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My Dog’s Death Taught Me Spiritual Detachment. Then My Sister Got Sick.

Then, after four years, the loop no longer held her. A clinical trial last October offered hope, only to dash it within eight weeks. A new chemo regimen held out the possibility of remission, which didn’t happen. Julie and I planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand for this fall, the five year mark, but I didn’t count on it.

Julie, always a kidder, began to joke about dying, here and there, seeming to invite a set of conversations I did not want to have. It had not been five years yet. I was not ready.

But I’d learned during my mother’s bout with lung cancer to follow up on such openings. I remember once Mom asked, “Will it be painful to die?” and I replied, “What would you like for dinner tonight, Mom?”

With Julie, I wanted to do better, so I followed her lead. She, Jay and I began to have a series of talks about finances, medical decisions and what “the end” might be like. She was focused and calm. I hated every minute. But what I really hated was the virulent cancer.

Julie just turned 60, and even beyond the loop, she is very much alive. She is cycling on Long Island with her best friend, still planning trips to locales domestic and foreign, researching a Hail Mary clinical trial. This past May the entire family spent a week at Nags Head, North Carolina, trapped in a creaky old house, while a nor’easter swirled around us. We cooked. We played card games. No one cheated! (Not even Julie.)

But her blood work looks increasingly ominous, she naps more and we are not going to Australia and New Zealand this fall. Instead, I visit as often as I can, to make as many memories as possible.

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