How caring for a dying husband made life worth living

Nation

JUDY WOODRUFF: Time for a "NewsHour" Essay.

Last month, a column by Tracy Grant, The Washington Post newspaper's deputy managing editor, really moved members of our staff. We asked her to expand on her idea with us.

TRACY GRANT, Writer: Ten years ago, my 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 on the tennis court to needing my help to go to the bathroom and bathe.

It was the best seven months of my life.

I realize how that sounds, but I was 42 when my husband was diagnosed. I had a great job, two terrific kids, but I had yet to discover the reason I was put on this Earth. During those seven months, I came to understand that, whatever else I did in my life, nothing would matter more than this.

In the early days after Bill's diagnosis, being a caregiver caused me to be the best reporter I knew how to be. There was a heavy sense that I could out-MacGyver the disease. I was relentless in making doctors and insurance companies answer my questions.

But I had been a good reporter before. Here's what changed: There were no bad days. The petty day-in/day-out grievances of an irksome co-worker or a flat tired paled in comparison to the joy of spontaneous laughter or the night sky.

I found I could train myself to see more beauty than bother, to set my internal barometer to be more compassionate than callous.

During Bill's last weekend, we sat side by side on his hospital bed, sharing a sandwich and watching television. It was our last moment as us. And I thought to myself, I could live with this man, even as compromised as he is, for the next 40 years, not because I was a saint, but because I had learned to focus on the essence of Bill and our relationship.

What seven months earlier would have seemed to be unspeakably less was just right.

I now realize that I may never be as good a person as I was when I cared for Bill, but the best version of myself didn't die with him. I have fought hard not to lose the perspective his illness gave me.

One of the worst things that can happen to anyone has already happened to me. So, what else is there to be afraid of? It has been liberating in a way that has made me a better mother, a better friend, a better colleague.

I'm quicker to say I'm sorry, and I don't need to be right all the time. I am a better person for having been Bill's caregiver.

It was his last, best gift to me.

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