be brave.” And her voice broke.
This morning, my love is a consuming ache. We lay together watching the sunrise through our bedroom window. Finally Nancy throws the covers back. “We better get up. Jenna and Aaron will be here soon.”
I’m overcome with fear about why she wants to do this. Does she want to end it immediately?
Our daughter, Jenna, her husband, Aaron and our grandchildren, Abby and Caroline, arrive. I can tell Jenna’s been crying. “Couldn’t you talk Mom out of this, Dad?”
“Humor me, Jenna. It’s my sixtieth birthday,” Nancy says, coming in from the bedroom. “And, yes, your dad tried to talk me out of it.” She hugs Jenna and kisses her cheek. “Why is everyone acting like this is the end of the world?”
“Oh, Mom,” Jenna chokes on sobs, and tears well in Nancy’s eyes.
The phone rings and it’s our son, Michael. I hand it to Nancy and stand close enough to hear her end of the conversation. Nancy laughs, and says, “No, I’m not brave, Michael. I’m actually quite terrified.” She laughs again from something Michael says and responds, “No, it’s not on my bucket list. I’ve never had a bucket list. Everyone deals with things differently. It’s how I’m dealing with it.”
She ends by saying, “I love you, too, Son. With all my heart.”
Nancy’s shoulders slump, and we’re a solemn group making our way outside to Jenna’s van. I worry about Nancy’s energy level, but she assures me she’s okay. When we arrive, I say, “I thought the airplane would be bigger.”
An hour later, Nancy has done it. My wife who hates to fly, who’s terrified of heights, who’s always been afraid of dying, has parachuted from an airplane. I don’t know why she decided that conquering this fear will make her brave enough to face the coming days.
Lung cancer, the doctor said. Neither Nancy nor I have ever smoked. She attributed the coughing and chest pain to allergies. If only she’d seen the doctor sooner. Six months at the most, he says. She’s devastated. We all are.
She wants to be brave for us. “How will parachuting from a plane make you brave?” I asked.
She shrugged. “It’s a start.”
Everyone handles crises differently. This morning, while we ate breakfast, before the kids arrived, I had to know. I asked her if she planned to end it all by jumping from a plane.
“Oh, Mike, I want to live more than anything. The end frightens me, but I want to be brave for you and the kids.”
I ache with love for her. I pray, begging for a miracle. She says it’s not the end of our time together. “I’ll be waiting for you, Mike, my love. Help me be brave.”
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