Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Nina Riggs's The Bright Hour are undeniably two of the most celebrated memoirs of the past couple of years. Both Kalanithi and Riggs wrote about their final years after a cancer diagnosis (lung cancer and breast cancer, respectively) in ways both unbelievably human and unendingly heart-wrenching. They both died before their books were released. Unsurprisingly, the memoirs both went on to become bestsellers. What is surprising, however, is that the late writers' spouses would eventually fall in love.
In a Washington Post feature by Nora Krug published on Jan. 3, Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein shared the remarkable story of how they came to find love again — with each other. And yes, you will need a tissue to read about this one. According to the article, it was Nina Riggs who, in her final days, actually suggested her husband contact Lucy Kalanithi in the first place. Nina Riggs and Kalanithi had been in contact before, and two days before Riggs's death, Kalanithi sent her an email of support. It was this email, and Duberstein's response to it, that would begin their correspondence.
At first, they spoke mostly about their individual grief. Duberstein sought advice from Kalanithi, who had been a widow for two years at that point. But soon their emails grew into, what Duberstein describes as, "spools and spools of threads." Yes, they were falling for each other, and a joint publicity tour for their late spouses' books sealed the deal.
"Lucy and John both recognize the lingering pain and inevitable challenges they face," Krug writes for The Washington Post. "Entering into a relationship, Lucy noted, means accepting the possibility of losing your partner. 'If you are lucky enough,' she said, 'you will be devastated when they die. Willingly entering that feels gutsy, but what else could you choose'"
The couple is working on blending their families (Kalanithi's 3 year-old daughter, Cady and Duberstein's children Freddy, 10, and Benny, 8), but they are also working to keep the memories of their spouses alive through special traditions, like a visit to Paul Kalanithi's grave on New Year's Eve. The couple has even considered writing a sequel to their spouses' books together entitled When Breath Becomes the Bright Hour. And honestly, if there's ever been a book I want to read, it is definitely that one.
Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein's story is a beautiful reminder that love can be found in unexpected places. If you're looking for a bolstering story to start off 2018 with, you're going to want to head over to the Washington Post and read the entire thing. Just be sure to have some Kleenex at the ready.