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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. Are there any plans for you and Lucy to conduct a similar onstage interview in the Bay Area??

  2. Chelsa Williams says...

    I just preordered his book – really looking forward to reading, Yesterday, the company I work for, Myriad Genetics, shared a post about When Breath Becomes Air. Myriad has myPlan® Lung Cancer- a molecular prognostic test that measures the expression levels of cell cycle progression genes to provide an accurate assessment of cancer aggressiveness in patients with early-stage non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma. It felt unexpectedly encouraging and motivating to see two parts of my world collide – your blog/family connected to my work. It was also an unexpected reminder of how small the world is….and how the work we (all) do can serve a much greater purpose beyond our small existence in this world.

  3. Alice says...

    I cried reading your sister’s piece yesterday and it has stayed with me all day, coming up while I cooked dinner, watched Netflix, went to sleep, commuted back in in the morning. I keep thinking about the beautiful and graceful way Paul lived and Lucy and the rest of your family honor him and support each other in loss. Its a reminder of what is important, and I don’t have anything too eloquent to say beyond love to you all.

  4. I only read the excerpt from Lucy’s essay and I’m already ugly crying over here. The part about putting their daughter’s socks in Paul’s pocket just breaks my heart. It’s beautiful and completely heart wrenching, and reminds me of the letter I wrote to my brother Jeremy, which I folded up (as teenagers do) in the shape of a heart. I couldn’t bear to look at him in his coffin, so my dad slipped the note into Jeremy’s hand. That was more than 14 years ago. The pain of losing someone you love never really goes away, though time can soften grief’s sharp edges. I echo your last words here; my heart goes out to Lucy and your whole family. This book is such a gift, not only to Paul’s friends and family who miss him, but undoubtedly to all those who will read it. xo

  5. Jo says...

    Lucy’s essay just made me weep. I look forward to reading Paul’s book.

    I would love to come on Monday. Is there an invitation/need for registration(?) or can anyone just show up?

    Thank you, Joanna. You and Lucy are so blessed to have each other.

  6. I plan to read and savor every word written in his book. My sister was in a car accident a year and a half ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She is currently still emerging from her coma and improving every single day. There are so many victories and obstacles, highs and lows, that make up her days and we have all spent much of our time diving headfirst into the complexities of how our brains work.

    We have seen firsthand how neurosurgeons are these incredible people who go into work every day and deal with life, death, and in my sister’s case, futures that are impossible to predict. After long days at the hospital we would watch the neurosurgeons finally call it a day and try to imagine how they would now have to go home to their families and continue to give more of themselves. I’ll never be able to thank the surgeons that saved my sister’s life enough, and I know that the families that Paul touched will carry his brilliance around in their hearts forever.

    I have never craved a book as much as I have with this one. Maybe I need the therapy or maybe I need to read something that is real and raw and full of life so that I, too, can continue to give more of myself to those who need me. My deepest sympathies to your family, I can only hope that his beautiful words continue to comfort you all.

  7. Lee says...

    This post and related essays have left me breathless and weeping. Your post, Lucy’s writing, and Paul’s essays and excepts are so eloquent it almost defines the experience.

    I am a longtime reader of your blog (never a commenter), a Brooklyn mother of two children under 3, and a pediatric doctor. My father passed from cancer in 2007 and the journey from physician-in-training to patient-family member to grieving daughter was, expectedly, life changing. I am always hungry for writing on the subject. Because each experience is unique, intimate, and dynamic, but universal as well, the discussion of the experience is cathartic. I found C.S Lewis’ A Grief Observed and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking helpful in the years after my father’s death. Having only read his released essays and excepts leads me to believe Paul’s memoir could reach depths of insight never before articulated in a modern voice. I wonder if it should be required reading for medical students?

    I’m looking forward to the reading and interview on Monday. I will be bringing tissues!

    Thank you for sharing all you do.
    Hugs,
    Lee

  8. As soon as I’m finished with my current book, I’m picking this one up. Reading your blog and reading a bit of his story has really touched me. He sounds like an amazing man and I’m sure he won’t be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire family.

  9. Suzie says...

    What a touching piece. I just found out last week this book was being published and immediately added it to my reading list. I lost my brother two years ago this January; he was just 29. In February, I will be turning 29 and it seems so strange to be the age at which he passed away. Both Paul and Lucy write so beautifully and capture the emotions so many feel while experiencing such vast grief. I hope Lucy and all your family members are finding solace in the wake of such a tragedy.

  10. Emma says...

    I ordered the book yesterday after reading your post and this morning I just read the wonderful review of it on the NYTimes Book Review. Another reflection of Dr. Kalanithi’s talent. You are all in my thoughts and prayers during what I am sure is a bittersweet time.

  11. Lauren says...

    I just read Lucy’s essay. Gosh, not sure what to say or how to put into words how it made me feel. She is such a beautiful writer and her words were both heart-wrenching and incredibly touching. I felt a tightness in my chest throughout the entire essay – feeling a miniscule bit of the weight and pain she has endured since Paul became ill and passed. I can only imagine how hard it has been, but she has a very eloquent way of expressing the awful yet beautiful journey she has been on. Thanks, Jo, for sharing your thoughts, and thanks to your sister Lucy for being so transparent with her feelings. You’re a pretty great pair of sisters.

  12. Rachel says...

    Lucy’s articulation of the early days of her grief brought back such clear memories of burying my husband at 28. The desire to be his companion in this final journey and help others say goodbye to him was intense. I too lead the procession to my husband’s grave. I still kiss his headstone as if greeting him and find it hard to leave him there. Thank you for stirring those memories in a way that allowed me to be thankful and laugh at the image of myself as my husband’s funeral party hostess. Thankfully joy and beauty and macabre humor are grief’s companions and quiet strength, compassion, and a larger capacity to love it’s fruits. I wish you all an abundant harvest.

  13. Molly says...

    Wow that was a beautiful article that your sister wrote. Brought me to tears. Sending love to you and your family!

  14. Laura says...

    Your sister’s words make my heart ache and make me want to hold my husband close. I wonder if she’s nervous about reading his book in public. I honestly don’t think I could do it without falling apart. She seems very brave.
    You will probably see me at the book release Monday night. I look forward to it!

  15. Vava says...

    I was just reading about this book in the NYT, and immediately thought it might have been your BIL who wrote it. So I came over here to your website and yes, it is confirmed. I’d like to read it. My good wishes go out to you, your sister, and other family members who have been impacted by the loss of this incredible man.

  16. Alexandra says...

    Oh, oh. Your sister’s piece took my breath away and then made me weep. Definitely will be picking up a copy of Paul’s book. All the love in the world to her and the rest of your family.

  17. Paul’s story is so moving. Such a young, smart, nice man. I looked into your older posts, where he and your sister were leaving in NY. His pictures show a truly good man. It is so sad to have lost him so early.’
    Your sister must be so courageous.

  18. OMG I almost burst into tears at the office reading the excerpt of her essay…

  19. I am sending as much love as possible. Your sister’s essay just broke my heart.

  20. Rebekka says...

    Thank you for exposing this, Joanna. I can only imagine what the last year must have meant for you as a family, you personally, and of course your sister. May Lucy and all of you feel God’s hands of kindness that carry all of us, including Paul. My grandmother died this morning. I am ever so thankful for knowing her in the eternal hands of kindness as well. Much Love to all of you.

  21. thank you. I can’t wait to get a copy. my heart goes out to you all. donna

  22. joana says...

    hi jo,
    your words, your sister’s words, and your brother in law’s words are all so powerful and deep and moving. it’s very brave of all of you to expose yourselves like this, to be open and proud and courageous, facing the toughest battle. it’s inspiring and beautiful to read such honest words and feelings and i hope that the book, the fact that all over the world people will read it, and cry with and for paul, and smile and know him, will help ease the pain.
    i won’t be able to go to the reading (i live in portugal), but i’m sure it’ll be beautiful and profound, as your words.
    big strong hugs to both of you.
    joana

  23. rashidah says...

    I lost my father one year ago today, 7th January. The saying ”yet there’s no other way to live” is so so sad but so true..Sending love all around..

  24. My eyes are filled with the beauty of these words and the heartbreak that brought them forth. I am in awe at the bravery that encouraged them to write these truths so openly so that others might share and understand, and I will certainly buy the book (probably over and over to give as well). Blessings to you and your families!

  25. Ana says...

    I have a tremendous admiration for Lucy for being able to go through all this. And also for you… it must be hard to go on that reading and interview your sister over this. Sending you all lots of love and good thoughts!

  26. At a loss for words. Here are some: Thank you. Beautiful. Pain. Unite. Love. Strength. Fly. Baby. Wisdom.

    xo

  27. Ruchi says...

    Your sister is one of the bravest people! What a beautiful ode to love, partnership and marriage. Thank you for sharing your family’s struggles with the world. I hope you and yours always keep smiling :-)

  28. Renae says...

    Wow, your sister’s essay was beautiful and devastating to read. I am ordering my own copy, as well as at least one more for a friend whose father in in his final months of his cancer battle. I wish peace for Lucy.

  29. Lori Allison says...

    Beautiful post. Losing a loved one blindsides even those who have been nursing the sick. Your blog is truly heartfelt, funny, informative and thought provoking. Thank you for that.

  30. Allie says...

    I just pre-ordered Paul’s book. So, so, SO much love to your family and Lucy. XOXO.

  31. NicoleD says...

    Oh, your sister’s words are so poetic and honest. I can’t wait to read Paul’s book, and like many commenters, hope to read more from Lucy too. My best to your family as you continue this next phase of grief and growth.

  32. Lucy’s words have brought me to tears. Beautiful words. She is so strong. Thank you for sharing this with us, Joanna. You are strong too in supporting your sister through it all. Lots of love to you guys.

  33. Kate says...

    I had noticed before that Lucy chose to take Paul’s last name when they married. I imagine it might be really beautiful and comforting for her to have that closeness and shared identity with him, for her and their daughter, now that he is gone. Joining as one in that way is so poignant in this light. She carries him with her, as herself. And their daughter will always have her father with her in that way too.

  34. Oh this is so touching, you have me all teared up. I wasn’t expecting this hoping over the site, but it’s always good to be reminded of something real in a sense. My husband is a resident too, and it’s such a long dedicated journey.. I feel for both his and your sister’s pain. Though this is a sad story I truly believe something beautiful will come out of this… be it this book that touch millions or the lives your sister and your family will touch with this personal hardship. I hope to try to make it to this monday. thanks to you and your sister for being so brave to share your personal tragedy. What a brave man to take his last days to share his journey–like many dedicated doctors with good heart, always trying to help someone with their own hands…

  35. Emma says...

    I’m getting married later this year, and somehow this big commitment has awakened in me the sudden realization that one of us, someday, will die before the other. I’m having a hard time not dwelling on the thought, since either way it goes it’s just an impossible thing to square with from here in my mid twenties. But having this deeply morbid realization hovering in background of my mind makes me more thoughtful and loving, less distracted. I’m sure with time the intimacy and gravity of these feelings will fade and will become some kind of status quo, but for now I’m simultaneously enduring and treasuring this painful, beautiful time.

  36. sandy says...

    I have been feeling the urge to write about my metastatic diagnosis, a year into this odd space I fill. Feeling well, treatment working to stave off spiking tumor markers, but knowing what could be lurking around the bend at any moment. I am living larger and with intention now, that is what I need to write about. To remind my husband, my 3 boys and those that may listen- live every moment without regret, love fiercely, smile more and be intentional. Your sister’s words may have just been the push I needed to start writing it down, peace to all of you, especially Lucy.

    • Mary Margaret says...

      Thinking of you — write it all down! Peace and strength to you.

  37. Nina says...

    Oh so heartbreaking

  38. Genevieve says...

    Beautiful. Sending love and light. And so much love.

  39. tears! your sister’s words were so moving. i am so so sorry for her loss. hugs to you all.

  40. Kate says...

    So beautiful, Joanna. My thoughts are with your family. What a wonderful gift Paul left to you guys.

  41. Megan says...

    Thank you Joanna and Lucy. My maternal aunt and sister in law, both of whom who were young mothers, have lost the gift of life.
    I thank Paul for creating this memoir, as his open prose may lend insight to the private thoughts and beliefs of those who are no longer present. It seems that through his written word, Paul will continue to heal. Blessings…

  42. Chika says...

    Tissue in hand, I am crying over the beauty of the words composed by your sister and so touched by her and her husband’s honesty. Thank you and your family for sharing such an intimate heartbreak and deep-felt and tragic loss with us, your readers…it’s a privilege to read your words.

  43. Maria says...

    I’m a LONG time COJ reader, rare commenter here who has been so deeply touched by your lovely blog more than you could ever know. I’m a recent medical school graduate who was going through an extremely difficult time during my last year of medical studies and reading about Paul’s journey before, during and (unfortunately) after his diagnosis gave me the drive and motivation to press forth during the most difficult of days. I frequently refer to one of his (many) awesome quotes, “Don’t forget what you do, and who you do it for.” when I need some career/life related encouragement. Thank you for letting us in, this blog is amazing.

  44. Emm says...

    I am bawling at my desk. She put their daughter’s socks in his pocket! I have been so moved by what you’ve shared of Lucy and Paul’s story and her words are so moving and poignant. Thank you. I am almost afraid to experience this book but I want to read it. Hugs!

  45. Pumla says...

    I was moved by Lucy’s essay the description of her grief.

    ‘I can’t take your hand, but I will guide you; you will not go alone’

    That’s how it feels to lose a loved one. Like the other readers it made me weep. Will be buying Paul’s book and reading it at home in Durban, South Africa.

  46. Atsuko says...

    I read the essay over and over, and found myself with tears. My gratitude about the things our daily life consists became far more appreciative, such as skeeping wit my hus band and haVing meals wit my son and husband. Then, I quickly ordered the book through amazon. I also fear about the death, especially because i recently lost my dearest uncle but I feel this book gives me not only that concept but also how beautiful our life is. I hope to hear how your sister and her son are doing in near future. Thank you so much for introducing this wonderful memoir to us. I really appreciate.

  47. I found myself missing my dad extra hard yesterday and seeing your sister’s strength…I marvel at it. I still feel the need to be strong, for myself, for my mom, and I wonder at our ability to hurt and grow and miss and smile and cry and laugh. Life is a paradox.

  48. Linda B. says...

    So touched by Lucy’s essay and by the grace and dignity with which they faced this together.
    I wish I still lived in NY so I could be at the reading. I’ll definitely buy Paul’s book, and I look forward to reading your interview with Lucy.
    Thanks for your blog, Joanna.

  49. Lucy’s essay moved me deeply. Wishing you all the very best for Lucy’s reading and the publication, I know it will get the recognition it deserves x

  50. Lucy’s essay made me weep. It is beyond beautiful. Thank you for sharing, I can’t wait to read Paul’s book! Love to you all. xo

  51. Kukla says...

    I’ll be proudly purchasing this book come the 12th. Your husband Lucy, seemed like a wonderful man and I’m honored to read his beautiful book.

  52. Mary says...

    Your brother in laws’ story resonates so strongly with me. Just preordered the book. My heart breaks for your family.

  53. Lauren says...

    Lucy’s essay…Such a graceful, raw, honest, eloquent group of moving words. God’s peace be with you and your daughter, Lucy. You and your husband carved such a great legacy of love for your daughter. No greater gift…

  54. I just pre-ordered the book on Amazon and can’t wait to read it. Your sister’s words brought me to tears.

  55. ellie says...

    Thank you, dear Joanna, for sharing. So silly, but I do feel we are friends, as I ‘m sure many who follow your blog feel the same. You have helped me through many trials, starting first with a two-year bout of post-partum depression (thank you…more than you will every know).

    I am a pediatric ICU physician who tries to help children get better and sometimes watches them die. Last year I took a year to return to training in Pediatric Hospice and Palliative Care and am now working in both fields and attempting to grow an armor or grace and wisdom. Lucy and Paul have helped and will continue to help and teach and share their wisdom. I have ordered a book for myself and one for my mentor. Please send a special thank you to your sister from me. XO

    • Jackie says...

      Thank you for everything you do. I mean it.

  56. S says...

    Thank you, from someone who is missing someone. Best wishes to your whole family. I look forward to reading the book.

  57. lilly says...

    As soon as I read “I put a pair of our daughter’s socks in his pants pocket.” I started sobbing. What a gorgeous, sad thought. There’s such beauty, strength and life there in this post.

  58. Ashley says...

    Thank you so much for posting. My mom just got out of the hospital from neurosurgery for metastatic breast cancer. It is so so hard. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  59. Lauren says...

    Lucy’s home tour is still my favorite piece on your blog.

    I started reading Cup of Jo at 23, as I was just starting to move on from a relationship with a young doctor and simultaneously realizing my own desire to pursue a career in medicine. Your love story was a timely reminder that 23 was so young, that life can change at any moment, and that it is okay to be with an older man.

    Every post I read about Lucy resonated with me in a way that’s hard to explain. Her love of the outdoors, her bookshelves, the burritos in the fridge, they all had me thinking “that’s me!, that’s me! She’s a doctor and I can be too!” . I don’t have physicians in my family or close circle of friends so being exposed to the idea of medical training in my young adulthood initially scared the crap out of me. When I’d get nervous, I’d always end up searching for references to Lucy and Paul on your blog, eating up any indication of how they managed. They were a form of roll model for me, even with what little I knew, simply because every reference I read felt like home to me.

    When Paul became Dr. Kalanathi and I realized he was dying, I cried hard. He went from a person in your blog, falling in love with your sister over her bookshelf, to a writer, a public figure, and a dieing man. His death also brought me face-to-face with my biggest fear: what is it like to embark on a journey filled with delayed gratification, without knowing what the end will bring.

    Now, at 27, I am on the cusp of applying to medical school to be a neurologist. Somewhere deep inside I now know that life inside the hospital is what brings me the greatest highs and lows and that’s a life worth living. Although the fear is gone, I so look forward to reading this book to even better understand this commitment I’m making. I wish I could teleport from Boston Monday night as Lucy and Paul will forever be a deep inspiration to me.

    Thank you so much for all that you do, Joanna.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, lauren, thank you so much for your beautiful comment. it means so much. i just sent it to lucy. xoxo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      PS and good luck with your application! we will be rooting for you.

  60. jeannie says...

    Beautiful, overwhelming… My heart goes out to everyone who is dealing with the illness of a loved one.

  61. Danielle says...

    Adding this to my must-read list.

    Your sister’s words are so beautifully heartbreaking…they made me well up with tears yet simultaneously feel comforted by their sentiment. What a brave act, for her to let us into her mind as she did.

  62. Kathleen says...

    I have preordered the book on Amazon!! His essays were so incredibly moving, and as a medical student myself, his words are amazingly grounding. Sometimes doctors and scientists forget that they could be those patients too, and that the dying deserve all of the respect and dignity we can grant them. Thank you so much for sharing Paul’s story over the years.

  63. Kelsey Cafferky says...

    Long time reader but I’ve never commented until now. I have added his book to my “must read” list and will be ordering it soon. Your sister’s words about Paul are truly so beautiful. They made me cry and I could feel the deep sorrow and love so strongly in her writing. I am so sorry for your family’s loss. I can’t imagine losing my husband so young. Praying for peace for your family and for Paul’s amazing book to rise to the top of the best seller lists and leave a lasting legacy for his family!

  64. I’m adding this to my list this year.

    Kristi | Be Loverly

  65. Leah says...

    My husband was diagnosed with acute leukemia last fall, and of course only moments after hearing the news I acknowledged the very real possibility I could become a widow and single mother at a very young age. And only moments after that, I thought of your sister Lucy. In all of my many daily prayers, in addition to my husband’s renewed health, I pray for young widows and single mothers everywhere. They are clubs I hope to never join, but I am immensely grateful to people like Lucy showing how to handle it gracefully and lovingly. Sharing her story (and Paul sharing his) is a gift to everyone, everywhere. Sending love and peace to all of you. (also, book ordered: check).

  66. Nancy says...

    Joanna, I send love & prayers to your sister for sharing her honest and raw feelings. This is so personal and private and yet Paul and Lucy have given the ultimate gift by sharing their journey with us. All my best to your family and thank you.

  67. Dana says...

    I find myself reading these essays over and over and over because they play a grounding and key role in my philosophy towards how I try to live my life. Also, one of my best friend’s husbands- 33 years old with two little boys- has brain cancer and is currently in the throes of treatment with an unknown outcome because this cancer doesn’t have a cure. I also frequently read your sister’s words for guidance on how to be a friend to my friend who is closer to widowhood than she should be. I just ordered “When Breath Becomes Air”, and if I didn’t live in Oregon, I would be at that reading. So much love to you and your family. Thank you and thank your sister and Paul for writing and speaking these words.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we’ll be thinking of your friend and her husband — thank you so much for your lovely note. xoxo

  68. Jessica says...

    My thoughts are with you and your family Joanna. I am very grateful for some of your personal posts about loss, grief and above all love. I am missing someone today as well and reading your post and your sister’s words made me feel less alone.

  69. Rebecca says...

    I had the privilege of reading an advance proof of this, about six weeks ago, and I can honestly say it’s one of a handful of books that genuinely shifted the way I thought about the world. Paul’s voice is so clear, so beautiful in his choice of words and his thoughtful, questioning approach. He changed the way I thought about dying, and the way I thought about living, profoundly. Thank you, Paul, and thank you Lucy for the truly lovely, painful epilogue. I felt privileged, that word again, to have had some insight into what must have been an incredibly difficult process.

    I can’t be there to hear Lucy talk to you about it, Joanna, but I’ll be thinking of you here in the UK. I’ll also be talking about the book, when it comes into the bookshop I work in, to everyone who’ll listen; I hope in that small way, I can repay the gift Paul (and Lucy) gave me by writing it at all.

  70. I am very much looking forward to reading this book. It’s been lovely to follow along with Lucy and Paul since the earliest days of this blog, and poignant more so now to remember those posts.

  71. Kamisha Sullivan says...

    Wow this book sounds incredible. Your sister’s essay is honest and lovely. I will definitely be checking this out. Thanks for sharing.

  72. Py says...

    Thinking of Paul and Lucy breaks my heart yet somehow also fills me with hope and joy. I can not wait to read his book. It makes me think of that Gordon Livingston quote ‘love is never lost, not even in death’.

  73. Thank you for sharing such a deeply, personal part of your life with us. Wishing this book all the success.

    http://www.kelseymarie.co

  74. Glenda says...

    Beautiful essay from your sister. Can’t wait to read Paul’s memoir.

  75. Thank you for sharing such a moving story. I cried reading Lucy’s essay and immediately requested his book from the library. Thank you.

  76. Gabriella says...

    Wow, how remarkable. So impressive that your brother-in-law managed to craft what sounds like such a beautiful, reflective book in those difficult moments, and lovely that your sister will be the one to carry it into the world.

  77. Lily says...

    Your sister’s essay moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing such deeply personal stories on here. They keep me coming back. Much love to you and your family.

  78. Lauren says...

    That title alone is so powerful, and I am sure the book will follow suit. Sending peace to Lucy and hope that she continues to find strength and bravery in this life without her beloved Paul.

  79. My friend is currently battling Lymphoma. And she honestly thought that the day she started her last treatment – Christmas day – would be her last. As it was, she was pretty much in a coma and was read her last rites. But. She’s still here, occasionally posting disjointed statuses just to let us know she’s still alive over there in Denmark. (She joined a trial over there, hoping to help future lymphoma warriors – she was given a bleak timeline – so figured dedicating her body to the fight would be honorable.)
    But what I really wanted to say was – she has written some blogs over the last year that have brought me to tears, while simultaneously blowing my mind.
    I will certainly read this book….
    Sorry for your loss.
    Katy @ https://www.playswellwithcoffee.com

  80. Shelley says...

    Joanna,
    I could not even make it through your moving post without sobbing but I would consider it an honour to read your brother-in-laws book. His two essays are breathtakingly beautiful.
    Your sister is brave beyond words to share their story at a book reading. What an incredibly powerful event it will be. I look forward to hearing about it.

  81. Thank you for sharing this book and your sister’s essay. My grandmother passed away from lung cancer a few months before my wedding five years ago, and the essay brought back not just the sad memories of her passing, but the vibrancy of her spirit.

  82. Meghan T says...

    A startling and lovely essay – a tribute to a life and love, well lived. I’m hoping the process of bringing this book to life brings comfort. How I wish wish wish I could visit my old stomping grounds and be there on Monday to witness your sister read. Healing and acknowledgment of grief is so important, and so lacking, in our culture! Buying the book now, thank you, as always. Hugs from Charleston SC.

  83. Kirstin says...

    “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”
    Mary Oliver

  84. Angela says...

    There are no words. I won’t even try.

    Please write a post about the reading for those of us who can’t be there in person!

    Sister power – you will always have her back.

  85. so heartbreaking, yet beautiful at the same time. i cannot wait to read this

  86. jill c says...

    your sister’s words brought tears to my eyes…sending love to you all.

  87. Gi says...

    Thank you Lucy, thank you Joanna and thank you Paul for sharing such wise and private words: they touched my heart as a doctor, as a girlfriend, as a sister but above all as a human being. Thank you thank you thank you

  88. Brigid says...

    I was so moved by Paul’s beautiful essays before his death. I am currently reading Being Mortal and will certainly add this to my reading list. I work around the corner from Book Court and hope to make it to the reading. Thank you for sharing this.

  89. Elizabeth says...

    I read Paul’s essay when you posted it and it stayed with me for weeks and I was so sad when he passed. I think of your sister and her daughter often and plan on reading Paul’s book.

  90. Jenny says...

    Thank you for sharing this today. My mother died a few months ago from lung cancer, and over the past year Paul’s essays have provided such comfort and almost a sort of insight. I really look forward to reading his book and your sister’s full essay.

  91. Hi Joanna,

    This is such an incredibly moving post. I just read Lucy’s op-Ed in the NY Times. I couldn’t hold back the tears (probably shouldn’t have read it in public).
    I actually came across Paul’s memoir under Penguin Random House Canada’s new releases page on Monday while I was looking for book ideas for a reading challenge I’m doing this year. I added it to my list and I am looking forward to reading it next week. I’m sure it’s beautifully written and incredibly moving.
    Thanks for sharing with us and as always, my thoughts and prayers are with you, your sister, and your family.

    xo
    Donna

  92. Loesie says...

    Your sister’s essay brought tears to my eyes.
    Sending so many warm thoughts her way!

  93. I can barely get through reading this post. I’ll be there on Monday. xoxo

  94. Jamie says...

    Ah,beautiful! Thank you and Lucy for sharing. I just pre-ordered it and look forward to reading it.

  95. Beth Nesbit says...

    Thank you for sharing this. The strength that emits from your sister’s essay is palpable. I am floored by it. I look forward to reading this book. I found both of his previous essays quite moving and emotional. I hope for love and strength for your sister and their daughter.

  96. So moved! I can’t wait to read it. My heart breaks for Lucy. It also breaks for you, Joanna, as her twin. I have a twin sister and it breaks my heart when anything bad happens to her. Sending love to both of you!

  97. Jenn says...

    I love the excerpt from your sister’s essay. You hardly read or hear about the experience and process of losing someone from the perspective of someone going through it, and I recognized the disorienting feeling she described. I had a father for twenty some odd years, and then I didn’t. When my father died of a sudden heart attack, I was in disbelief for so long even though in my head I knew he had died. I wrote a note and tucked it under his arm because I wanted to tell him things I couldn’t (since the call I received was that he was already dead and there wasn’t any time for goodbyes), but also because I wanted him to have something with him when he was being cremated. I even pretended to almost drop it and made the “oh, oh, oh” sound he would make when he was fumbling to keep something from dropping. I thought he would find it funny, like an inside joke.

    I’m looking forward to reading Paul’s book.

  98. Kristina says...

    Thank you so so much to both of you for sharing so bravely. Sending you love and I’ll be there in spirit on Monday.

  99. Oh wow. Every time, this makes me cry. And so it should…it’s so damn sad, and that is just the truth.

    But thank you so much for sharing the words and beautiful writings of Paul and Lucy, I am buying the book, and I am living life, let’s all truly live our life, it is too precious.

    xo

    Lucy

  100. Lynnea says...

    I read Lucy’s beautiful essay in the NY Times today–I truly hope that when she feels ready that she’ll write more about grief and healing because she captures it in such a moving, real way (without being at all trite or cliche) that I’ve rarely seen. It would extend Paul’s legacy even further and offer insight and healing to so many. Blessings to her and your whole family!

    • Jenn says...

      Yes! I would totally read a book by Lucy, she write so beautifully. The whole family has such a way with words.

  101. Talia says...

    Your sisters eloquent words brought me to tears. Holding all of you in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing this beautiful love story.

  102. I am in awe of your sister. Even after losing six family members in one year, I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your other, and she and her husband both manage to present this as a painful but graceful journey. You can really feel how intelligent and how lovely they are. I hope she finds this tour healing. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  103. Erin LaDue says...

    I look forward to reading Paul’s book. Thank you for sharing him with us all.
    hugs

  104. Wow. Such incredibly powerful sentiments from your sister. I have thankfully not experienced much great loss in my life, but I have been surrounded by close friends recently suffering from the deep and encapsulating grief of losing a loved one or parent. I cannot begin to imagine the grief felt by the loved ones, let along the first hand experience of the one who is moving on. I look forward to reading this story, and am so sorry for your sister, and your families loss.

  105. Birgitte says...

    Tears are flooding from my eyes. My dear mother has uncurable breast cancer and is slowly getting sicker, day by day. She is in pain, but still she is so strong and grounded. I will read this book. Your brother in law and sister seem like the warmest and wisest persons. The photos of them are so filled with love, joy and tenderness. Your sister’s essay is so heartbreaking and beautiful. Loss is so unbearable painful, but still it is a part of life…

  106. I am sorry for your loss. I remember reading Paul’s words in his respective essays and admiring him for his prose, courage and wisdom. Thank you for sharing his work.

  107. Judy says...

    I saw your sister’s piece in the NYT before I read your blog post and I instantly recognized their story. She, too, is a fiercely beautiful writer. I lost my Dad a few months ago and find great comfort in the stories of others. Hug your sister for me.

  108. Hannah Lowe says...

    The excerpt written by your sister made me cry. Poor wee soul. Thanks for sharing. X

  109. Alex says...

    My mom currently has stage 4 lung cancer (with the gene mutation like your brother in law). I’m definitely going to pick up his book, although I can’t imagine reading it will be easy. Thanks for sharing. So sorry for your loss and thinking of you and your family.

  110. Traci says...

    Many thanks to your sister for being so open about this part of her life and to you for providing an avenue for her to share with others.
    Her words broke me, provoked sobs, and made me wish I could squeeze her neck and share some tea with her. I’ll be praying for her.

  111. margaux says...

    just pre-ordered the kindle version. i’m looking forward to reading it, although i know i’m going to need a box of tissues nearby… big hugs to your sister. this is big, brave stuff.

    • margaux says...

      when she’s ready, a great book about marriage and the loss of a spouse is “The Best Day and The Worst Day: Life With Jane Kenyon” by Donald Hall.

  112. Jody says...

    This is beautiful and gripping. I look forward to reading your brother in law’s book, Joanna. Grief is so private and so tender, I am both shocked and wow’d that your sister could put such lovely words to her experience. I have lost big too, and I can feel her emotions mixed with mine as I read her words. Thank you for sharing.

  113. JDH says...

    I am so glad you posted this. My younger brother was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. We still have a journey ahead, but one of my biggest fears is how he will handle his prognosis, especially with his young children in mind. I know I can give him (and other family members) this book when the time is right.

  114. Love these posts about his writing-they always make me cry. Im glad he wrote his memoir. Very sorry for your and your family’s loss. XO XO

  115. Heather says...

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this, I look forward to reading it

  116. Maire says...

    Your sister’s essay was beautiful. She is an incredible human. Looking forward to reading Paul’s book and sharing it with the families I work with who are dealing with the deaths of loved ones.

  117. Your words (and your sister’s) alone are life-giving, moving. To imagine the beauty that Paul’s memoir will bring to the world makes my heart swell. My mother passed away when I was six years old and, I’ll tell you, there’s is nothing to inspire a love of living like experiencing its loss. I take no single day for granted, even decades later. This book will accompany me on my first solo getaway in ten years; to a place I’ve never been at the beginning of a new stage in my life. I look forward to feeling the the wealth of joy from the depth of emotion I will surely feel. Sending waves of love and peace to your sister, their sweet baby, and your entire family.

  118. rachel says...

    Read a lovely interview with your sister in BookPage — can’t imagine her loss. xoxo

  119. Lauren Maxwell says...

    You must be so proud of your sister. The beauty in your family, and in Lucy and Paul’s relationship, has always been evident. I’m reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking at the moment, and the general sentiment, though extended in its length and detail, is not unlike Lucy’s. They – Joan and Lucy – express meaningful, earnest love in a way that somehow resonates more deeply with me than other accounts. I appreciate that they allow us to glimpse the beauty of such partnerships through their personal experiences. Thank you for sharing.

    • Tyler says...

      I recently read Joan Didion’s book as well and it is an amazing mediation on grief. Can’t wait to read Paul’s book.

  120. I was so moved by Paul’s essays and think of him, your sister and your niece often. The memoir isn’t available here in Sweden yet, but I’ve pre-ordered it and look forward to reading it! Love to all of you.

  121. I just ordered it from Amazon, I was just thinking about Lucy the other day. Is that weird? I hope everyone is doing as well as can expected.
    I’m going to be sending this book to everyone this year.
    I can’t wait to read Paul’s book. Lucy’s words… My goodness, are so loving and heartbreaking.

  122. Both your sister and bro-in-law have displayed such strength which absolutely broke my heart too. x

  123. Emily says...

    Your sister’s words brought me to tears — what a wonderful and beautiful spirit she has.

  124. Ella Campbell says...

    This is the link to the book to order if you live outside the states, such as the UK x

  125. Ella Campbell says...

    Thank you for sharing this, I often wonder how you find “sharing” whether you find it difficult or easy, your sisters words are beautiful, I am looking forward to hearing Paul’s story when the book comes out X

  126. Joanna,
    I’ve read your blog now since I was an awkward high schooler, and now a few years post-college I still look forward to it every day! I’ve followed your posts about your sister and her husband, and have so appreciated the candor and honesty. Thank you for letting us know about the book – just preordered on Amazon! Really looking forward to reading. xoxo from New Orleans,

    Tess

  127. niamhroisin says...

    I really do have tears in my eyes reading this, and have thought often of your sister, her husband and their daughter, even though they are strangers, and many thousands of miles away. I think that sometimes a story is so strong, and so human, that it cannot fail to touch the hearts of all that hear it. Looking forward to reading his memoir. How brave of your sister to read his book and share his words. My thoughts are with you all. Niamh from Ireland

  128. Ashley says...

    Ooh I don’t think I can read the rest of her essay–I’m sitting at the DMV with tears streaming down my face. Paul was not the only brave one. How terrible love can be sometimes, and yet, I wouldn’t trade it at all.

  129. I just placed an order for the book. Hugs to you and your family! I lost one of my dearest friends to leukemia this year, 31 and left a four year old son and wife behind. I’m looking forward to reading this book and thinking about what’s most important.

  130. Diana says...

    Just pre-ordered! I’m nervous to read it because I am a new mom and emotional already, but I know it will be worth it. Love to you and your family.

  131. alexandra says...

    Joanna,

    I can’t tell you how moved I am after reading this. My fiance’s father passed away from lung cancer just two years ago. Your sister is so strong, and I think it’s truly amazing that she’s doing a book tour about this experience. She’s keeping his spirit alive by sharing his story, and I think it’s really beautiful and brave. Warmest wishes to Lucy and all of your family. (And always, thank you for sharing, as a reader for 5+ years, I fall more in love with your blog after every post.)

  132. Thank you for sharing this book and story again. It is heartbreaking and brings tears to my eyes each time you write about it but it is important, Paul and Lucy sound like incredible humans. I will be looking to add his memoir to my reading list. – Charlie

  133. wow, looks like a heart-wrenching but beautiful read. can’t wait to pick it up.

    -kim
    midnight snark

  134. JeanneW says...

    My eyes have tears as I read this post. I grieve for the loss of your family and Lucy, and indeed, the loss of what he had to offer for this world. Such an amazing mind and gift. Life is so unfair. Please tell Lucy thank you for sharing her thoughts. We often keep these vulnerable feelings closed inside for fear of spilling out our soul. It’s just too painful. But I now have a better idea of the hurt one goes through in losing a spouse. I look forward to reading Paul’s words. All my love.

  135. Myra says...

    Your sister’s words are heartbreakingly beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing them. <3

  136. Anna says...

    I have to tell you that I read “Before I Go” to my college freshman writing course every semester. We read it on the first day to introduce my students to someone using writing so beautifully to communicate something so important at a critical time in his life. I love the article. My students always love the article. It is beautiful, sad, hopeful, inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I think of your sister and the great man she was married to often.

  137. While glad isn’t the right word, I’m glad to have found your blog years ago and to be part of this blog family you’ve created. I’m sure I’m one of many who reads daily. Thank you for letting all of us in and sharing these incredibly person experiences. Your brother-in-law sounded like a remarkable human being. I look forward to reading his memoir.

  138. Chloe says...

    Just read your sister’s beautiful editorial in the NY Times. I can’t imagine how difficult he past year must have been for you and your family, but wanted to say thank you for inviting me into your life with your blog and deeply personal posts.

  139. Lana says...

    Part of me wants to read this, and another part (the part that hates to admit that something this tragic can happen), the part that knows how hard it will make me cry, the part that likes to pretend everyone gets to live to be 100 and everything is always fair, the part that acts like all parents get to see their kids grow up) doesn’t want to.
    Lucy and your sweet niece have often found their way into my thoughts when I look at my little family. I don’t really even know what else to say other than I hope she’s coping, surviving, laughing and learning to live again.

  140. Jenna says...

    My dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a year ago. We will have him here, but don’t know how much time we have left. Looking forward to reading this.

  141. This is absolutely beautiful- your whole family has such a way with words. I will be picking up this book as soon as possible and am sending comforting thoughts out to you all today.

  142. Your sister’s quote sucked the breath out of me. I am sorry for your loss and the loss of a clearly amazing young man. Peace.

  143. Erica says...

    I’m so moved and really grateful to you and to Lucy for sharing the glimpses of Paul that you have. I’ll be reading the book, when it’s available. XO

  144. Amy L says...

    I just read this post at work and nearly lost all composure at my desk. Lucy’s words are so beautiful and heartbreaking, I can hardly stand to read them as a parent, a wife, just trying to imagine what that is like to go through. Thank you for sharing this, I am eager to read his book. (Can I also mention how lovely it is that Cheryl Strayed has read it! A personal hero of mine.)

  145. Sarah says...

    The excerpt of her essay has me in tears at my desk…

    thank you for sharing this today

  146. Pooja says...

    Two of my friends have become widows this year (I’m 37). I’d love to hear from you/your sister how best we can support them as life goes on.

    • Jen says...

      Yes.

    • Molly says...

      She linked to a post written by her sister on that topic.

  147. Lana says...

    Your sister’s words broke my heart. So wholly touching and sorrowful. In that moment I felt like I could understand her pain. I’m in absolute tears on my couch.

  148. Megan says...

    I think of Paul and your family often, Joanna. Your sister’s essay is so steeped in love and sorrow — it’s heartbreaking and beautiful. Continuing to hold you all in warm thought, and will absolutely pick up Paul’s book next week. Thank you for sharing.