Earlier this year I lived with two men, my husband Rick and his best friend Alan. These guys were closer than any two people I've ever known, sharing everything in their lives from bourbon to bluegrass.
If this had been the sixties, it would have been a lot more fun. After all, I was a free-spirited girl with flowers in my hair. And in those days, we were all healthy with our futures in front of us. Time was on our side.
But as often happens, time caught up with us in ways we could never imagine. And after 31 years of working together, writing music, betting on football, watching boxing and sharing secrets, these best friends found themselves sharing something neither of them expected: cancer.
It struck my husband first in the form of a brain tumor—a rare form most commonly found in dogs. After an eight-hour operation, which removed eighty percent of the tumor and seven weeks of radiation, we were ecstatic.
But even though my husband regained the movement on his right side, there were subtle changes in his behavior. When living with him became difficult, I turned to his best friend for advice and guidance. After all, he knew Rick better than anyone. Alan was there to continually remind me that although my husband was recuperating, he still had brain cancer. Life was never going to be the same.
For example, I had to learn not to mutter to myself while walking through the house. When emptying the dishwasher, I had to place the glasses in the "right" spot. And I had to remember not to bombard Rick with questions or switch topics midstream. I leaned on Alan every day. I needed him for my survival.
And then fate reared its ugly head. As my husband grew stronger, a tumor began growing inside his best friend. Once it was discovered, it was too large to remove. The cancer had spread beyond treatment.
With no family nearby, no wife or children, Alan moved into our home. After all, we were closer than blood. When asked if this was something we could handle, I answered, "We could not handle having him live anywhere else."
If a doctor suggested our friend eat greens, my husband bought kale and spinach, creatively incorporating them into his cooking. When Alan became too weak to walk, my husband helped him down the hallway. When our friend needed to cry, my husband caught his tears.
But it wasn't all sadness. These men also shared a great sense of humor, which lasted until the very end. Shortly after moving into our spare room, I asked Alan if he was comfortable.
"Yeah. The bed's good," he said. "But this room feels like I'm living inside 'Storage Wars.'"
On one of my husband's particularly hard days, Alan suggested he join a therapy group. My husband replied, "The only place I'm going to find one is at a kennel."
And so the days progressed. With laughter and tears. My husband growing stronger as our friend grew weaker until he finally lost his battle. Alan died in our home, holding on to my husband's hand.
Our house now feels empty. Each time the screen door slams, I'm jolted to those days when Alan would sit outside in the sun and fall asleep with a book on his lap.
I think back to all the things I didn't say to him. I wanted to ask if he was afraid. I wish I had crawled in bed beside Alan and told him that I was afraid. Could he give me some kind of sign when he got to the other side? I didn't say what was in my heart because I always thought there would be another day.
Now when my husband yells at me or demands something, I close my eyes and I hear Alan's voice in my head. Be calm. Rick is different these days.
Fact is, I'm different too. I'm a better person for having known and loved my husband's best friend.