Cancer is a good way to die. Not the best way, but a good way.
Cancer is not a good way to die if it strikes early, but that is true of any type of death. If it is age appropriate, so to speak, cancer eases everyone into the concept of life without the loved one instead of shocking them into it as would a fatal heart attack or car crash.
With many terminal patients and their loved ones, cancer gives them time to say goodbye, to take care of family business and to conquer items on a so-called bucket list. Because I had two years with my late wife before she died in June, we were able to accomplish all of these things.
During the last few months of those two years, I faced the inevitability of life without her. Over time, and with the help of some excellent counseling, I overcame the guilt of thinking of life past her death while she was still alive and was able to plan accordingly. My two kids benefited from this as well.
Shortly after she died, I had a chance encounter with Laura, a friend and former co-worker of my late wife's. After that meeting, I took off for Europe for six weeks.
When I returned, I contacted Laura and asked her to dinner. It was the start of our steady, dating which leads to today's news: Laura and I are engaged and have plans to marry next year.
I proposed to Laura in New York on Dec. 5 on top of the Empire State Building at sunset, six months and one day after the death of my wife. To many readers, and probably to more than a few friends, that time is insufficient for me to have overcome the tragedy of her death. Those people believe I should be waiting longer before making such an important move.
To those people, I offer first that my relationship with Laura had a running start. We've known each other for more than 20 years (I attended her wedding in 1999) and Laura was a co-worker and friend of my late wife's. While we had not seen each other for several years before that encounter earlier this summer, we were the same people we always were. Laura was still smart, beautiful, kind, generous, funny and eager to continue to grow and learn. Thanks to our history, we did not undergo much of the usual period of discovery that new couples face.
My period of grief did not start the day my wife died. It began two years earlier with her diagnosis and was with me nearly every day following. So when she passed away, I had already been through the worst and had been thinking for three months about my life after her death. That was not a selfish, heartless reaction, it was a responsible one. It was the right thing to do for my kids, for the house in which we live and for my own sanity.
Meeting and proposing to Laura within six months was not part of the plan. But when the events unfolded, it all felt normal and natural. There was no guilt and no consideration over whether it was too soon.
And if it matters to anyone, my late wife told me to get married again.
If I have learned anything this year, it is that people handle major life events in their own way. Some like to take it slow and reflect and contemplate and that's fine — for them. My way of dealing with my tragedy was to move on quickly, but with the belief that I was ready to do so.
I am a very responsible man of 57 who has raised two great kids, owns his own home, has a successful career and was one half of a very good 25-year marriage, I am not suddenly suffering from some form of temporary insanity that has rendered me unable to make this critical decision.
Did I expect to be in love so soon? No. Does it feel right? Oh, yes.
Life is short, readers. I don't wish cancer on anyone to force them or their loved ones to learn this lesson. But the cancer that touched my life has provided me with more clarity than I've ever had. And for that, I am thankful.
STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.