An educator and young widow and her four children share their heart-wrenching perspectives of the husband and father’s battle with cancer.
After a short-lived, youthful first marriage, Michelle found love with Gus, a retired labor worker 25 years her senior. Together they had three children and raised her daughter from her first marriage. Although Michelle freely admits their marriage was not always perfect, their lives were full of love, humor, and shared family experiences. They were stunned when 62-year-old Gus was diagnosed with liver cancer. Incredibly, he worked—having taken on a second career after retiring—through chemotherapy and a several-month battle until a week before his death, when seemingly, his inability to work stole his will to live. He had been the rock of the family, and his wife, only in her late 30s, and children, ranging from age 10 to 18, were adrift following his death, despite support from close friends. With unflinching honesty and emotion, Michelle and her four children each tell their own stories, with Michelle’s the most detailed. They don’t sugarcoat their own behavior, freely admitting that, in their grief and confusion, they didn’t always behave perfectly. As heartbreaking as their accounts of Gus’ illness and death are, the true value of this memoir is in the warts-and-all description of life after his death, when Michelle sought healing too quickly in another relationship, halfway across the country, upsetting the children, who reacted in the ways adolescents often show displeasure with their parents. Each one admits mistakes, and their ability to forgive one another is what makes this account so valuable. At times, Michelle and the children do succumb to the tendency to idolize (and idealize) Gus; however, Brittany, with the distance of a stepdaughter rather than a biological daughter, lovingly reveals his occasionally embarrassing behavior. Gus emerges as a larger-than-life man whose life was unfortunately cut short.
A sad but ultimately inspiring reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of valuing not just those who have died, but those who remain.