Relationships

An Update on My Twin Sister

Lucy Kalanithi

This past summer, my twin sister Lucy called to say she had something important to tell me…

You may remember her story — In 2013, her 36-year-old husband Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer. After the shocking news, he struggled with how best to spend his remaining time, however long that might be: Should he continue his job as a neurosurgeon, write a book, or try for a baby? In the end, he did all three.

Less than two years later — on March 9, 2015, just shy of his 38th birthday — Paul died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, including Lucy, his parents and his brothers. His bestselling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, was published posthumously and dedicated to their daughter Cady.

Lucy, Cady and Paul Kalanithi

Lucy, Cady and Paul

My sister Lucy was devastated, to say the least. After a year of deep grief, she still dreaded returning to an empty house. To try to help (how does one help?), we gave her apartment a new look, so she could try for a fresh start with her daughter. “I’m not itching to get out like I was before,” she told me afterward. “I feel like a fresh, cool lady in my house.” Of course, Paul’s photos and books (including his tattered neurosurgery textbook) remained happily at home. He was still there and always will be. “Paul is in the air,” she said. “He’s in the mix.”

So, this past summer, on the phone, Lucy was nervous but excited to tell me her news: “I’ve met someone,” she said. “His name is John.”

John’s wife — a poet named Nina Riggs — had also died of cancer, Lucy told me, and she had also written a memoir during her final days. Lucy had been in touch with Nina and even wrote a blurb for her book; and when Nina died, John reached out to Lucy for advice on how to grieve, sleep through the night, and, as he said, “not go insane.”

That week, I found a copy of The Bright Hour and devoured it — at first to see what John was all about, but soon to fall head over heels for Nina and her take on motherhood, family, books, love and loss. Certain lines took my breath away, including this part about her two sons: “Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right with in all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.”

John Duberstein and Nina Riggs

John and Nina

Over the summer and fall, Lucy and John’s connection deepened — they took trips to visit each other (Lucy and her daughter live near San Francisco; John and his boys are in North Carolina); their children and families met; and they spent a gazillion hours on FaceTime.

When Lucy and John visited Brooklyn this fall, Alex and I immediately approved of the 6-foot-2 defense attorney with an easy smile. “You look cozy,” Toby said the first evening, as he sat next to John. “You just look so comfortable.” And then he climbed right into his lap.

When I asked Lucy what she liked about John, she insisted that making a list was impossible. But I’m her twin sister (and two minutes older), so I forced her to. “Okay, he makes dad jokes. He’s literary. His arms are ridiculous. He’s emotionally astute. And he makes amazing scrambled eggs. Really, Cady and I are both in it for the scrambled eggs.”

After spending last week with the twosome (and our extended families) in San Francisco for the holidays, I saw again how much they just like each other; how they chat so easily; how they repeat funny things the kids say (like when John’s 10-year-old son requested that all the younger cousins call him “Uncle Freddy”).

When I asked John the same question, he rattled things off: “I like her glasses. And she’s beautiful, I’m overwhelmed by her. Even when we were first emailing, we already had inside jokes.” The only catch? “She hasn’t seen any movies,” he laughed. “The only one she likes is So I Married an Ax Murderer. Every movie I mention, she’s like, ‘Don’t even make the reference, I haven’t seen it.’ I have a million I want to share with her.”

And yet Paul and Nina are still right there — as Lucy would say, in the mix. Favorite photos are hung around the house (Cady’s bedside table is covered in snapshots of her doting father), and their names come up in conversation all the time.

“If your child or sister died, that person would be your family member forever,” Lucy told me. “That person is a huge piece of who you are. This dynamic feels the same. Nina was John’s wife and his children’s mother; she’s part of him. Paul was my husband and Cady’s father. It feels good and natural to talk about them.”

After all, discussing the loss of their spouses is how their relationship began. “Talking about your person is such a strong urge. You want to keep them present for yourself and your kids,” says John. “Lucy and I would both undo these dual tragedies in a heartbeat (meaning we’d likely have never met, let alone be together now); but I have to say how incredibly grateful I am that we found each other.”

Of course, as Lucy’s sister, I initially worried about these strong emotions getting mixed up. But, as I’ve now witnessed, you can fall in love with someone and grieve someone else at the same time. “I would never have known that that was true until I experienced it,” says John. “It’s such a mix of tragedy and joy; it’s both.”

As for the kids — John’s sons, Freddy (10) and Benny (8); and Lucy’s daughter Cady (3) — they get along well, other than to-be-expected-and-actually-kind-of-sweet sibling spats now and again. Over the holidays, the cousins, including Toby and Anton, ran around the backyard, splashed in the hot tub and watched old episodes of Full House.

And kids have a sixth sense. One morning, Cady turned to Lucy in the kitchen and gave her approval of their families joining: “Mommy,” she said, “I make Freddy and Benny three.”

Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein

Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein

Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein

Thank you so much, as always, for following this story, and for your kind thoughts and words throughout. It has meant so much to our family over these difficult years. The Washington Post wrote a wonderful article today, as well, if you’d like to read more. xoxo

P.S. An essay by John after Nina’s death, and Lucy’s advice on how to write a condolence note.

(Top photo of Lucy by Elizabeth Weinberg for Elle. All other photos courtesy of Lucy and John.)

  1. Nicole says...

    How lovely (and refreshing) to see how Lucy’s and John’s stories have beautifully collided and evolved into one. Loss and grief came a little too close to our family this past year, when my sister was taken away right before a massive hurricane hit our home. It has indeed been some of the darkest days I’ve experienced, but I’ve also witnessed the tremendous love and admiration my parents have for one another. It has also brought me closer to my spouse, in a way I could’ve never imagined. And while it’s still all so raw within our hearts, the brilliant part of it all is, she taught us how to love and give without expecting anything in return, she showed us how to live with grace.
    After months of having Mr. Kalanithi’s memoir next to our nightstand, and not feeling quite ready to re-experience such emotions, I find myself in a good place where I can get lost within those pages that once seemed too close to my own personal grief.

  2. Lauren says...

    Jo, you and your sister are living such extraordinary lives. I hope you know that.

    I am so happy to hear that Lucy is doing so well. When Breath Becomes Air has stayed with me since the day I read it.

  3. Jade says...

    So happy to read this! Coincidentally both books are in my home at the moment – I recently borrowed The Bright Hour from the library, and re-borrowed Paul’s memoir (which I read a few years ago), given so many reviews of Nina’s book mention Paul’s. What a lovely next chapter for Lucy and John to find love again, together. Thank you for sharing this update Jo.

  4. coral sayer says...

    how wonderful and bittersweet and kind of magical.

  5. Maria in Maine says...

    So beautiful…thank you

  6. Melissa Frew says...

    I love this so much. My heart is swelling for their shared love and tragedy. How wonderful is this world, really?

  7. sasha says...

    “Every new beginning comes from some other new beginning’s end.”
    Smiling through tears all through this story. So happy for these lovely people. Here’s to new beginnings and hope.

  8. Heather says...

    This made me all kinds of weepy: as a mother, as a wife, but most of all, as a sister. ❤️❤️

  9. Megan says...

    this is truly incredible! tears started rolling as soon as i read “I cannot let go of mothering them.” this story completely moved me! thank you to you and your sister for sharing such a beautiful, personal story. this blog continues to be my haven for feel-good content. even grief pieces like this one seem to lift me up! xx

  10. Cen Ong says...

    This is such a beautiful post. Makes the world feel warm and fuzzy all over again.

  11. Helena says...

    So happy that Lucy and John found each other. They understand each other’s grief and ongoing pain…the pain dulls over time but never leaves you, they both know this and it will make it easier for each of them and their children as they move through life. Wishing them much love and laughter ❤️

  12. Elenor says...

    I must say that I saw this coming. I think you posted about Nina’s husband in the past (maybe around book tours), and I remember thinking his bio seemed worldly and kind and interesting and just the type of person I could see your sister connecting with given their shared experience. So happy to hear this news!

  13. Nicole says...

    Thank you to you and your sister for sharing this beautiful, life-affirming (despite profound loss) story. While I do not believe that most things in life happen “for a reason,” especially in terms of losing loved ones, it is hard to not imagine Paul and Nina pulling strings somewhere above.

    Wishing them continued happiness together and hopefully more good days than bad days.

  14. Neha says...

    Lucy Lionheart ?

  15. Libby says...

    Bless you all for sharing your wonderfully happy news with us! What a lovely (and much-needed) ray of sunshine ??

  16. that is beautiful.

  17. Ana says...

    Im so glad your sister found some kind of comfort and peace. I wish her all the best!

  18. Oh, Joanna and Lucy! I am so grateful you shared this personal story with all of us. I have been a devoted reader for years and was so devastated when Paul had passed away. Lucy and Cady continued to remain in my thoughts. I only recently finished Nina Riggs’ beautiful book and have often thought of John, the boys, and Nina’s father. You can imagine my surprise and utter joy to read this incredible and serendipitous turn of events. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this. You all will remain in my thoughts and you are deeply embedded in my heart. Love to you all. Fondly, Lindsay

  19. elizabeth says...

    WOW! I LOVED both books and I am teary reading this news. Your blog feels like such a village to me and I read your brother-in-law’s book, followed your sister’s home update, and have enjoyed seeing instagram pics of yor sister and niece. What an amazing thing – I am so happy for your sis, Cady, and your family, too (including that Toby feels that Johsn is so cozy and comfortable – haha)! Going to read the Washington Post article now.

  20. Lena says...

    There’s hope! I read Paul’s book a year ago and was so inspired by their story. What a beautiful update!

  21. Georgia says...

    So happy for Lucy. I never shared this on the blog, Jo, but some book club friends and I actually saw Lucy speak in New York City last year. Afterwards we spotted her at the same restaurant we were at and wanted to tell her how much we liked her talk – but we didn’t want to be a bother. Instead we bought her and her friend an appetizer! We all had a good laugh when they realized it was a group of physician bookworms and not some guy at the bar and she was absolutely lovely. Please wish her all the best from the reading rainbros :))

  22. Emily says...

    Always bringing tears to my eyes. Happy ones, longing ones. So happy you were all able to come together as a family this holiday. May we all be surrounded by love! xx

  23. vanessa says...

    Oh my! That makes me so happy. I actually discovered cupofjo when I was googling Lucy to hear more of her interviews about Paul’s book. And I’m reading The Bright Hour right now. What remarkable experiences they have had and I’m so happy to hear that they are finding some happiness even in their grief. Thank you for sharing the update and for all the helpful, comforting, encouraging posts!

  24. Melissa says...

    Incredible. Love this love story

  25. “Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right with in all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.” This resonated so much with me. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago and I didn’t yet know my prognosis, I would shake with fear at the idea of not being around for my son. Even thinking about it now makes me feel ill. I’m doing well, NED (no evidence of disease) but my biggest fear is the cancer coming back and taking me away from him. I think about it every day. Every day for more than three years. It’s a lot.

    Anyway, it’s a wonderful quote that hit home. I will look into Nina’s book.

    Thank you for sharing!

    -Carrie

    • sasha says...

      Cheering for a continuing good prognosis for you!

  26. Jac says...

    I think about Lucy all the time! I am very happy to read this story. ♥️

  27. Isabela says...

    What an amazing post! I cried over it a lot!

  28. Rachel says...

    When I read this post it made me feel so so happy and warm inside. I am so glad that these two have found each other in the wake of their tragedies. Thank you for keeping us updated and for letting us into this part of your family’s story.

  29. Dana says...

    I am so very happy for Lucy and John, over and over and over again!

  30. Sam says...

    I have felt pretty anxious about death for a while, now. Weird, because I grew up knowing it is as much part of life as anything else. But ppd/anxiety does that, doesn’t it? Completely shake you up. It felt like death was everywhere, lately. Friends’ parents passing, news, movies, even articles about the economy would invariably leave me wondering “what if my family is next? My parents are getting old.. my grandma? My sisters? My husband? Me? God, my kids?” The scenarios I would come up with left me feeling like a zombie, even as I went out for walks and played with my babies. It had been getting really bad, dangerously close to the point where fear was having too much of a say in my daily life, limiting what we did or didn’t do. I don’t know, I just couldn’t quite shake it off.
    Then I read this. Thank you, with my whole heart, THANK YOU for sharing. Because I desperately needed to remember that, while grief does suck and stays with you forever, love stays as well. It had been months since I felt at peace. Since I was able to think about preschools and swimming classes, and a new job, without that dark goo in my head going “but what if something happens there and then?”
    Hopefully, it is uphill from here on. Feels weird to send hugs to Lucy, but I will def send her a nod and a smile. I am really, really happy for her and her daughter!

    • dana says...

      I often feel paralyzed with this fear too, especially when thinking about my parents, who seem to have gotten old all of a sudden. Or when thinking about my dog, who has been such a blessing and a joy in my life, but is starting to get older too. Sometimes I worry that I won’t be strong enough to deal with the inevitable loss of them not being around forever– and it really shakes me up inside. Your words made me feel a little better, like I’m not totally alone in worrying about this. I feel like I need to try to remember this: “while grief does suck and stays with you forever, love stays as well.” Anyway, thanks. ;)

    • Sam says...

      Oh, Dana, thank you. I will be right there with you, wondering if our strength will be enough when the time comes. Here’s hoping it will be.

    • Colin says...

      This might be off topic from the heartwarming story this thread is dedicated to, but your story resonated with me and my history of anxiety. I for many years struggled with something that you may have Sam, called Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs, a type of anxiety where you are overwhelmed with dark thoughts about all the bad things that can happen to you, and those you care about. ANTs left me scared to leave my home for a days at a time because I was sure something terrible would occur. It sounds like these thoughts have similarly impacted your day to day life. A combination of therapy and medication has almost completely removed these obsessive thoughts from my mind. I would strongly encourage you to seek out therapy, because treatment is possible. If therapy is not an option there are various worksheets, activities and advice to be found online if you search for Automatic Negative Thoughts. I hope that this helped you in some way.

  31. sonja says...

    i’m so happy to read this news! I bought both books together on the same day and read both one after the other. I don’t own many books anymore (space!) but these two are next to one another on what little shelf space I do have. wishing them all well in this new year :) <3

  32. This is an amazing, beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  33. Melissa says...

    When I saw the title of this post, I had to read it immediately (ok, in truth I read most of your posts immediately)! I remember Lucy’s situation dearly and hoped for positive news. This is so so beautiful. The quote from Nina’s book already had me at tears. Incredibly happy for Lucy and John, talk about light at the end of a dark tunnel <3

  34. miriam says...

    IM SO EXCITED FOR THIS and Happy… what a great story…

  35. Ashley says...

    They deserve every bit of happiness they can find-that’s awesome!

  36. Lidia says...

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful news to start 2018! I’m feeling all the feelings right now, but in the best way! It’s incredible how resilient the heart is! I’m beyond happy for your sister and wish her and John all the best!

  37. Messy cried through this. So happy for your beautiful sister and thank you for sharing xxx

  38. chika says...

    I am crying as I read this– I’m in the middle of reading Nina’s memoir (which I’m loving), and I’ve already read Paul’s eloquent and beautiful book, so I feel like I’m getting sort of a “happy ending” (if you can call it that) that I didn’t think I’d get after finishing both. I couldn’t be happier to know that your sister has found love again, and for John to find Lucy after losing Nina….my heart swells seeing them together. LOVE, LOVE this!! THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!

  39. I just read the Post article today and was thinking that’s your sister! I am so happy for them!

  40. bisbee says...

    I was so happy to read this. I had already known, since I follow Joyce Maynard on Facebook. She did a talk with Lucy about their books…Joyce lost her husband to cancer as well. Lucy told her the story, and Joyce recounted it in a Facebook post. I was so pleased…I haven’t read Nina’s book, but I did read her Modern Love column in the New York Times, and I read Paul’s book and Joyce’s. It seems to be Kismet…

  41. Megan says...

    I’ve ready Cup of Jo every day for years and haven’t commented but I just had to for this post. I cry every. single. time I read this line from Paul’s book, “That message is simple: 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.” It’s one of the most beautiful string of words I’ve ever read or heard. I’m so happy for Lucy <3

    • Carrie says...

      This is my favorite passage too.

  42. Libby says...

    I so love love love to hear about this happiness. Makes me tear up reading and thinking about it.

  43. Cecília says...

    So happy for you all!
    Xxx

  44. I am so happy for your sister and niece, as well as for her beau and his children. To experience love again, after such losses at a young age, is truly wonderful. Mazel tov to the new blending of families into something greater then its parts.

  45. Elaine says...

    Love this! I have been following for so long and it’s so good to hear that Lucy has found happiness.

  46. Wow!!! What abeautiful happy ending! 8 years ago I was going through a “Conscious Uncoupling” with my first husband when I met a friend of a friend, a widower, who lost his first wife two years before. It was very hard at the beggining, her name came up in most conversations but slowly I understood that she was always going to be there, as my first husband was too (we have a daugther together). So we both embraced our previous families and now we are one big happy family. So the lesson I learned is, LOVE ALWAYS WINS ! What a very happy start of the year for them (and your readers!) Lots of love from London xx

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so wonderful, kiki. thank you for sharing your insight xoxoxo

  47. Wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing this beauty with us, Joanna. One of my favorite quotes about grief is from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” where he wrote “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being…the more joy you can contain.” Lucy, Paul, John, and Nina exemplify the beautiful side of grief.

    xo.

    • Madie says...

      Wow, that quote is perfect, it absolutely resonates. Thank you for sharing!

  48. M says...

    I am so moved and so overjoyed by Lucy and John’s story. Other commenters have put it so much better than I could, but I just wanted to say thank you to them both and to you, Jo, for sharing their story, and to pass on my very best wishes to all of your extended and blended family.

  49. Rani says...

    Thank you so much for sharing. I read the washington post article yesterday and was covered with goosebumps. This story brings light to a dark part of my heart that is terrified of people dying before their time. We are still grieving the loss of a beloved family member who like Paul was a brilliant doctor, funny, and much too young to go. How incredibly inspiring to know that love can bloom out of such intense tragedy. My eyes are filled with happy tears.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so sorry about your loss, rani. he sounds like a wonderful person.

  50. This is the best love story!! I’ve followed since you first announced Paul’s passing (and loved his book so much). I am grinning like a loon at how wonderfully perfect and real this is. Yay for love! Yay for Lucy and John!

  51. Wow, this blew me away — I burst into tears about halfway through the post. Thank you so much to you, Lucy, and John for sharing this happy turn of events. I’m speechless! So much love to you all.

  52. Christina says...

    I had to pinch myself from crying as I read this and the WaPost article! When Breath Becomes Air was a heartbreaking, beautiful, and gracious book, and there are certain lines/parts from it that still haunt me, a year after reading it. My heart is full of love and happiness for Lucy and Cady.

    • Haylee says...

      Agreed! Reading this gave me SO much joy. What a lovely union. Absolutely thrilled for Lucy!

  53. Meg says...

    What a beautiful story to come from such heartbreak. They are truly blessed and meant to be. I’m certain their respective spouses are beaming down on them and their story can provide hope for those suffering similar loss. Thanks for the update. I went to bed smiling last night after reading it.

  54. What beautiful news. I’m blown away by the happiness your sister and John are finding in the midst of such tragedy. And I’m equally stunned at how invested I am in her story–you’ve done such a wonderful job letting us into your family’s lives over the years, while (at least to my outsider’s eyes) balancing a measure of privacy. Thank you for this update.

  55. Jill says...

    Thank you so much for sharing, I am so happy for your sister!

  56. Moo says...

    Very much moved by this and so happy to see them happy. It’s hard to see beyond the grief but when you allow it to happen naturally, wonderful things may be waiting. Best wishes to everyone. <3

  57. What lovely, lovely news! When Breath Becomes Air was incredible, so very much looking forward to reading Bright Hour when the library hold is up!

  58. Kato says...

    This is wonderful! I’m so happy for Lucy and John. Love the part about how a lost spouse, like a deceased relative, (or basically any lost loved one) will always stay part of your life. What a wonderful combined family they are building!

  59. Emily says...

    Tried to comment last night but it wasn’t working so here I am again having read the post 3 times! I read the WaPo piece too and both gave me the shivers. If you don’t believe in somehow things working out SOMEDAY, you need to read their story. I am so happy for Lucy and John and their families. Thanks for sharing !

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, so sorry, our comments weren’t working last night! thank you so much for your incredibly sweet note xoxo

  60. Sharon says...

    Totally cried. So happy for you Lucy and John!

  61. Nancy Bishop says...

    Once again you have written with magnificent clarity and wisdom, telling us just enough about your sister to make up hopeful and feel like we are dear friends. As a grandmother, mom, exterior designer and blog devourer, there is no better place for me to land than on cupofjo. You have once again made my day!

  62. Ruena says...

    This warms my heart so much!

  63. Chelsea says...

    I loved reading this wonderful news! Twelve years ago my fiancé died 3 months before our wedding. Just short of a year later I began dating an old college friend who is now my husband. He came back into my life after I had lost my fiancé and I was in the middle of such intense grief. I often tell people the most amazing thing about my husband was that he did not try to be a knight in shining armor whisking me away from my pit of grief, but instead he crawled down into the pit with me. He mourned with me and listened to me no matter how extreme my emotions became. In the midst of my brokenness we fell in love, and looking back now that was such a clear indication of the type of spouse he would be; ready to listen, support, and love even in the darkest times. I still think about my fiancé and at times I will cry and my husband is so patient and loving still. We’ve now been married over 10 years and have 3 incredible children. I am so glad to hear your sister has found love again. It is truly a gift.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my goodness, chelsea. what a story.

      “I often tell people the most amazing thing about my husband was that he did not try to be a knight in shining armor whisking me away from my pit of grief, but instead he crawled down into the pit with me.”

      crawled down into the pit with me…. what staggering words. you sound like an incredible couple. xoxoxo

    • sasha says...

      Thank you for sharing your beautiful story Chelsea, crying again!! I’m so glad you found happiness. Your husband truly sounds like a wonderful human.

  64. Leanne says...

    What a beautiful story. I was only wondering about Lucy and how she was doing a few days ago and am sooo happy to hear this lovely news. No doubt Paul would be very happy for her also. Life can be so full of surprises….

  65. Bex says...

    Thank you for sharing this, Joanna. So so happy for your sister and niece. They have been through so much.

  66. Alison D. says...

    I gasped and called my sister when I saw the Washington Post article. As a long time follower and reader of When Breath Becomes Air, it felt overwhelming and joyous to read your sister’s good news.

  67. Sylvie says...

    Wonderful, in every sense of the word!

  68. Morgan says...

    Thank you for sharing. Finding hope and seeing their smiles amidst their grief is inspiring.

  69. This gives me all the feels. I read Paul’s book, which was almost too beautiful to believe, but I can’t bring myself to read Nina’s, for fear that I’ll never stop crying or hugging my kids. So much love to your sister and John, though, may they grow old together.

    • sasha says...

      Please do read it! One if the very best books I’ve ever read. So funny and irreverent and poetic, and yes, heart breaking. But I feel like I’m more human for having read. It could have been just sad. But so so much more.

  70. Joyce says...

    I am bawling both happy and sad tears reading this. Thank you so much for sharing with us all! I have a copy of Nina’s book that I immediately purchased months ago, after reading John’s essay, but I haven’t read it yet because I’m pregnant and thought I might be too hormonal and emotional to get through it. I can’t wait to read it now and I’m sure I will be thinking of Lucy and John’s bittersweet circumstances the entire time. Sending lots of love and light to you all!

  71. Susan says...

    I am sitting in the Duke Cancer Center now awaiting my breast cancer radiation session and scaring my fellow patients with loud, excited squeeks of joy over this post. I just finished reading Nina Rigg’s beautiful book (which I picked up on your recommendation). It felt painfully familiar since I am walking the same halls where she received treatment. I am lucky I was diagnosed early and will fully recover. Reading your post made me so teary. Thank you for sharing their story. I truly feel like I just received happy news about dear friends. I’ve enjoyed your blog since before you were married. I am about ten years older than you and started reading Cup of Jo because I missed NYC where I once lived. Your boys remind me of my now taller-than-me teenage sons (right down to their sartorial flair).

    • Susan says...

      *squeaks

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      susan, i’m standing with you in my thoughts today! thank you so much for your wonderful note. xoxo

    • sasha says...

      Best wishes for wellness Susan, cheering for you.

  72. Maria says...

    This is beautiful. I’m wishing them all the best. And thank you, Joanna & the whole Cup of Jo team, for being a steady source of humanity and hope, that we all need so much right now.

  73. I’m so happy for Lucy and John! Their story is comforting reminder that happiness in another person can be found again, after losing a spouse. What is often a very personal grief process is being shared between two people and their children. I can imagine it’s probably painful at times, but I love that there is so much laughter and fun! Those are the two best things about life when shared with other people. Thanks for sharing this update! I read Paul’s book shortly after learning about it here and deeply cried through the second half of the book. I look forward to reading Nina’s memoir.
    x Tali
    http://www.stylecheese.com

  74. Melanie says...

    I bought Paul’s book and still can’t bring myself to read it. Your posts about them still make me weepy.

    I’m genuinely happy for your sister. I don’t know that I would have even an ounce of her strength.

  75. Ana says...

    Life can really be beautiful…

  76. Emily says...

    Wow…I just happened to read the Washington Post story earlier today and then went to read you blog. I had no idea that Lucy is your sister! It’s a small (literary) world. Thanks for writing this beautiful and honest post. All the best to Lucy and John and their children.

  77. Tracy says...

    I’m halfway through The Bright Hour – what fun, unexpected news to read about today. I’m so happy your sister has found happiness and wish them the best.

    I lost my dad a couple of months ago and have been reading so much about grief recently – this blog has been a great resource. Thank you for creating such a wonderful space (and family of friends) online.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, tracy, i’m so sorry about the loss of your dad. what was his name? i’m sure you brought him so much joy throughout his life. you must miss him so much.

  78. Laurel says...

    Wow, I’m blown away. This is so touching. Everything about this is so lovely and so deeply personal. I’ve never met any of you but read Paul’s book and a bit of Nina’s writing (as did my MIL and SIL) and like many other readers have followed COJ for years…..to Lucy and John: if I saw you in the street (which will probs never happen, I’m in Australia) I would probably hug both of you and wish you every happiness. So for what it’s worth, I give you my seal of approval as well (you can breathe a sigh of relief, I know). And even though I never knew Paul and Nina, I know being married for 10 years that if I passed, I’d want my sweet husband to be loved again, to be happy.

  79. A pang in my heart. Thank you for sharing. What a beautiful turn of events for your sister, Lucy. Wishing her so much love in 2018.

  80. Becky says...

    I remember when this book came out! I didn’t realize that this was your family. It’s on the reading list for January for sure!
    It’s been along time since I heard the details of this story but I have a friend different/ similar situation. She met her husband because she moved out to Cali to support her mom after her dad passed. She said she would only be gone for 6 months. During that time she met her husband, who had moved to be with his sister after her husband died. Amazing!!! Love these kinds of stories!

  81. Rosalinda says...

    Thank you for sharing this gladness with us. And the sadness. I’ve read Paul’s book twice and plan on re-re-reading it again this month – it’s powerful, poetic and a reminder to make moments count.

  82. Janine says...

    You had another post about John and his family. What a small world! This seems like a great thing for everyone involved. Kudos for your sister navigating such a challenge and deep loss

    • ellen says...

      I’ve wondered about the kids since reading The Bright Hour. I’m going to keep Uncle Freddy and Cady’s Three in my heart. What beautiful resilience.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      aww, ellen, what a sweet thing to say.

      PS “uncle freddy” still makes me laugh. funny how a 10-year-old can seem utterly ancient to the younger kids! :)

  83. Lee says...

    Love’s nimble fingers can grip you at the most improbable of times and in the most unexpected places. Here’s to letting it all happen.

  84. Hannah says...

    I’m so so so happy for them!!!

  85. Brooke says...

    Beautiful. Thank you to all for sharing.

  86. My heart and eyes have just exploded. I first read When Breath Becomes Air, and then The Brightest Hour and I truly loved them both. My head is exploding, maybe more like relieved actually, to think both those tender witnesses in the books are now sharing the what comes next together.

    • Lucy Kalanithi says...

      omg “tender witnesses” made me burst into tears. thank you. xoxoxo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such beautiful words, adrienne.

  87. This is such a great story in the midst of awful loss for both of these wonderful people.
    Hoping for their continued happiness.
    Now I will have to look up both of their books from Paul & Nina. That small excerpt from Nina’s book you put on here definitely took my breath away.
    Please keep sharing if possible on how they are doing in the future.

  88. Megan Crowley says...

    With my heart in my throat, and tears in my eyes, at the same time, I could not stop beaming when I read this post. Thank you so much for sharing. The world needs so much love right now. Hooray for your sister and for all the families involved. And, thank you.

    • Emily says...

      Megan, such lovely words — I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Jo, thanks for letting us all into your inner circle. I am crying happy tears for your beautiful family. All the best, always. xx

  89. Megan Lec says...

    This post made me weep. That quote on letting go of mothering, it breaks my heart. Thank you Lucy for inviting us all into a piece of your heart. Nina and Paul are certainly smiling down watching the people they love so much love again.

  90. Cliou says...

    I’ve read both books (When Breathe Becomes Air and The Bright Hour), and I shed tears and mourned for both authors. Reading this now … it sends shivers down my spine. I’m happy for your sister.

  91. Heather says...

    Oh thank goodness! I’m so happy. There is a great quote — “The cavity carved into the soul by pain will one day become the recepticle of joy.” I think that where life is the most tragic it is often the most magical as well.

  92. As I wrote to someone after reading the Post piece, this is life in all it’s tragic, quirky and sweet ways. I feel genuine happiness for both of them (and your whole family) that they found one another. That next to their grief they can lay the foundations of love. Good luck to them and everyone around them. I’m sure that fate and kindness has granted them this next chapter for a reason, if not only to let them both be deeply happy.

  93. Joyce says...

    So happy for your brave and beautiful sister. Thanks for sharing this story.

  94. Rue says...

    Weeping at my desk. The list each one made about the other, ugh.

  95. Suma Pandhi says...

    In their own very private pain, they have also found the joy in and of each other. Paul and Nina made the stars align and they have so deeply found each other, and children who will forever appreciate this new happiness and people in their lives. I hope they will continue to grow and deepen their love as this new chapter in their lives begins. So. Very. happy for your sister. And you! Because there’s nothing like a sister’s love and the unending desire to protect and love her for always.

  96. Beautiful post and such wonderful news for your sister. It’s amazing how life always seems to fall into place. Wishing Lucy continued happiness!

  97. Ingrid says...

    Please thank Lucy for letting you share. We really do care about her. That John and Lucy have each found someone who knows what they went through is a miracle. I think the books were written to achieve it, as well as help us all understand life, and its end, better. Wishes for happiness and love to the whole family.

  98. Egle says...

    I am so happy for your sister! I have finished the book over Christmas and even though i knew your sister’s husband has passed away, but i couldn’t stop crying. She is such a strong lady and deserves to be happy again and Paul I am sure is smiling looking down at her and seeing her smiling again. Such great news :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      paul is deeply missed and always will be. thank you so much for your note, egle. xoxo

  99. Elspeth says...

    This post makes me so incredibly happy. It seems so right! How wonderful (and healing, I’m sure!) to connect with each other on this deep emotional level.
    When Breath Becomes Air is hands down one of the best books I have ever read and it has been amazing to see Lucy’s journey.
    Thank you, Joanna, for sharing with us this little gem of special happiness. I wish them all the best!

  100. Gemma Hayes says...

    This has made me smile and cry bitter sweet tears. That these two lovely brave souls have found each other. I commend their strength and bravery for reaching out and accepting love after their loss, and for sharing it so openly. Sending much love and hopeful thoughts for a beautiful life together xx

  101. Courtney says...

    I’m so happy for these two. It seems like they’ve approached the questions that come along with the evolution of their relationship in such an honest and embracing way. This story carries an incredible resonance for me, at the moment. My mom is in hospice at 58. My dad’s entire adult life has been spent with her, and I’ve worried about how his life will look when she passes, as he is also still young. Since he’s somewhat of an introvert, I wasn’t sure if he would date again. He recently told me that he has been spending time with a former coworker who went through a very similar situation, and how easy it is for them to talk for ages. I know they are not exactly dating at this point, and I have complete faith that he will always be there for my mom in every capacity she needs, but as she is in a home and lost most of her mental capacities, the relationship has evolved from the partnership they had to more of a care taking, with all of the deep love between them in tact. I’m glad my dad is able to build a relationship with someone who he initially found support in, and may grow to find companionship and possibly even love in.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is wonderful, courtney. you should like such a thoughtful, compassionate, understanding daughter and person. holding you all close in my thoughts tonight. xoxo

    • Tracey says...

      What an astoundingly compassionate response to a very difficult situation. I don’t know you, but I feel very proud of you.

  102. Alison says...

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us… I found myself tearing up as I read the post. Isn’t it funny how life can be? Tragic and beautiful and sad and exciting all at once. Much love to you and yours.

  103. Amanda says...

    This makes my heart so, so happy. They deserve only good things – and they are so beyond lucky to have such a strong ally in you.

    Sending you all love and good thoughts from Pennsylvania!

  104. Nicole says...

    Happiness! We all deserve it. What a beautiful story.

  105. Maiz says...

    When I came across the Washington Post article last night, I was so excited that I raced right back over here to see if you had more to tell us. I had already read that morning about the family visit to Paul’s grave, and loved Toby’s sweet comment, but wait… there was more to the scene than that! But, the best part is seeing Lucy’s beautiful face in your pictures. She has a lovely, happy-relaxed look on her face that radiates peace and wisdom!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! there was more to the story :) as always, i wanted to wait to tell the rest until it was okay with lucy. we have the sweetest shots of all the kids running around at paul’s gravesite. it was a lovely evening of whisky, sandwiches, the sunset and new year’s eve noisemakers. xoxo

  106. This made me cry – happy tears mostly. That line by Nina though – “how to let go of mothering them”…will stay with me forever.

  107. Kathleen says...

    This made me so happy. I sobbed and sobbed when I read both books. I think one of the hardest to things to learn about life is that it goes on. I’m so glad that they realized that together.

  108. CM says...

    This is so, so, so beautiful! Thank you for sharing as we have all held Lucy and Cady in our thoughts and prayers. So happy for them and their children :)

  109. karen says...

    I wish them all the luck in the world! I was deeply moved by Pauls book and Lucy and Cady have been on my mind often. I am so glad to read about this new chapter for them. Thank you!

  110. Emily says...

    I am so happy to read this. From love comes love and more love. xo

  111. Daisy says...

    When I read John’s article on your website, I thought for a moment if John and your Sister would get together. This is insanely beautiful and I truly wish that they both find all the happiness that they deserve.

  112. Nicole says...

    This is the most wonderful news. I loved Paul’s book and read and enjoyed the other book as well. What an amazing story to kick off the new year. Wishing them both health and happiness. xxx

  113. Carlyn says...

    Crying! Please thank Lucy and John for their vulnerability and openness and for sharing their lives (and Nina’s and Paul’s) with us. I feel privileged to know their stories.

  114. Silvina says...

    This made me cry. I’m so happy for her! (and for him too!)

  115. Molly O. says...

    Joanna –

    I have read both of these books, and each have meant the absolute world to me in a multitude of ways. I lost my younger sister 2 1/2 years ago to brain cancer. One month before she passed away, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Reading these books while being on both ends of the spectrum, helped me channel my emotions in a positive and functional light. I admire your sister’s courage and strength, as well as John’s. Reading this news about them continuing life together absolutely made my day. In times of complete hurt and heartbreak, its encouraging to see the love come out of such situations. I appreciate you sharing this news more than you’ll ever know. Oh bla di, oh bla dah… life goes on.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thinking of you, molly, and i’m so sorry to hear about your sister. thank you so much for your incredibly sweet note.

    • sasha says...

      I’m so sorry about losing your sister, and also your diagnosis. Cheering for your continued health Molly. May you be well.

  116. Meredith says...

    This is one of the most beautiful and tragic posts. I wish Lucy, John, and their kids so much happiness.

  117. Kim says...

    So. Many. Happy. Tears. Thanks for this beautiful update!

  118. t says...

    Absolutely wonderful new as there may not be two families who deserve happiness more. And so grateful that you too included space for Nina and Paul by including their photos as well.

    Nina’s quote on dying and mothering has me absolutely wrecked.

  119. Melia says...

    I was diagnosed with cancer two months ago. Both Paul and Nina’s books have been in heavy rotation on my Kindle as my own treatment journey gets started. As the mother of two young boys, Nina’s writing especially has moved me deeply. I’m happy for Lucy and John- silver lining indeed.

    • Silvina says...

      I hope you get well soon. :)

    • t says...

      Melia, I am so sorry you are facing this battle. Sending you hugs.

    • Emily says...

      sending love and healing thoughts to you. xo

    • Sending you lots of love and healing thoughts <3

    • coda says...

      melia, i am sending warm thoughts from far away! may you heal and get well!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for sharing your news with us, melia. i’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. thinking of you and your sweet children and sending so much love your way.

    • sasha says...

      Cheering for you Melia.

  120. Catharine says...

    Wishing them happiness and health. This is a beautiful thing…

  121. Alex says...

    I am so glad to hear this! I loved both of these books so much. I felt like I particularly got to know Nina as a friend. I don’t mean to sound judgemental but, I wonder how John’s boys and Nina’s dad are taking this new relationship only a few months after Nina’s passing? I loved John’s piece on his relationship with Pete for the blog and wonder where he fits into all of this. My mom and step-dad got together 5 years after his wife died, and my step-sister never forgave him! It was challenging to say the least. Cancer is so tough, and I am really glad to see that this is working out for them.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your comment, alex. nina’s father has given his full blessing. and the boys are deeply grieving their mother and yet also seem very positive about this new family friendship. lucy and john are putting great care and thought into their relationship with each other as well as with family members. it’s a complicated situation for sure but overall very happy.

    • Alex says...

      I am so happy to hear that. Brought tears to my eyes! Best wishes.

  122. Lacey says...

    Wow. What is there even to say? Can they turn this into a movie or something? :) I read your BIL’s book and also the articles that John wrote about Nina a while back, so it was such a sweet story to read today at work. Too sweet, in fact. I hid in my office until the tears went away. Even now, I go back to their stories and my eyes fill again. So, so happy for Lucy and John.

    • Anne says...

      I second that! I’d even go to the movie theater to see it!

      Such a beautiful story that I read through happy tears.

    • Tamara says...

      Yes, a movie! or Lucy and John need to write a book together, bestseller!!

  123. I was just with my friend in a bookstore last night looking for a book for her husband and made her buy when breath becomes air! Having already forced my entire family to read the book I knew it was a solid recommendation. After following Lucy, Paul and Cady’s story for so long I feel like they’re my friends (much like you and your family Joanna! But not in a creepy stalker way!) and I couldn’t be happier for Lucy and Cady that they are happy and finding a way to move forward. I haven’t read Nina’s book but I will! What a lovely silver lining to come from such tragedy.

  124. Tracy says...

    This makes me so happy! I’ve been following this story since Paul’s diagnosis and am so glad to hear she has found happiness again.

  125. Vero says...

    My throat feels tight and my eyes are brimming with tears, in that way that happens when there is something of such great sadness and joy all wrapped up together. Paul’s book touched a deep place in my heart. I so admire both his and Lucy’s ability to face something so head-on, with so much grace, not pretending that they know the answers but just being. What a joyous thing for Lucy and John to have found each other, and to be able to have this shared experience that must bring them even closer together. I’m not religious but this feels like a divine and precious meeting. Blessings to them and their sweet children.

  126. Carrie says...

    My heart constricted when I read this. They lived through most everyone’s worst fear and not only survived it but found love again. And in such a unique and beautiful way that allows them to freely and comfortably honor one another’s lost spouses. I hope they are riding high on this tidal wave of support, our collective heart is with them. They both deserve it so much, and the kiddos too.

  127. Beth says...

    This is wonderful ? I’ve read Paul’s book and it was so beautiful. I’m very happy that Lucy has found love again and thank you so much for sharing her journey with all of us!

  128. adriane says...

    My heart burst with joy when I read this. These two books were heartbreaking and breathtaking journeys. Love lives on in all of them. Thank you for sharing this and I am eternally grateful to Paul and Nina for opening their hearts and lives to us. Cheers to Lucy and John. xx

  129. Grace says...

    Wow. This seems like an unbelievable love story to have found each other. Am so happy for them both.

  130. Oh my goodness, this is so lovely and I so appreciate you sharing. I devoured Nina’s book and weirdly enough, thought of your sister. What a lovely connection to have.

  131. Cecilia says...

    Last year, Paul’s and Nina’s books helped me navigate the times I spent caring for my Mom as she fought her breast cancer and her eventual passing four months later, respectively. Thank you so much for sharing this update — this wonderful update weaving into my journey of grief serving as a reminder of finding beauty in broken pieces. Much love to you, Joanna, your family, Lucy and John.

    • sasha says...

      I’m so sorry about your mom Cecilia. Wishing you peace.

  132. Kate says...

    This makes me so happy! Thank you for sharing this!

  133. Claire says...

    Oh, such lovely news!! All the warm fuzzy feels and all the luck in the world to the new family ❤️

  134. Catarina R says...

    Dear Joanna, loved this article so so much.
    I’ve read Paul’s book last year and, as a medical student with a past in architecture, it is one of my all time favorites. It is painfully beautiful.
    I’ve been rooting for you sister Lucy since then. Hoping she could be happier again.
    I’m so happy about this.

  135. Kaitlin says...

    This post gave me chills. Such a raw, beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  136. Xenia says...

    I have been reading this blog for a few years now but never left a comment.
    This post made me cry today in the morning. I’ve read both books, by Paul and by Nina and they are the best I’ve read in a while. I’m so happy for Lucy and John! The best news to start the year!

  137. Liz says...

    This makes me SO happy, Lucy deserves the best and John and his family sound top notch. :)

  138. Suzie says...

    This is such a wonderful (and unbelievable!) update. Sounds like him and his family fit in perfectly! I really love that they keep the memory of those who passed in the present. I’m coming up on a 4 years of my brothers passing and still struggle with how to keep him present, without dwelling on how much I miss him. A lot has happened over the last 4 years, including the birth of my son. I really want my son to know about him and how much he meant to me. Like you said, it’s weird not to talk about it when it is such a big part of who you are! I wish your sister and new love continued happiness!

  139. This makes my heart swell! So happy for both families to have found each other.

  140. Hita says...

    With courage and love like they have shown, and continue to show, how could one ever lose faith in humanity?! Thank you for the update, for bringing their stories to us, and for being a reminder of the beauty in this world.

  141. Erin says...

    I loved both of these books and I declared The Bright Hour to be the book that has most changed my life. I read the Post piece about this last night after and beamed. This is so wonderful.

  142. allie says...

    This brings me so much joy. Sending love and energy to Lucy, John, Nina and Paul. xoxoxo

  143. Lorena says...

    Thank you for sharing Lucy’s story. This is so beautiful and made my heart happy. Best wishes to Lucy and John and their kids!

  144. Loesie says...

    I read your post early this morning and continued to read the Post article today.
    Truly wonderful to read both of them.
    Even though I have never met her in real life, I think of your sister every once in a while and wonder how she’s doing.
    Sending heartfelt warm wishes for both of them and their kids.
    They both look beautiful, from the inside and out.
    Love from the Netherlands!

  145. Carol says...

    This is so wonderful. Sort of another gift from her late husband to her.
    I hope she moves to North Carolina, if that’s where there is the most family, friends, connection.

  146. Kelsey says...

    How happy, and sad, and wonderful. Crying here about how strange and sad and lovely life can be.

  147. This is the best news I’ve heard in 2018!! I’ve read The Bright Hour and When Breath Becomes Air and followed A Cup of Jo for quite a long time now so I feel like I know these writers and people so well (even though I really don’t at all). What spectacular news for these two people!!!! This make my heart melt.

  148. Ruth says...

    omg CRYING AT MY DESK. This is amazing and wonderful and makes you realize that things can be OK. So much love for them!

  149. Jay says...

    Really great new Jo. Thank-you for sharing this with us. I was thinking about them just the other day when I saw someone reading his book on the tube.
    J