Pretty much my worst nightmare in life is the death of someone I love. In fact, my fear of death is what keeps me skeptical about marriage. What happens when death DOES eventually separate you from the one you love? Well, a new story about the love that flourished between two people after their spouses passed away offered me a newfound faith in love. Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein's love story is a rom-com turned to real life, and you need to hear it.
In 2016, a 37-year-old author named Paul Kalanithi wrote a bestselling memoir, "When Breath Becomes Air," about his last years on Earth as he struggled with lung cancer. Later, in 2017, a 39-year-old author named Nina Riggs also wrote a bestselling memoir, titled “The Bright Hour," about her last few years living as she struggled with breast cancer. Both wound up succumbing to cancer, but believe it or not, their story, surprisingly, has a happy ending with a twist you would've never seen coming.
You see, when Riggs was on her death bed, she decided that she couldn't leave her husband, John Duberstein, to deal with her death alone. So instead, she tried her best to connect him with someone she knew would understand his struggle: Paul Kalanithi's widowed wife, Lucy Kalanithi.
On Feb. 24, just a couple of days before Riggs passed, Lucy emailed Riggs, “I’m beaming you love from my whole being," ending her message with “your forever fan, lucy,” according to the Washington Post.
When Nina passed, Duberstein, a 41-year-old lawyer, decided to take her up on her suggestion. He reached out to Lucy for guidance on how to deal with his loss, since she had been through the same thing, according to Riggs. “I had so many questions,” he told the Washington Post. “I was bursting with this intense need to get things squared.”
Eventually, the two almost became pen pals of sorts, and they both admitted Lucy acted as Duberstein's guardian throughout that dark period. As time went on, they emailed more and more frequently, and feelings between them gradually started to grow. “We talked a lot about the minefield of managing to fall in love and actively grieve at the same time," Lucy said.
The Washington Post reports that the two strictly kept their romantic correspondence to emailing, until Lucy realized that a business trip to North Carolina would only put her an hour away from John, who said he was certain he "had to see her." And according to both of them, sparks were definitely flying once they spent some time together.
From there, Lucy and Duberstein's relationship continued growing. While they first kept things between them under wraps, the two started openly telling their friends and family about their love "by the end of summer," according to the Washington Post. That being said, though, they still haven't forgotten about their deceased spouses. They both still wear their wedding rings, and while they both had their spouses' blessings to remarry, actually doing so is a bit daunting.
“I planned to spend my entire life with Nina. I was 100 percent happy doing that,” Duberstein told the Washington Post. “Having a second relationship is a tragedy." Lucy echoed his sentiment, saying, “If you are lucky enough, you will be devastated when they die. Willingly entering that feels gutsy, but what else could you choose?”
The two are fully aware of the tragically beautiful love story they have woven together, and how wild it is to think about. “I’m still surprised,” Lucy told the Washington Post. “I’m surprised by how ridiculous it is and how natural it is at the same time.”
“Everything seemed almost bizarrely to fit,” John said. “It was kind of stunning.”
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