When a Doctor Learns His Wife Is Going to Die

In 'New York,' Peter Bach writes of their last 8 months
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2014 1:28 PM CDT
Updated May 11, 2014 6:55 AM CDT
When a Doctor Learns His Wife Is Going to Die

Peter Bach writes in New York magazine about the moment he looked at his wife's X-ray results while stopped at a red light, with her sitting next to him. In that instant, "I broke two of my most important marital promises," he writes. "I started acting like my wife’s doctor, and I lied to her." He did the latter because he knew the bad news immediately—her breast cancer had spread. He knew what was in store for her, even if she wouldn't for a little while longer, until her oncologist broke the news.

Bach's essay recounts in eloquent fashion the next eight months leading up to Ruth's death—the increasingly desperate treatments, the black humor, the moment when his wife had to tell their young son that the doctors couldn't make her better, his struggles to balance his roles as husband and doctor. He concludes with the observation that Hollywood gets grief wrong. It's not, for instance, the big events like anniversaries that hit you. "It’s in the grocery aisle passing the romaine lettuce and recalling how your spouse learned to make Caesar salad, with garlic-soaked croutons, because it was the only salad you’d agree to eat. ... It’s not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It’s phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there’s nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away." The full essay is well worth the read. (More cancer stories.)

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