Coping With Cancer: Faithful Provider

By Margaret Nyman

October 31, 2009

Nate has always been a good provider. By that I mean every dollar he’s earned, he’s shared. He’s forfeited fancy cars, custom suits and exotic vacations to give to others. I’ve been blessed to be a stay-at-home mom since Nelson was born in 1973, which necessitated receiving money from Nate in the form of a household allowance each week. The amounts have varied over the years with family changes and inflation, but the system has worked well.

I’ve heard of husbands who’ve made their non-working wives plead and beg for each 10-dollar bill. “Why do you need it? What are you planning to buy? I don’t think you have to have any of that. You can wait.” Nate has been the opposite, giving and giving again.

When I’ve commented on his shirt pockets being ink stained, encouraging him to buy a few new shirts, he’s always turned it back on me saying, “You take the money. I’m sure you need something more than I need new shirts.”

Since he’s been sick, he hasn’t been able to follow our usual routine in money matters, although again and again during these last weeks he’s asked me, “Have you got enough money?”

Little by little Nate has lost track of where we stand on our bills, what the due dates are and how much is in which bank account. Even as he’s been losing interest in the things of this world, something deep inside of him still wants to take care of me.

Since he’s been sick, part of getting him ready for each day has been handing him a folded wad of bills to slip into his pocket. He’s never been a wallet man. Since several important things have ended up in the trash or even the toilet recently, I’ve “stacked” his wad of bills with singles, except for one twenty wrapped on the outside. While folded, it looks like quite a fortune.

Yesterday afternoon Nate motioned for me to come into a corner of his tiny room. He was trying to count out his bills, putting them into denominational categories, but of course there were no fives or tens. “I can’t figure this out,” he whispered, fumbling with the money. “I guess I can’t give you as much as I thought.”

He handed me the twenty and folded the singles to go back into his pocket, shaking his head. Immediately I ran to my purse and took out the four twenties there, bringing them back to him and feeling guilty for my deception scheme.

“These are actually yours,” I said, handing him the bills.

“OK,” he said, taking them, counting them and then handing them right back to me. “Here. This isn’t much, but you’ll have to make do.”

“It’s plenty,” I said. “You’re a wonderful provider for all of us, and you always have been. Thank you.”

“I feel bad that I can’t do more,” he said, patting me on the back.

Today there are new signs that we are coming close to the end. Nate desperately wanted to get out of bed and walk yet could no longer support his own weight and refused the wheelchair. The only answer was for the boys to pair up on either side and support his weight 100 percent. After he was standing on his noodle-legs, two of the boys holding strong, we all gathered in a semi-circle in front of him.

He pointed to me and said, in an almost unintelligible whisper, “Forty years. Forty years.” Then he puckered up and leaned toward me, hoping I’d lean in for a kiss, which I did. He followed that with, “Forty-one years. Forty-one years.” I’m not sure if it was longing or sadness or just the sting of impossibility, but it ended well with another pucker and another kiss.

When a man feels his greatest responsibility is to provide for his wife and all he can give her is “this isn’t much” and “I can’t be here for forty-one,” his emotional pain must be nearly too great to bear. Never have I been more thankful for his faithful provision for me than I am now.

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicles the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Her personal blog is at

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