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When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

When my sister’s husband, Paul, died last spring of lung cancer, our family was devastated. He had been diagnosed less than two years earlier, at age 36; he was a neurosurgery chief resident at Stanford, nearly done with his training.

During his last year of life, he wrote about facing death. His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, comes out this Tuesday, January 12th.

I’ve read the book twice now — once as a manuscript, and again over the holidays as a hardcover. Both times, I devoured his story in almost one sitting; I couldn’t put it down. Although I knew how it ended, the book felt almost suspenseful in its gripping, race-against-the-clock questions about life, love, meaning and death.

Paul himself was an introvert. He was smart and lovely. He had a deep kindness and laughed at every joke. But since he was often quiet (and uncomplaining), I wondered — as I hung out in their living room across from him — what was going on in his mind as he grew sicker. I knew he was brave, but was he sad? Was he scared?

Reading the memoir was like hearing his inner monologue after all this time. I couldn’t believe the fascinating things he did as a neurosurgery resident (he once said it was like operating on pudding, yet a millimeter can cost someone’s life), which he rarely opened up about. He described what it felt like to transform from a doctor to a patient (“how little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients”). I was gripped by his thoughts on accepting death when your life feels like it’s just beginning (“the fact of death is unsettling; yet there is no other way to live”); and how to create a meaningful life, even if you have only months left.

Needless to say, I would recommend the book wholeheartedly. Here is some advance praise from authors who have read it:

“This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor — I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.” — Ann Patchett

“Rattling, heartbreaking, and ultimately beautiful, the too-young Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life.” — Atul Gawande

“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.” — Cheryl Strayed

People often asked how my twin sister is doing. Lucy has shared a few thoughts on Cup of Jo over the months, and today she wrote a moving essay about her experience:

At first I could scarcely grasp what widowhood meant; I was too busy looking for ways to comfort Paul even after he died. When the funeral home asked me to bring a set of clothes for Paul to be buried in, I wore them first, thinking I will make these clothes warm and redolent of us. I put a pair of our daughter’s socks in his pants pocket. On the day of the burial, I stepped out from the procession and moved ahead of the pallbearers, compelled to lead his coffin down the hill. I can’t take your hand, but I will guide you; you will not go alone. For several months, I slept with my head on the pillow he had died on, left his medications in their drawer, wore his clothes to bed. Still today, months after his death, I go and sit at his grave, absent-mindedly stroking the grass as if it were his hair, talking to him using nicknames only he would understand.

Lucy will be reading from Paul’s book (for which she wrote the epilogue) at BookCourt in Brooklyn this Monday, January 11th; I’m honored to be interviewing her on stage. We would LOVE to see you there, if you are free and would like to come. (There will be wine and cheese, naturally.)

You can find When Breath Becomes Air here, if you’d like. Thank you so much for all your kind words and sweet support over the years. My heart goes out to anyone who is missing someone today. xoxo

Lucy and Paul Kalanithi

Lucy and Paul Kalanithi

P.S. Two essays by Paul, published before he died: How Long Have I Got Left and Before I Go.

(Top photo by Stella Blackmon. Photo of Paul and Lucy by Ryan Padrez. Family photo by Team Draft.)

  1. Diane says...

    Beautifully written tribute and introduction to this stunning book! I just listened to Paul’s book for the 4th time since I purchased it on Audible last month. I cannot say enough positive things about it. I have recommended it to literally every important person in my life because there is just so much insight here on how to be a good human. I never met either Paul or Lucy but their words have impacted me in many multifaceted ways. My own family is currently supporting my sister’s battle with terminal brain cancer, and all of what Paul described– the fear, the hope, the longing for a different outcome, the pain, the struggle… it was important for me to see that other people have dealt with that same horrific scenario with love and bravery. This book also taught me something very important, and that has changed the trajectory of my professional life: that things that we do should reflect what we find purposeful. Paul taught me to stop ignoring “the call”. I hope to emulate the commitment to technical excellence and empathy described here in my own practice of medicine in the future.

  2. I knew before I started that Paul would die by the end, but I was so wrapped up in his story that I forgot until the very end. So beautifully written, and Lucy’s ending had me crying. I finished reading this on a plane and had a hard time hiding my tears.

    • Tricia S says...

      Rebekah, I finished this book on a flight home as well and couldn’t hold back the tears. The flight attendant asked me if I was okay. I posted the book on social media with the disclaimer not to finish it in public. :-)

  3. Katie says...

    This seems too coincidental not to share. Stick with me, I can assure you it’ll all come together…

    A few days ago I downloaded Paul’s book “When Breath Becomes Air” to read while on vacation. The book had been recommended to me by a friend when I asked for life changing book recommendations. I started the book and was immediately hooked, I had the hardest time putting it down and finished it within days – the fastest I’ve read any book, possibly ever. His writing and story beautiful, heart-wrenching, and powerful. Life changing undoubtedly and unforgettable.

    While on vacation with my husband and almost 2 year old son, between reading sessions and enjoying other parts of our vacation, we decided to make some significant changes to my son’s breastfeeding schedule – moving more intentially towards weaning him (not completely but mostly). During this time I experienced some substantial hormonal shifts which were difficult to handle emotionally at times. Once my husband and I connected the dots I googled “weaning hormones”. I randomly came across your blog on the matter and your experience while weaning your son. I connected with your words and shared your story with my husband. Your link on the matter was the only one I shared with my husband. I also found your FB page and began following that. (Side note: Your words on this matter held true and as of last night, after nearly 2 years after having my son and no menses, it returned. The cloud that has lingered, drifting in and outseems to have lifted).

    Anyway, fast forward to today, I hop onto Pinterest to pin “When Breath Becomes Air” to my page “Books Worth Reading” and find the image I like best to pin. I notice the image I’m drawn to is from your blog “A Cup of Jo”. I click on it to see what you had written about this book that I just finished and was touched so greatly by. I start reading and am completely struck by the fact that you’re Paul’s sister-in-law!! What are the odds?!!! I don’t know if this sounds as wild to you as it felt to me but my husband, sister, and I all thought it was pretty wild! Not sure if it’s a coincidence or the connection to/with something higher…

    Whatever it is, I’m happy it happened and grateful to have my life touched by the words and wisdom of you both. Thanks and gratitude from me to you and your family. Through life’s struggles and hardships we are given the opportunity for connection and meaning. I appreciate the insight and vulnerability you and your family have openly given to those willing to receive it.

  4. Bhumi says...

    Joanna,

    I read this entire book in one sitting. Without a double, it is one of the best books I have read in years. My heart aches for Lucy and their sweet little daughter. I will keep them in my prayers.

  5. Nicolette says...

    I finished reading this book last night and balled for hours. What an incredible perspective on life, death and the moments strung between our beginning and inevitable end.

  6. Cynthia says...

    I’ve just finished Paul’s book in one sitting. The book has been all over social media and then I saw this post back in February. Being a longtime reader of the blog made me more personally invested in Paul and Lucy’s story. I am starting medical school in July and only hope that I can be as passionate and caring as Paul was.

  7. sue says...

    What a love-filled post. Will get the book to help fill in the gaps of understanding. My husband spent 10 weeks in Stanford’s cancer ward. For the widowed among us, I would also recommend an online support group widowedvillage.com where we share our stories of love and hope alongside the grief.
    Vetted and safe. 24-7 live chat with those who “get it”, blogs, discussion groups. For all who’ve lost a life partner, regardless of time or circumstance.

    • sue says...

      sorry, “dot org” –widowbrain…

  8. Anna says...

    I just finished reading Paul’s book. I feel a deep sense of sorrow even though I never met Paul, never even heard of him till I read the book review in New York Times. What a great loss to science and medical community. We need more doctors with compassion and empathy. He seemed to have had that, along with skills of a superb surgeon. I can only imagine all the contributions he would have made to humanity. My most sincere condolences to Lucy, Cady and the rest of the extended family.

  9. Katie M says...

    I just finished his book recently. I work in a hospital and appreciated the patient perspective. We truly don’t know our patient’s stories and its hard to see people die young. I recently heard an author say that fear is the #1 trait of people in our society and courage is the least had. Way to go, Paul, for daring to be great.

  10. Chella says...

    I just finished reading the book yesterday…and I haven’t stopped crying…the book brought lot of emotions I had kept hidden, to the surface & exposed itself. It’s a book that I’ll never part with & will come with me to wherever I am. Lucy & Cady, I feel I know you & your family well and thank you & Paul for sharing your life with us.

  11. Annie Sun says...

    I was lucky enough to get a free copy from Goodreads. Initially I didn’t think much of it since i just…didn’t know one way or another. Now, both Paul’s and Lucy’s words will always stay with me for the rest of my life. So full of depth, truth and wisdom about life and relationships. One of the rare books that is hard to not read a second time. It became one of my most cherished book that brings me calmness and guidance, which I haven’t have one for who knows how long.

  12. Reading this brings tears as it has been 18 years this past week. While my life has grown and changed and I have experienced blessings, there is always that tug on my heart: graduations, birthdays, and little moments that I know he would have enjoyed. Grief is a wiry emotion. It never fully leaves it just folds itself into everyday life. Thank you for sharing your story. I might not know all of your details but I do know the path you are walking. It can be rocky and hard for other to understand at times yet it’s a path worth walking for your daughter and for you. My deepest sympathy and prayers for you.

  13. Jamil saleh says...

    Lucy, your courage to share Paul story with us is a special gift you are giving to all who have say goodbye to a love one early in life. I cried a few times and have taken a few strong breaths to give thanks to you and Paul. The book is a brilliant read and a reminder to cherish life and all its challenges. May the heavens rejoice in the glory of your and Paul gift to us.

  14. Katherine says...

    I just finished reading my copy and have it all marked up to give to my husband (who is about to start residency himself). It was powerful, tender and beautiful, as were your sister’s words at the end. His story will no doubt help so many people, it has certainly blessed my life to read. Thank you to Paul and Lucy for sharing their brave and beautiful story and by so doing letting us honor them and Cady. Sending love and warm wishes to you all.

  15. Monika says...

    I can’t read it yet. I will, someday, I promise. I want to! But I’m simply not whole yet. My father died of terminal brain cancer, glioblastoma, less than two years ago. The feelings of guilt, helplessness and sheer grief are still on the surface, just beneath the scab. But I bought the book, so it’s here when I’m ready…. I read your blog entry when you talked about their first house in California and recall the sweetness that last picture exuded, long before cancer invaded their world so harshly as to change it so drastically. Condolences to all and thank you (to both) for writing so beautifully.

  16. Kim says...

    I lost my husband to Stage IV lung cancer on January 2, 2016. He was only 53 and never smoked. Our girls are only 12, 11 and 8. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him fiercely. I just ordered this book from Indigo, I don’t think I’ll be able to read it yet but it looks intriguing.

  17. Emily M. says...

    I finished this book last night– I am moved beyond words. Joanna, thank you for every piece of beauty and light you have brought into my life. xo

  18. Judy Lazarus says...

    I just listened to the book. it is one of the best and most profound things I have read in a long time. I know others who have shied away – afraid of the grief and heartache in reading the story of a life ended too early. The book is full of joy and insight as well as the truth of life and sadness. Something not to be missed but to be used as a guide and prompt for all of us.
    I am a nurse-midwife and educator and I resonated with many things in the book. One of the things that stood out for me was the writing about the difference between a job (where one considers hours, pay and work environment) and a calling. It seems that Paul heard and responded to several callings – and, made a huge difference in the world.
    As healthcare providers, we all have so much to learn about humanity and being present – and Paul had much to teach us.
    I will recommend this book to everyone I know!

  19. Emma says...

    Like many other commentators on this post, I read this it in one sitting without being able to put it down. I’m recommending it to everyone I know. Such a beautifully lyrical and thought provoking book that stays with you after reading. I’ve followed your blog for years and my heart goes out to you and your family – i hope knowing Paul left such a wonderful legacy behind and the world’s reaction to it has helped, a little.

  20. Katie says...

    I bought your brother-in-law’s book on Saturday, around 7pm. I went home, started to make dinner, and picked up the book. A few hours later, dinner had been forgotten and tears were soaking my pillow. I couldn’t stop reading it. It was gorgeous, generous, and so so so inspiring on a lot of levels. Much love to your sister, niece, and entire family.

  21. Amelia says...

    What a beautiful book! It brought me to tears! What a wonderful doctor, writer and human your brother in law was! My prayers are with your sister!

  22. Alice says...

    Just heard your sister on BBC radio 4 in UK. She sounds amazing . I will be buying this beautiful book for a young man I know who is about to qualify as a Doctor.

  23. I lost my older brother to brain cancer when he was 39 so I can relate to parts of the experience. I started the book yesterday; it’s so good. I’m just sad Paul wasn’t able to enjoy a really long life.

  24. Kim Menaster says...

    This book is beautiful. Just finished it.

  25. Kim says...

    I’m a medical student and finished this book after a long hospital shift today. Oh, the things I will learn from Paul by rereading this wonderful book. The world is a better place to have had him here.

  26. Victoria Barry says...

    I began reading this last night and find it compelling and heart-breaking at the same time. My heart goes out to your family, especially your sister and her daughter. I do think this was an incredible gift for him to leave behind.

  27. karen Hayward says...

    I just read this book (in a day!) wow! It was an extraordinary book. I got it out of the library as I rarely buy books but this is one I will now buy to reread and reread. Such a sad and yet beautiful telling of life and death. Thanks for sharing your story about who Paul was. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  28. Kristi Slotemaker says...

    Yesterday, I started this book on Audible as I drove over a wintry mountain pass. Rain washing down my windshield at the same pace as tears streamed down my face.
    I finished this book today, driving through Seattle’s I-5 corridor, thankful for the creeping traffic as I held my breath when Paul made the decision to let go and Lucy and family made the decision to hang on.

    I am grateful for the gifts discovered in these 24 hours and look forward to many more as Paul’s questions and voice expands in my head.

    Thank you, Joanna – so thankful to have found your blog and be able to connect with others in grief while we celebrate the legacy of living.

  29. Jess Cash says...

    “Why is the measure of love, loss?” Jeannette Winterson

    My heart is with your sister x

  30. I just finished this book last night and sobbed such sad, although such happy tears at this stunning piece of work. What a beautiful soul Paul (and your sister – her epilogue brought me to the most tears) was. His light will continue to shine through all the people who knew and loved him. I have already recommended his work to so many people and left the book as a surprise on my mom’s (a forensic psychologist who will love the neurological and philosophical angle) nightstand last night. Many thanks to Lucy, and the editors, who saw this book to completion. It will touch so many lives.

  31. Amy says...

    Dear sweet Joanna and Lucy, once again I’m catching up on your excellent posts. Two of my sisters were texting me today telling me how much they loved and sobbed through Paul’s book. We all religiously follow along with your writings :) I finally read and watched the interviews with Katie Couric and The New York Times. You were so well poised, looked beautiful, elegant and so in love with your husband and his memory. I can’t wait to get my hands on his book. You’re so brave. So much love, to you both and your families!

  32. Chrissta says...

    I just finished reading the book last night and it is not something that will soon leave my thoughts. What a beautiful book and my heart wrenched reading the epilogue. Both Paul and your sister seem to be amazing people. My husband is currently finishing a critical care fellowship, so death is a normal part of our family conversation, but this book made me feel it and think about it in a different light. Thank you so much for sharing the book and your family with us.

  33. Rina Becker says...

    I just finished reading…what a poignant memoir. What a loving couple.

  34. Catherine Davis says...

    It really is a beautiful book. I loved reading it. Thank you for recommending it and for sharing a bit about your sister and niece. They’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  35. Julia says...

    Joanna,

    Thank you, thank you for this excellent book recommendation. I can sense that Paul’s presence in your lives was an incredible gift. As a nurse, his memoir was especially touching. Thinking of Lucy, and all of your family. Xo

  36. Joanna Goddard says...

    thank you all so much for your incredibly sweet words! your support means the world to us xoxo

  37. Sara says...

    I brought ‘WhenBreath Becomes Air’ along on a plane ride and finished it in one sitting. It was absolutely one of the most beautifully written books I have read in years. I’m an NP and like almost all of us in healthcare, dealing with patients’ lives and deaths along with our own personal struggles issues is confusingly complicated. He knew it, too, and tackled it with such honesty. So this book is such a gift.

  38. The book was breathtaking… I’m starting a re-read tomorrow! My favorite quotes:

    “…I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

    “Science may provide the most useful way to organic empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human lief: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue… Between those core passions and scientific theory there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience… Human knowledge is never contained in one person. IT grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where ‘the sower and reaper can rejoice together.'”

  39. I myself, at 40, am dealing with stage IV cancer and I cannot tell you how impactful Paul’s words have been for me. His essays have brought me comfort and clarity during very challenging days. I am very much looking forward to reading his memoir. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal snapshot of your life as well as Lucy’s during what I am certain has been a very difficult time. xoxo, Kari

    • joana says...

      hi kari! i don’t know you, but i opened the comments page and yours was the first comment i read. i just wanted to share the most positive thoughts and hope that you are surrounded by people who love and cherish you to help you through this incredibly tough time.
      will be thinking of you!
      joana

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      your words me so much, and i’m sending the tightest hand squeeze your way. i’ll be thinking of you xoxo

  40. I really hope to read this. Reading her essay was so moving and their story sounds so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

  41. I loved his words in his essays and just preordered the book. I lost one of my best friends to breast cancer in August. It was hard as a friend. I cannot imagine as a spouse or a family member. My heart breaks.

  42. Liza says...

    I lost my breath reading your sister’s essay. So moving and brave. He left a beautuful legacy for them. Much success and my deepest condolences to your family.

  43. Lily says...

    Purchased the book. Can not wait to read! Sending Lucy, her daughter and the rest of your family love and light

  44. Your sister and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. I unfortunately know this pain all to well. I lost my 34 year-old husband from cancer three months ago (we have a 2 year old son). It really is such a horrible disease. I look forward to reading his book. Sending you and your sister a big hug.

  45. Laura says...

    Joanna, thank you and your sister for sharing the story. I cannot imagine what she is going through. And the little girl.

    Recently, I came across a great book about cancer and other diseases – When the body says no (by Gabor Maté). It made sense in many views.

    Sending good thoughts to your family,
    Laura

  46. Katie says...

    Wow, I would definitely like to read this book. What a beautiful thing to leave behind.

  47. ColineL says...

    I was so moved by Lucy’s essay. It was heartbreaking and rang so true. I was already profoundly shaken up by Paul’s essays and I can’t wait to read his book.
    Thank you.

  48. well fuck. this is the saddest, but so beautiful.

    I often feel like we’re friends from reading your blog, which I love, and your whole family seems lovely, not least because they know how to share themselves through writing.

    I’m hurting with your family, and I hope that when I die, and I can do so with as much wonder and dignity as your brother in law.

    sending a great, warm hug.

    • Lily says...

      Well said, Karissa.

      I just read Paul’s book last night and I was, of course, in tears thinking about them and other loved ones who have died of a serious illness. He, Lucy and Joanna have all written so eloquently about their experiences and I cannot express how grateful to them that they did.

  49. Daniela says...

    I’ve been following his story and look forward to reading his book. I was a volunteer at Stanford on the neurosurgery unit and wonder if we ever met. All the best to your family and especially your sister, and thank you for sharing.

  50. Sj Dc says...

    Have been following your blog since so so many years and have been engulfed by the warmth that you exude through it. It was kind of bittersweet when I woke up to this article in one of India’s premier business dailies and thought you might like to see it. I’m sure the global dailies have been rightly singing praises but I definitely was not expecting to see the write up in my little corner of the world.
    http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/life-after-death-116010801166_1.html

  51. Kellie says...

    My heart is full on so many levels. Thank you. xo

  52. Daynna says...

    Both of Paul’s essays, and now your sister’s as well, floored me with how much they made me FEEL. All were tremendously well written and I feel as if I truly know them now, though of course I don’t, I can’t. But that’s how meaningful they were, those essays. I have preordered his book and I am anxiously awaiting it. I’m quite certain that it will be an experience reading it. A deeply meaningful one. I can’t wait. (And love and thoughts out to your sister and her little girl)

  53. Becca says...

    Hi Joanna,
    I am a loyal reader of your blog and also, my husband, Shane, was a year behind your sister and Paul at Yale. We are both so happy to see such positive attention that is happening with Paul’s book, along with the wonderful essays we’ve read from Paul and Lucy. We can’t wait to read the book.

  54. Jennifer says...

    Joanna, Like so many others, I have been incredibly moved reading about Paul and Lucy’s story on your blog over the past couple years. Hearing that his book is coming to fruition posthumously made me cry tears of sadness and joy. I sincerely wish that Lucy and your family never had to endure the tragic loss of Paul, but I am very grateful for the openness and generosity of spirit with which you all have shared this story. Paul and Lucy’s NYTimes essays made me feel a shared sense of humanity that is easy to forget in day-to-day life. I look forward to reading the full book.

    My continued deepest condolences to your entire family. Thank you, Lucy and Paul for such meaningful words and thoughts.

  55. Emily says...

    Gosh. Send my best to your sister. (And to the rest of you and your family, of course.)

    This past March we lost my brother to colon cancer — just 36 years old. I text and talk with my sister-in-law daily. It is difficult to grieve and raise children and be and do and winter is dark. But, she has you!

  56. Larissa says...

    Joanna,
    I had read an article Paul wrote (or maybe it was an article about him with quotes from him) about a year ago I believe. It stuck with me so much, the way he spoke about his daughter, the medical training, the loss of time. I went home and talked to my husband about it (His mother died early from a rare pancreatic cancer) and we had such a deep conversation about life, death, children, career… It’s always stuck with me. I didn’t realize until today that this was your brother in law. I’d of course read about your loss, but I never made the connection before.
    I just ordered the book.
    I really don’t know what it is I want to say, just that I’m so sorry for your loss, and for Lucy and Cady, and everyone else that loved him.
    He seems to have been a brilliant and truly wonderful human.

  57. rebecca says...

    How absolutely heartbreaking life can be sometimes. I’ve clicked on some of the links to the essays written by your sister and by your brother-in-law, and they are so beautifully written, with so much depth, and have been resonating in my mind the last couple of days. The depth of their love is obvious, and your brother-in-law’s precious words for his baby daughter are perfect and will mean so much to her one day.

  58. Dear Joanna-
    Thank you for sharing. I am very much looking forward to reading your late brother-in-law’s book. Much love to your family, Lucy (whose words moved me to tears) and especially your adorable niece, Cady. What a tremendous father she had. She will be so proud one day.
    love, -j.

  59. Kirby says...

    My heart is with you. Reading your blog was a guilty pleasure as I went through medical school, residency and as I finished training. I read Paul’s story through another venue, and when I connected the two, I felt the pang as if I had heard the diagnosis of a dear friend or loved one. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for your loss, for Lucy’s loss and for the loss of a monumental physician.

  60. Jennifer O. says...

    I read about his book on Dinner: A Love Story yesterday and I thought Lucy’s name and face was familiar but assumed the world couldn’t be that small. That was a sweet post if you haven’t read it.
    It sounds like he was a wonderful person, as well as a great book. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss.

  61. Emma says...

    Dear Joanna,

    What a wonderful and moving essay your sister wrote. You must be both so proud, and so sad that she ever had to even consider writing it. I look forward to reading when breath becomes air. My thoughts are with your family and with your very brave and inspiring sister and her daughter

  62. Celine says...

    “I put a pair of our daughter’s socks in his pants pocket” – I read this and suddenly, I am a mess.

  63. Joanna, I just wanted to let you know how important your blog is to your readers. I often find ideas and perspective here that I don’t find anywhere else. The fact that you have discussed your family’s grief and tragic deaths means so much to people like me who have lost someone but prefer to keep it to themselves. I’m sure what I’m doing can’t be healthy and it’s an outlet for me to read about someone else’s experience. Even more so in this case because I’ve read your blog for years and feel like I know you and Lucy. thank you both for what you are doing. I’m sorry you have to do it.

  64. Blg says...

    Such a beautiful, living and lasting tribute to give to his family, and especially Cady, who will grow up knowing her father and herself all the more for having his incredible words.
    No doubt Paul’s book will affect all who read it. I thank you both Lucy and Joanna for presenting his story so graciously. I will read this book and share it with my two sisters.

  65. Katie says...

    It’s strange because I love this blog. And then I read the article written by your sister a few days ago on New York Times and had no idea there was a connection. The article had me in tears. I’m praying for your sister. She really has inspired me to relish every second I have with my fiancee because life is too short. It’s incredible how easy love can be taken for granted. Thank her for sharing her sadness with me and the world.

  66. I unexpectedly lost my 2nd of 4 sons in May. Although Jordan was a young adult with a little 2 yr old son, the grief I have felt as his Mom is unimaginable. I last saw Jordan on Mothers Day. I remember our last hug. I have a greater sense of grief for the wife, the children and the parents. I hope Paul’s (and your husband’s brothers parents) are managing the loss of their sons. My heartfelt condolences to all of you.

  67. Your sister’s message is very moving. I kept a sweater of my mom’s and sometimes wear it on difficult days. Bought the book. Thanks for posting this.

  68. karen chenoweth says...

    Please know that I have soaked in every gorgeously heartbreaking sentence Paul and Lucy put to paper/computer. I’ve read them out loud to my baby daughters, if only so I can hear them spoken and that their beauty may somehow float empathy and love, drifting onto my little ones’ sweet heads . Such an intimate item death is, thank you for letting us observe and honor Paul’s. Thank you thank you.

    -K

  69. Sarah says...

    I think about this part of Before I Go so often:

    When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

    What a beautiful message. Can’t wait to read this book.

  70. jeannie says...

    Beautiful and tragic, yet truly inspiring.

  71. I just read the NY Times review and cannot wait until I get this book. I had read his story shortly before he died, possibly in the Times and it really grabbed my heart. I worked in the medical field in my late twenties and early thirties as an occupational therapist and was diagnosed with cancer when I was 9 months pregnant. Baby and mom survived, though I came close to dying more than a few times. His story resonates with me for so many reasons and I look forward to his intelligent, generous sharing of his experiences. My heart goes out to your whole family and your sister and niece. Thanks for your beautiful post and sharing your sister’s beautiful words and sentiments.

  72. Spatterson says...

    Wow, I’ve been reading reviews, interviews and articles about your sister, Paul and the book for the last few days and I had no idea her relationship to you! The reviews are incredible and really got my attention. I am so moved by the whole story and also by your connection to it. I am in the Bay Area so will keep my eyes out for a reading that she does here! My prayers and warmest wishes to Lucy, Cady and your whole family.

  73. Jenni says...

    I’m so heartbroken like death is something as imperfect humans we can not grasp. I am as always do sad when I read about this. Your sister and yourself are very bright, strong people and I understand about losing someone and just being unable to grasp it. This book will help me take life for more than what it is and I will certainly be buying it. Sometimes we need a wake up call. My aunt died last year of the same but only lived six months after being diagnosed. Disbelief sets in quick and your subconscious feelings takes over. Love will never leave even if the person does.

  74. Beatrice says...

    I am missing my dad, whom I lost many years ago.
    Your sister’s words are beautiful and touching. Please, send her my love all the way from Greece. That little girl is so so sweet and beautiful just as her parents!
    Thank you sincerely for your beautiful blog, Joanna!

  75. Long-time reader and rare-commenter over here, but I feel compelled to say that your blog is the absolute best. I know that’s not the focus of this post, but it needs to be said… especially in this age of *constantly comparing ourselves to others on the internet and wondering if we’re doing life right.* Here’s a friendly reminder that you are! *waves hand*
    In fact, I hate to even say your blog is THE BEST, since I guess that requires comparison. What I mean is… there are many great blogs, but I admire you and your signature authenticity so much. There’s no other place on the great wide Web I feel I can go to get such a real dose of humanity… to be reminded that we all have our own intricate, complicated, heartbreaking, beautiful lives. Because while it’s fun to zone out reading about this new lipstick or that new shoe trend, I think what we’re all really after is connection and remembering we’re not alone (at all) in our messy human experiences.
    So THANK YOU. :) I hope you give yourself a big, tight hug, and remind yourself you’re doing a GREAT JOB. Love to you, Lucy, Paul and family. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  76. Fung says...

    Thank you for your moving review of your BIL’s book and posting Lucy’s heartbreaking essay. Deepest condolences to you and your family. I will be there on Monday at Bookcourt.

  77. Mona says...

    I am brought to tears each and every time…god bless your sister and your family …. I had such a tough time reading his articles, then the other articles on people grieving losses. I became part of your family.

  78. Wow. As the loved one of someone suffering with a terminal disease I am not sure I will be able to read it through my tears. (just this post has them streaming) But, it sounds like incredible insight into what it must be like to battle every day and keep a positive outlook, as my father is doing.
    Thanks for always bringing such a sincere voice to all of life’s joys and valleys.
    Deepest condolences to your sister, you and your family.
    xx

  79. Abigail says...

    A big, big hug to your whole family.
    Your sister seems so brave, her writing made me cry.
    Thank you for posting amazing stuff for us to read.
    Cheers from Mexico.

  80. Danielle says...

    Thank you for sharing. Your sister’s essay was beautiful and so very moving. I look forward to reading your brother-in-law’s book. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  81. Such bravery leaves its mark on the world.
    Love to you all.
    pamela

  82. Patricia says...

    I really thank you for all your posts regarding loss and how to deal with it, tell kids, etc. I specially loved the one called “On Grief”. Needless to say, your sister’s essay made me cry. If I lived in NYC I’d sure come to the reading. I’m looking forward to reading Paul’s memoir.

  83. Theresa says...

    Wow, wiping tears as I write this…such hauntingly, beautiful words your sister wrote. We lost a dear friend to brain cancer recently and I just can’t stop thinking about his wife and children. He was also young. I really have no other words, just wanted to let you know how beautiful this post is and I’ve enjoyed your BIL’s writings and can only imagine how beautiful his memoir is. Hugs and light to your sister, you, your niece and family.

  84. Peggy says...

    Joanna,
    What a lovely review of When Breath Becomes Air in the NYTimes. Can one actually look forward to reading a book that chronicles the life and premature death of a (very special) man? I do. Very much. Like so many others, I have followed your sister and her husband’s story for some time. I am so very grateful to both Lucy and Paul for sharing their experiences. For me, it was a needed reminder of what is precious and important. I ache for them and I ache for you. Best wishes.

  85. Jodie says...

    It is a life altering experience to spend someones last days with them. I spent what my Mother know was the last month of her life with her. I doesn’t make it easier but it will change you as a person. I look forward to reading this book. My best to your Sister.

  86. Maria says...

    I read your sister’s essay late last night and wept. It is without question, one of the most heartbreakingly beautifully things I have ever read.

    As someone who has gone from being my father’s daughter to his now caregiver, her words touched me in a way that I cannot properly articulate. I grieve for Paul with all of you.

  87. Je says...

    Thank you for sharing this. Your sister’s words were so moving. And, I read your brother-in-law’s article in the Times last year without knowing that he was your brother in law. I have pre-ordered the book. I will share his wisdom with the practitioners and oncology patients w/whom I work. Thank you.

  88. Amy says...

    I am so moved by your sister and Paul. They sound like a remarkable couple. I am sorry for all of your loss. It sounds as if Paul will live on though in Cady and in Lucy. Sending love to all of you. Thank you for sharing Paul and Lucy’s story with us. Your blog is special for so many reasons. Thank you! xxx

  89. Marcy says...

    Thank you for sharing this. What an incredibly strong sister you have. Thoughts and prayers to you and your family today.

  90. Meredith says...

    I saw a post about your BIL’s book on facebook the other day, and just seeing it brought tears to my eyes because I remembered reading the articles you posted here. He was a wonderfully eloquent man, and his story is awe inspiring. I’m sorry for you and your family’s loss, I can’t imagine how hard it is to lose someone so close to you. Thank you for sharing with us.

  91. Kaitlin says...

    Beautiful, but really ought to have a trigger warning for those of us reading it at work ;). Thank you for sharing this, Joanna.

  92. Jamie says...

    I have spent the last two days mourning my grandmother, who was like a mother to me, my best friend, my rock and my world.  She passed away eight years ago on the 5th from lung cancer.  I have looked through photos, re-read hallmark cards she gave me, reread her letters to me,  remembered her cooking, her smell, her warmth.  And I’ve prayed… that she would know how much I still love her, wondering if I still make her proud.  I wondered so so much what was going through her mind at the end, as she too was an introvert, quiet and pensive.  This post and your sister’s essay have brought me to tears…I’ve ordered my book in the hope of not just reading what seems to be an amazing story but also with the hope of perhaps getting some answers.  

    I started reading your blog recently and am in love.  THANK YOU.  I’m still discovering old gems from your archives and as a mom of a 20 month old find so much of what you write to be so inspirational and helpful.  

    This is my first time leaving a comment, and I’m doing so mostly because I feel like this post/book might be the universe’s response to my questions this week …I couldn’t believe the timing.  I can’t even begin to imagine what your sister and your family have gone through.  I would be there if I lived within driving distance – I’m so so sorry.  I am sending you all my warmest hugs, love and wishing you all the very best.   

  93. Alexandra F says...

    I have been an avid reader of your blog in the UK for several years now and as many readers have said, have been moved by several of your posts on life. This is the first time one has moved me to tears. Your sisters words are beautiful. Bless you and your family.

  94. Louise says...

    I am looking forward to reading this. I have lost my mother and sister to cancer within the last 18 months. It is a cruel and unforgiving disease. My thoughts are with you, your sister and all your family. xoxo

  95. Lauren says...

    You, and your family are absolutely incredible people. I will buy this book the day it comes out. You are my favorite blogger hands down – I have learned so much from you, and I wish you always, the best.

  96. Natalie says...

    Thank you for sharing. Each of the posts you have written about him, and his own words, have moved me to tears. I am really looking forward to reading the book. Hoping God continues to bring you and your family comfort.

  97. Clara says...

    I’m so touch by his way of seeing life.. is love and kindness will live through your sister, their child and every person who’s knew him. Like Leonard Cohen wrote so beautifully «Dance me to end of love»!

  98. Louise hannon says...

    Those essays are so moving, I am really looking forward to reading the book. My eight year old son had to have a heart transplant after becoming sick very suddenly two years ago. The average life expectancy is 10 years and it is so difficult to comprehend what the future might hold and how to plan our lives in light of this so I am eager to read Paul’s book and learn from someone who has dealt with that reality being so close. I adore your blog and the way you feature challenging issues like depression and bereavement so cleverly alongside great homes, fashion etc and only hope that 2016 can be a good and healing year for your family x

  99. Katherine A-E says...

    So moved by Lucy’s piece, your support and this whole project.

  100. Summer says...

    This is so touching. I remember reading Paul’s essays awhile back; he’s a wonderful writer, so I know I’d love the book. Lucy, please know that we’ve all been thinking of you (and Paul) since we found out about the diagnosis.

    Also, that family picture with what I assume is his wedding ring moved to his larger finger is making me do the deep-breath-don’t-cry-at-work maneuver right now.

  101. We would so love it if your sister was doing more readings in other cities – if she’s planning on any would you please post the information? I also read Andy’s account of editing the book for Paul, and the NYT’s review of it this morning, and I cannot wait to read it and buy one for every doctor friend I have (or anyone else in fact!).

  102. Jacqueline says...

    This post was incredibly moving. I’ve been reading your blog for the past 8 years and this post moved me in a way the others have not. I will be reading his book and also gifting it to a dear friend of mine who is studying to be a surgeon at the University of Washington. Thank you for sharing. My heart goes out to Lucy. xx – Jacqueline

  103. Heather says...

    I am so not a cryer, but this had me in tears and moved me to comment. I read it last night and I’m still thinking about it this morning. The image of the socks in the pocket is so beautifully poignant. Your sister must be incredibly brave and strong…how lucky Paul was to have her by his side through everything; how lucky your niece is to have her mother’s strength and love to guide her. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking for all that this little girl will grow up without her daddy there, but she will also surely know her father through her mother’s very obvious love for him, and that will be a gift.

  104. Rebecca says...

    My sister also lost her husband at a young age, and I wept through Lucy’s beautiful essay. I am so sorry for her loss – and for everyone who is missing Paul. He left such a beautiful legacy and I am very much looking forward to reading his book. Sending lots of love to Lucy and your family. xoxo