An unplanned death

Maggie Braun

By A Contributor

It’s December and Jack Armstrong is dying. He has a hospital bed set up in his home in Cleveland so he can spend the last days of his life with his wife, Lizzie, and their three children. He had been given the prognosis of six to eight months to live, and that was six to eight months ago.

Jack and Lizzie had met in high school. After high school, Jack served in the Army, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Now he has a rare disease that no one has ever recovered from. His goal is to live through Christmas.

The children are all reacting differently to their dad’s illness. Michelle is almost 16 and rebellious; she doesn’t know how to react to the certainty of her father’s death. Cory is 12, outgoing and hams it up in the class play, “The Grinch.” Little Jack Junior, who is just 2, doesn’t know why his dad can’t play anymore. Jack is also regularly visited by his good friend and business partner, Sammy Duvall, who started a contracting company with Jack.

Jack decided to write a letter each night to Lizzie after everyone goes to bed. His plan was to write seven letters, with the last one being written on Christmas Eve. Jack has six letters written. On Christmas Eve, Lizzie comes back from Cory’s play and lets Jack know that she has been thinking lately about her grandmother’s house in South Carolina. Lizzie’s twin sister, Tillie, died of meningitis at age 5 when they were at the house at the beach. Lizzie said she was thinking about spending the upcoming summer at the beach house. Lizzie then realizes she forgot to pick up Jack’s pain medicine. Jack tells Lizzie not to worry about it, but she won’t allow him to feel unnecessary pain, and leaves for the pharmacy.

Jack wakes up later to someone knocking at the door. It’s a policeman who informs him that Lizzie has died in an accident. After Lizzie’s funeral, Jack’s mother-in-law, Bonnie, comes up with a plan to divide up the children among the relatives while Jack goes to a hospice house. Michelle will live with in-laws in Arizona, Jack Jr. will move to Portland with an aunt and Cory will go to Los Angeles with another aunt. Jack reluctantly agrees because he can’t even take care of himself. The kids don’t want to leave Jack but don’t have another alternative.

Then, miraculously, Jack begins to recover. After about three weeks in the hospice house, he sets aside his oxygen. Then he begins the long process of rehabilitation. He has to regain strength and weight. Jack’s doctors are bewildered and tell him that his progress is medically impossible.

Jack begins planning to bring his family back together. Because Jack thought he was going to die, his house has been sold, so he finds a rental house. His mother-in-law wonders how wise Jack’s decision is because his recovery might only be temporary. Jack is so busy working on repairing the rental house that he doesn’t know what’s going on in his children’s lives.

He also learns that Lizzie’s grandmother died. In her will, she left the old beach house in South Carolina, along with a lighthouse, to Jack. Jack decides to move the whole family to the beach and make a new life for them, fulfilling Lizzie’s dream of going back to her family beach home. His partner goes along to help Jack restore the house and help start a new construction business there. Jack and his family have a chance to start a new life helping one another deal with their grief over Lizzie’s death while also celebrating Jack’s recovery. Their adventure is not without problems, but the journey is well worth it in what turns out to be a truly uplifting story.

David Baldacci is a prolific and successful author, with more than 110 million copies of his books in print.

He probably is better known for political thrillers. Among his best-sellers are “First Family,” “Deliver Us from Evil,” “The Camel Club” and others.

Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.

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