Recently, my friend John lost his wife Janet. For eight years she fought against cancer, but in the end, her sickness had the last word.


One day John took out a folded piece of paper from his wallet. He had found it, so he told me when he tidied up some drawers at home. It was a small love letter Janet had written. The note could look like a school girl s scrawls about her dream guy. All that was missing was a drawing of a heart with the names John and Janet written on it. But the small letter was written by a woman who had had seven children; a woman who fought for her life and who probably only had a few months left to live.


It was a beautiful recipe for how to keep a marriage together.


Janet's description of her husband begins thus: “Loved me. Took care of me. Worried about me.”


John showed great consideration for Janet. Sometimes he came home in the evening to find her in the middle of one of those depressions cancer patients so often get. In no time he got her into the car and drove her to her favorite restaurant.


"Helped me when I was ill,” the next line reads. Perhaps Janet wrote this while the cancer was in one of the horrible and wonderful lulls. Where everything is — almost — as it used to be before the sickness broke out, and where it doesn't hurt to hope that everything is over, maybe forever.


"Forgave me a lot.”


"Stood by my side.”


And a piece of good advice for everyone who looks at giving constructive criticism as a kind of sacred duty: “Always praising.”


"Made sure I had everything I needed,” she goes on to write.


After that, she turned over the paper and added: “Warmth. Humor. Kindness. Thoughtfulness.” And then she writes about the husband she has lived with and loved the most of her life: “Always there for me when I needed you.”


The last words she wrote to sum up all the others: “Good friend.”


I stand beside John now, and cannot pretend to know how it feels to lose someone as close to me as Janet was to him. I need to hear what he has to say.


"John,” I ask. “How do you stick together with someone through 38 years — not to mention the sickness? How do I know if I can bear to stand by my wife's side if she becomes sick one day?”


"You can,” he says quietly. “If you love her enough, you can.”

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