Overnight, everything changes


The oncologist said Barbara might have four months. She had three weeks.

The love of my life passed away in her favorite chair in the Nuthatch cabin’s front room in the darkest hours of the morning last Thursday.

Unlike many cancer victims, she had not been experiencing significant pain, for which daughter Lillian and I are profoundly grateful. Unlike many cancer victims, she was able to stay in her home until the end. That meant a lot to her and to us.

Barbara Alice (Burns) Cantwell, February 10, 1955-April 1, 2021

The prior week, she was happily teaching Lil old favorite family recipes in the kitchen. That Sunday, Barbara and I spent a cozy day by the fire. We played Scrabble. She gargled, sipped lemon water and worked hard to get her weak and raspy voice working, so she sounded like her old self. We sang a favorite song, and had one of our best days together in months.

The next day, everything changed. She had a hard time waking. She stopped eating. She could barely stand. A written directive filled out in better times instructed that we pursue no further medical solutions.

A few days later, as I slept near her, she left on her next journey. Another dimension? A bird on our railing? A ghost in our loft? Lillian says her mum is just taking a long walk on Cannon Beach. Wherever she might be, she is forever in our hearts.

Well-meaning people whom I love talk about how good a death it was. But Lillian and I will never stop missing her. Her wit and her smile. Her doting love and attention. Her simple ability to make herself and others around her happy. To us, she was perfect. Her death can only be wrong.

Friends and family have reached out, from Center Island, from Seattle, from Mexico, from Australia. They have been wonderfully kind and supportive. They are making sure we are not alone. They are helping us stumble through our agony.

But after 48 years with my sweetie, suddenly the chair next to me is empty. Overnight, everything has changed.

7 thoughts on “Overnight, everything changes

  1. Dearest Brian,
    My heart breaks for you and Lilian. I am also sad I cannot be with you and Ken this week, but think it also may just be the right thing for just the two of you.
    I cannot imagine the starkness of the empty chair and house, the infinite depth of the hole in your heart.
    I love the picture you have here of Barbara, and remembering her smile. She always did try (and succeeded!) so hard to anticipate every need when we were guests. I cherished and will always remember the time she and I spent together when you and Ken were hiking, puttering in the Wendy house. Her kindness and kind words to me will always be remembered, as well as all the laughter…”Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!”
    I am wrapping my arms around you in a far away hug, wishing you comfort for your grieving heart in whatever ways you may find it.
    Much love,


  2. Dear Brian,
    I am sending you care and sympathy. My heart is with you and your daughter. I found your blog after my beloved mother passed October 30th, and it feels like yesterday. I am alone in my grief here in Seattle. She lived in Santa Fe and we spent her last month together. I want to give my appreciation for your writing. Connecting with nature is how I feel her spirit. I speak with my Mom and I hear her voice. I see hawks, and other birds that she told me to look for her in. My prayers are with you and Barbara’s spirit and Lillian. I am so sorry for your loss. This is a sacred time.
    I am grateful for the healing you have brought me.
    With gentle care,


  3. Having taken many a long walk with Barbara on Cannon Beach, I love the idea that she walks there still. But with no more streams to ford, nor any wind, except warm and at her back. Take care of Lillian, and may she also take care of you. MP


  4. I am profoundly sorry to read this! I’ve so enjoyed your blog posts (after years of enjoying your travel articles in the Seattle Times). Our daughters were friends in high school, but beyond that, I just read and appreciated the escape that your blog posts provide. You seemed to have created the idyllic life on your small rock of an island – and the fact that you and Barbara were authors together made it even better. I mourn with you and Lily – and wish you both the peace.


  5. Brian, I am so deeply sorry to hear about your loss. Jerry and I have been married just 12 years but I cannot imagine life without him by my side. We are sending you strength and love.


Leave a Reply to Heather Cowan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s