When Stewart Selman was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he said it was like a gift... a whole year to say goodbye and to leave this earth the way he'd like to. A neurologist even told him that some families use this time to pull together and achieve a kind of transcendence.
That's not what happened.
Tonight, NPR features an audio diary of the difficult last year of Selman's life. The thing that makes this story extraordinary, though, is Selman's wife, Rebecca Peterson. A year after his death she listened back to his diary and told producer Mary Beth Kirchner how she remembered the end. The tumor and the drugs started to warp Selman's personality. Peterson tells how her husband became paranoid, pushing her away, and even acting violently toward their children.
"I went upstairs and I just screamed at him 'don't you ever do that again to any of my kids. Because I will send you out of this house, and you will die a lonely man.' Of course, I regretted that after I said it. But I had to let him know his behavior was getting more and more extreme..."
Peterson writes more about her husband's final year in this essay on npr.org. You'll also find advice and resources for coping with serious illnesses and a forum for listeners to respond to Selman's story.
Movies and TV (and even NPR) often turn dying people into saints — wise and noble and teaching us that every day of life is precious. "A Year to Live, a Year to Die" teaches a harder lesson: that love can be more fragile than we dream.