When I was in massage school, my favorite fellow student was diagnosed with cancer and ended up dropping out during our last quarter. This fascinating young artist had a boyfriend. They were clearly very much in love. As she went through treatment, lost her hair, recovered for a while and then relapsed, he stayed by her side, supporting her, and finally telling me: “she’s ready to die, Ann.” He was the person who sent me an email when she did pass, and a clipping from the paper with her obituary.
I didn’t know him well, and I never heard from him again, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It was hard enough for me to deal with the death of this passionate 23 year old. What would it be like to lose the love of your life when you are that young? To give up your plans of a life together, exploring the world? How would you recover? Did he already have another girlfriend by the time she died? Or does he still hold the torch for her? Those questions persisted, without answers, in my mind, but I did see how an older woman I met dealt when her husband was murdered: within two years she met someone new who was also widowed and they soon married.
However, I also know, from my own experience, that, even when there are enough problems in a marriage to lead to divorce, it may not be all that easy to move on. Grief can strike years later, when least expected.
With all this floating around in my brain, the central dilemma of my novel became: how does a young woman who was widowed at the age of twenty five begin to date again, especially if the ghost of her cancer-ridden husband won’t let her?