My name is Julia. My husband died from a terrifying brain cancer called glioblastoma. Tonight I want to tell you a story about my husband John…
John was my best friend in the world. I remember the first time he told me that I was his best friend. And I remember after years of marriage, still feeling bewildered. That John Chambers thought of me as his best friend. Because he was the toughest guy I knew. And he was cool as shit.
I asked him about his sister, and his best guy friends, all of whom he was very close to. Because I figured surely they were his best friends before I was.
And he said “That’s true, but it’s different with you. You’re my life, you’re my breath. I trust you implicitly with everything that I am. I trust you more than anyone else in the world.”
And I was humbled by this 6’5″ operatic giant, who was intelligent and tough, and who believed in always doing the right thing. That the strong should protect the weak. That the able had a responsibility to use their strengths for good. And I was slightly terrified to be entrusted with so profound a thing.
John was a hero and a great leader to others. The guy who rescued people from elevators during power outages in a snow storm, because it was the right thing to do. And he was the only one strong enough to open the doors to do it.
He was Super Man, and out of everyone, he cherished and trusted me most.
I was stunned at the beautiful confirmation that our souls spoke beyond words. He was my everything. Together we were empowered. Together we could do anything. Together, no one could stop us. Together we were both better individually and collectively.
How did I come to be the one to hold the precious jewels of his heart and trust. It was easy for me to see why I trusted him. Why I fell so hard for him. He was such a good, good man. Not to mention he had an enchanted singing voice. But for him to fall so hard for me, to so deeply trust me…. How did it come to be?
John told me a story about a lesson he learned from his widowed grandmother. One summer during college, he stayed with her, helping her paint and repair the home that his grandfather built. John loved great conversation and he cherished the time he spent with his grandparents. At some point during this summer, the subject of relationships came up, and John made some comment to his grandmother about the kind of (tall) woman he needed to find to marry. And she told him “You don’t marry a body, you marry a mind.”
Her words struck his core profoundly, and he never forgot. “You are gorgeous,” he said to all 5’1″ of me, “But more than that, your heart and mind are astonishingly beautiful. I love who you are inside. Others don’t see it, but I do.” It was a raw moment of love and joy. To be truly seen, soul to soul. A moment I couldn’t believe I was lucky to have.
John told me often during our 22 years together that it was his job to remind me how beautiful I was, inside and out. To set things right and make up for traumas of the past. To help me to see my beauty and believe in myself. To help me experience that life could be fun. John taught me that I had a right to safety and that it was OK to have healthy boundaries. And he told me, over and again, unto the last weeks of his life, that I was the reason that he was a better man. That without me, his life wouldn’t have been enriched and that because of me he wanted that much more to be a better man. That he wanted that much more to do good things, to help others and make a difference in the world.
And here I thought it was he who taught me more about real love than anyone I’d ever known.
As I stumble through the shards left of my reality after his death, I try to hang onto his words. I remind myself that one of the best souls I’ve ever known never stopped thinking that my mind was smart and beautiful. He even thought I gave good advice. I always counted on his, and boy could I use some of it right now.
I wrote before about the gift of holding our children’s beginnings. The part of life that later our kids cannot remember. The part of their beginning that no one else sees. No one else contains more of those moments than we parents. We hold our children’s first stories.
I did not expect the astonishing reality of holding my husband’s ending. It is a terrifying, yet precious gift. To hold him, his heart and soul. To walk his last walk with him and share his nightmare. To fight for him with every drop of my blood, every beat of my heart, every breath in my chest. To crack wide open and pull out every possible skill I could to save his life. To be the one to bear witness to every honorable and gritty detail. The one who contains his final story. The one to be entrusted with his death.
I am his horcrux.
I hold his story. Together he can never be defeated.