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Just Us

Just Us

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, from PRX and NPR, the "Joy and Pain" episode. My name is Glynn Washington. And I think it's funny that when you turn on the TV looking for a love story, they always want to have some super young people moaning and weeping about whatever problem they got themselves into that week. But if you really want to know about love, Snappers, you've got to talk to the elders. SNAP JUDGMENT's Julia DeWitt brings us this story all the way from the southern hemisphere.

JULIA DEWITT, BYLINE: Meet Frank and Wilma.

FRANK: You start.

WILMA: Me start?

FRANK: Yeah.

WILMA: I'm not the most important person.

FRANK: OK.

WILMA: You start.

FRANK: My name is Frank.

WILMA: And we live in New Zealand. My name is Wilma. I'm his wife. We are 46 years married.

DEWITT: They live in New Zealand, but they're originally from Austria. And they're getting on in years so Frank's hearing isn't great. Wilma often talks for him.

WILMA: I'm his translator.

DEWITT: A few years ago, before their life together was turned on its head, Frank and Wilma had a big house, kids, grandkids. Frank owned his own company.

WILMA: A nice garden, swimming pool. We had a good life style here in New Zealand.

DEWITT: But then on one, otherwise, totally regular morning.

WILMA: Frank was eating bacon and eggs and it hit his gallstones. And he had such a pain so I had to bring him to the doctor.

DEWITT: When Frank went to the doctor, the x-rays also turned up something else. Frank had lung cancer. It was actually kind of of lucky because they caught it early and they could jump on it quickly. It looked like the cancer went away.

FRANK: But two years later, I was chopping firewood and, suddenly, I couldn't breathe anymore. So they pulled me to the hospital, did a scan and an x-ray. Then they told us I got another cancer on the sack of my heart, and I have three months to live.

DEWITT: They asked the doctor if there was anything they could do, but it was too late for treatment. Frank was terminal.

WILMA: Was like somebody - a kick in the stomach, you know.

DEWITT: In that moment, their future together evaporated. Still - and you can feel it right away when you talk to them - they're matter-of-fact kind of people, definitely not the type to wallow. You pull yourself up, you fix things. Nothing is the end of the world. Except now, it kind of was. And they weren't sure what to do about that.

FRANK: My GP (ph) asked me if I'm depressed, if I need any depression tablets or something, you know. I mean, it wouldn't help, wouldn't make any difference, you know. I mean, I wasn't depressed. I was just pretty confused. Let's put it this way, you know.

WILMA: Maybe you were depressed, but, you know...

FRANK: Maybe.

WILMA: ...Depression doesn't exist for us.

FRANK: No, no. It was quite a confusing situation.

DEWITT: Suddenly, what seemed so important the day before, it didn't matter anymore.

FRANK: I didn't have anything to lose. I mean, yeah. I mean, if they tell you you got three months to live, what do you have to lose now?

WILMA: He is giving away all his things because he said, well, I don't need a cold pack. I don't need a fishing gear. I don't need my tools. I don't even need my clothes because I'm going to die anyway.

DEWITT: Of course, Wilma was not going to die. But when people asked her about her plans for after Frank was gone...

WILMA: I didn't know. I really didn't know. I said, well, I'll make a decision when the time comes. For me, the only thing was important that Frank had, the rest of his life, a good life. You know, I cooked everything he really liked, which I shouldn't have because he put weight on. He got up to 100 kilo and nearly killed him with the weight. And there was nothing which I actually denied for him. Whatever he wanted to do, we did. So I said to my husband, OK, what do you want to do?

FRANK: Well, I said I would like to have one nice holiday together with you because we're living 45 years together. I said I want to go on holiday with you.

DEWITT: Frank and Wilma packed their bathing suits and hopped a plane for Fiji for a six-week tropical vacation. And if you have three months to live, well, you splurge.

WILMA: We went in a special resort.

FRANK: One of the expensive places.

WILMA: I tell you one thing, you would not believe how fast it goes. We are paying $24,000. I never would have done this in my life.

DEWITT: Twenty-four thousand dollars is a lot of money for Frank and Wilma. What little reserves they had left after doctors bills, they were burning through it.

WILMA: It was like a honeymoon again.

FRANK: Yeah. Yeah, it was like a honeymoon.

WILMA: He could go deep-sea fishing, you know, that comes on top. That's not included in the package. And I said, well, why shouldn't he have it, you know? It's his end so do whatever you want to do. And he was lucky. He catch some nice fish, which satisfied him because my husband likes to fish.

FRANK: Fishing, yeah. And lying on the poolside, hanging on in the pool. Yeah.

DEWITT: But in the midst of it all, Frank and Wilma never could totally forget that time was running out.

WILMA: He had a couple of bad days, and I thought, OK, that's how it starts. That's how it is.

DEWITT: Then after their vacation together, Wilma and Frank went to do the last thing left that Frank wanted to do before he died. They went to go see their grandkids.

WILMA: The younger one said when we left...

FRANK: Yeah.

WILMA: ...She said to her grandfather, she said, you know, she said, Opa, I'll tell you something. You're not going to die on me because I want to come on holiday in Christmas time on your place. You know, and that was a bit hard because this time, we thought, well, OK, there is no Christmas anymore, you know.

FRANK: I tried to make it pretty fast. I said goodbye, you know, to make it fast, you know, just to...

WILMA: You don't make it too hard for the kids.

FRANK: Yeah.

WILMA: And when we came home after about six weeks, we were waiting for him to die, and we were waiting and waiting.

FRANK: You know, the problem was always thinking when does it start. Do I wake up tomorrow with pain? I can take a bit of pain, you know. I'm not one of the guys who can't take pain, you know. But the waiting time, that was the worst part of it.

WILMA: I was waiting for every breath he did. If he stopped breathing - because sometimes because after lung operation, he stops for a couple of seconds. I woke up. So I touched him, and then he made some movement. And I said, OK, it's not happening. Every day, is it happening tomorrow? Is it happening tonight? Until I said, after two years, I had enough. I said something is definitely wrong. I want somebody to look at this because I cannot go on living like this. Is he going to die or is he not going to die?

DEWITT: Wilma rang the hospital, and they sent someone over to see why Frank wasn't dying.

WILMA: And he said you're good. And we said, what do you mean you're good? He said, didn't they tell you? You haven't got any cancer. And I said, you're joking. He said, nope. I rang the lung specialist. I said, OK, I want to talk to him. He got us an appointment for the next day. And when we came there, he did another heart echo.

FRANK: Or x-ray.

WILMA: And he said no. He said that was a wrong diagnosis. You're not having any cancer on the heart. And we could go home.

FRANK: And my wife went berserk. And she said, OK, I want all the statements, whatever from day one when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

WILMA: Medical reports. Well, I stood up and left. I had to go because, otherwise, I would have done something, which I almost probably ended up in jail. I did not even say goodbye. I just had to go out. And Frank went with me.

FRANK: I felt relieved of course, you know, but...

WILMA: I feel relieved, too.

FRANK: Yeah.

WILMA: But, you know, I don't forgive them for the two years.

FRANK: Yeah. It was two years of hell.

WILMA: And you know what the worst thing was? He stopped smoking when he had the lung operation. When the doctor said he has three months to live, he started freaking smoking again. And I hate this, you know.

FRANK: That's the only hobby I have, you know.

WILMA: He said smoking is his only hobby he has. It's a stupid hobby, but, OK, he can have it. And I should actually charge the doctor for the wrong diagnoses 'cause he started smoking again, you know. It cost me, again, a fortune.

DEWITT: Frank and Wilma were ecstatic that Frank was going to live. But now they had to face another harsh reality. After that lavish vacation, they were broke. And now that Frank was going to live, everyone had an opinion about how Frank had gone about dying.

FRANK: A lot of people said, why did they do it? They said we're idiots because we spend all the money. But, well, maybe we were.

WILMA: Oh, no. We're right, Frank. Look at us. We're both happy.

FRANK: But, on the other hand, you know, well, we did it this way, you know. And, OK, we can't change it anyway.

WILMA: Yeah, and it was our decision, and that's it.

FRANK: Yeah. Now I think life is more important than money. Yeah, it is more important.

WILMA: Yeah. Life is definitely more important.

FRANK: Money is good if you have it, but if you don't...

WILMA: Yeah, exactly.

FRANK: ...If you have enough.

WILMA: Because you can do certain things which you can't do without money.

FRANK: Yeah.

DEWITT: But even though they live in a much smaller house now and they're still in debt, that time when they thought Frank was going to die, it was also kind of a refresh button for their lives.

FRANK: We know we might have if you like it, but having a couple of years together, you know so...

WILMA: And we enjoy each other. You know, we have enough money to eat. And, well, we don't have any money to go on holiday, but you don't need a holiday really. That's good enough for us, you know. If we can stay like this for another 10 years, we are happy.

FRANK: The relationship started brand-new. We started a brand-new life, more or less.

WILMA: Yeah said we'd go for another 45 years.

FRANK: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: Big love to Frank and Wilma. But, Frank, for the love of God, lay off the smokes, man. He ain't going to listen. That piece was produced by Julia DeWitt.

(MUSIC)

WASHINGTON: You've reached the end of the episode, but not the end of the relationship because SNAP will always be true. Get the SNAP JUDGMENT special hookup on Facebook. Our Twitter handle is @snapjudgment. SNAP was produced by myself and those in love with the idea of love. Now did you go over to your lovers place only to discover another car in the driveway? Who is that? Rest assured, it's not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Much love to the CPB, PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, WBEZ in Chicago is the radio station for lovers. You may have observed that this is not the news. No way is this the news.

In fact, you could fall in love with that beautiful woman at the coffee shop, and then work to get her fired so you could meet her somewhere respectable instead. But when you tell the manager that she gave you a soy latte Americano instead of a soy latte espresso Americano, he could tell you, all right, I'm going to need for you to stop hassling my girlfriend. It would be OK if you found another coffee shop and everything. And still, you would not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR.

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