“You’re so young,” the nurse said as we checked in.

Why yes we are, we thought as we entered the waiting room full of old people. Extra old in our 28 year old eyes. We had just got married. I hadn’t even changed my last name and we didn’t fully understand deductibles or the paperwork we were signing.

The day I took my husband, Joe,  to the E.R. I was convinced he was complaining about a bad hangover. He’d sat at the bar the night before with his cousin solving the world’s problems until late and managed to leave my car lights on. I got up to go to my 3 am morning shift when my car wouldn’t start, I contemplated all the different ways I could  murder the man who smelled of booze and deep in the land of Snores-a-Lot.

A co-worker picked me up and drove me home, so you can imagine the sympathy I was giving as I heard the moans coming out of the bedroom.

“Maybe lay off the hotdogs and fireball shots.” I spatted into the doorway.

A disheveled Joe turned the corner and told me he thought he needed to go to the hospital. I rolled my eyes and grabbed my bag.

Hours later, we’d be whisked into scans and circled by doctors using words like “mass” and “mutations”. I stood trying to comprehend the words, trying to stand strong as a wife while at the same time making calls in the hallway to my mommy. Because let’s face it, I was just a kid navigating a very grown-up diagnosis.

I will never forget the look on the nurse’s face. “We will be praying for you,” she said as they wheeled us out of the E.R. and into a room upstairs. In retrospect, she knew what was happening while we were blindly walking into a new universe of alien languages and planets filled with stages and prognosis.

A rollaway bed was pulled up as close to his hospital bed as I could get. I had never felt so tired in all my life, yet laid wide eyed for days. Joe had the luxury of pain meds through his IV, he’d give me a sneaky wink as he hit the pain pump button and drift off to sleep.

How did this happen to us? We have so much life to live. 

I don’t know why I re-count those early days. Sometimes, I sit in amazement at all we survived. We skipped our honeymoon and went into chemotherapy. We lived loud. The last on the dance floor, the first at the bar. We juiced and did a laughing yoga class. You’ve never watched two more humiliated humans as we pounded in a tribal chant on our bellies in a room full of hippie grandmas.

Joe booked us a cruise for our one year wedding anniversary. We had spent the last year fighting cancer and deserved every second of checking out of the real world. We showed up one night to dinner, very buzzed from our all day excursion of trying every beverage on the ship.

“When is formal night?” Joe asked the table of our new cruise friends. We looked around to realize everyone was in long dresses and bowties. We sat dumbfounded before bursting into a laughter that echoed as the whole gang sat wondering who the wackos were placed at their table. We made friends fast.

We had so much life we needed to live.

We prayed for a baby. Always wondering when our “times up” would come. When would the cancer come back? How long did we have? Could we fit in all the life we had planned? 

Joe calmed down. He’d meditate and call friends on the phone. He’d write letters to his family. He’d give the homeless man on the corner a $20 as drove to his monthly scan.

“Karma,” he’d smirk.

Living is an art. Loving is a masterpiece.

“This is my daddy,”  our dream baby now turned 5 year old daughter’s voice said from the backseat. She swiped through the photos saved on her tablet and showed off to her toddler friend.

“Oh wow,” said the little girl in the carseat next to her, “Where is he now?” 

“He died, now he makes the rain,” she bragged.

While I’ve never personally touted his rain skills. I did appreciate the pride in her voice about the man she barely got to know.

Watching Joe die made me wonder how often we truly live. Hearing his daughter’s voice made me realize he still has so much to carry out. Even now as I get the gift of years he longed for I know there’s more to our story.

He left the strokes, now we’ll finish what he started.