The Atlantic

My Wife Was Dying, and We Didn’t Tell Our Children

The choice was unusual, but loving: We wanted them to live without the shadow of their mother’s mortality hanging over them.
Source: Erin McCluskey

We decided not to tell the kids. Marla knew that once our three daughters understood that their mother had been given 1,000 days to live, they’d start counting. They would not be able to enjoy school, friends, their teams, or birthday parties. They’d be watching too closely—how she looked, moved, acted, ate, or didn’t. Marla wanted her daughters to stay children: unburdened, confident that tomorrow would look like yesterday. Marla was my first and only girlfriend. We were introduced in October 1987, when we joined a coed intramural flag-football team in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I wasn’t very good with women, monosyllabic in their presence. We all went to a bar after one game, and I came home with a napkin on which I’d jotted down words to describe Marla: “Hot. Fast. Fun. Sweet. Flint.” Yes, as in Flint, Michigan—her hometown—but also as in flinty—steely, speedy, mighty, glinting. Marla could water-ski barefoot. I was a rabbi’s kid; I rarely even went on boats. She made a habit of taking me places. In 2009, Marla’s radiologist called to tell her that she had early-stage breast cancer. She was also BRCA-positive, meaning that she carried the inherited gene for the disease—a troublesome marker. After a double mastectomy and ovary removal, she needed eight rounds of chemotherapy to clear the cancer found in her lymph nodes.

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