A year ago, in our remote Montana home, I awoke to the terrible sound of my
husband falling. His cancer was back.
Bill, 62 and a talented writer and painter, died two months later at our home in Arizona.
That night, as fall hit Big Sky, Bill’s blood pressure plummeted. Awaiting the ambulance, I cradled him, pressing a cloth to his gashed head.
Despite a depressing prognosis from ICU doctors, Bill’s determined to die in his native state. By air ambulance, we flew through Montana snow, with paramedics, pilots and my brother, Rick. We sped south over Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and finally, the Grand Canyon.
On a sunny November morning days before his death, Bill looked wise. Illness gave his handsome face even more contour. We were weary — Bill from disease, I from navigating wheelchair, IVs and oxygen. It was snowing in Montana. We held hands in the sun, watching roadrunners, rabbits and coyotes skirt the saguaro.
“Life,” said Bill.
I believe in hope, luck and timing. I believe in playing the hand I’m dealt, learning to “cowboy up.”
Today, I’m harvesting pears. In our short growing season, they are small, thick-skinned with exquisitely sweet fruit.
Not surprisingly, the man who jumped from Army Airborne planes, was a sensitive watercolorist, a gifted poet. I miss his whistle as he descended the stairs for morning coffee.
He surprised the medical community by surviving months longer than predicted.
That sunny morning, surrounded by “Life” yet near death, I reflected on our luck: We met in New York in July of 1977, film critics awaiting a chartered flight to London and a new James Bond film.
I said I’d play piano for our group when the plane from JFK was delayed, First, deadpanned Bill, imitating Steve Martin on how to become a millionaire, “get a piano.”
He did. We discovered a mutual love of Cole Porter and Gershwin, show tunes and champagne. We called it “the Brigadoon Piano” for we never saw another in dozens of JFK visits.
Luck. Luck that we met. We strolled London’s bridges, saw a Sondheim play, became pen pals. But I was happily married — so was he. Our romance began after my husband’s death and Bill’s divorce.
Our “Brigadoon” lasted 11 years, from 1994 until his Nov. 12 death. In 2003, after a 9-year engagement, we’d married in Hawaii, celebrating the end — we hoped — of chemotherapy and radiation.
We toasted remission. We honeymooned in the Canary Islands, took a 63-day trip to Provence, Tuscany, Scotland, St. Petersburg, London, for a theater binge, and, finally the Norwegian fjords.
In Bergen, we visited Edvard Grieg’s Troldhaugen, his wooden home above tranquil Nordas Lake. Last week, two years later, I revisited Troldhaugen. Hiking to Grieg’s composing hut, with a vial of Bill’s ashes, I envisioned Grieg hiking 100 years ago, humming “Peer Gynt.”
On my second visit, I determined to resume my art. I will play Cole Porter. I will hike the switchbacks Billy built above the cabin. I may paint a picture.
For him, for me, for us, I will embark, again, upon “Life.”
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