In "The Color of Rain," Michael and Gina Spehn share their remarkable story of faith, hope and love in the wake of tragedy. As the spouses of two childhood friends who both succumbed to cancer, Michael and Gina find comfort and healing in each other and re-build their families as one. Here's an excerpt.
The MICU is a cold and secluded place. To enter the unit you must show your identification to a video screen and someone unlocks a large double door that slowly and automatically opens to reveal a sterile, quiet place that serves largely as a waiting room for God. Cathy and I were led into the room at the farthest corner, where two halls meet. The room had even less warmth than most hospital rooms; nothing more than a bed, several monitors, a single armchair, and a window that looked out onto the colorless world of late February in Michigan.
It was here in this lifeless room that we would meet an angel who would shepherd us through the next few hours. A physically nondescript young nurse in her midtwenties, she moved with the confidence of a veteran who knew exactly what she was doing. It was her voice, though, that stood out the most. Gentle and firm, it was oddly familiar and provided a surprising comfort. It had a quality that put me at ease the moment I heard it; like a favorite song from a long time ago.
She was competent and honest throughout our time there, and most of all, she was kind. She told us to call her Christina and she immediately recognized my need to be fully with my wife. Christina not only allowed it; she offered ways that surprised me and gave me peace.
The first opportunity came not long after we arrived in the MICU. We were only there a half hour before they came to get Cath for her radiation treatment. It was her desire to “keep fighting,” and this would be the first step in that fight. The orderly came to bring her down and they needed to move her from the room bed onto the gurney that would transport her to the radiation lab. Christina and the orderly got into position, but before they did anything, Christina gestured for me to help.
“Take the sheets on the other side of Cathy and hold tight,” she said.
I was so pleased that I could participate in my wife’s care, if even for a moment. On the call of “one, two, three,” we all gently moved Cathy onto the gurney and went down to the radiation lab.
The lab reminded me of an underground government control room you’d see in movies. In fact, there was an actual control room with video screens and monitors and very darkly lit stations where technicians sat and conducted these treatments. Inside what looked like a fortified room was a platform about two feet wide and six feet long. It could be raised and lowered on hydraulics and it was surrounded by odd-shaped lights attached to an ominous-looking machine.
Christina seemed to clear the way for me to not only enter the control room but also go into the radiation room itself. By the reactions of those who worked there, it wasn’t their habit to allow the spouse of a patient to breach this inner sanctum.
We all repeated the process of moving Cathy gently to the platform. The nurses carefully strapped her in and left the room. Cath was in terrible pain but she was determined to go through with this. Christina whispered to me that I could watch from the control room where it was safe for me.
“Come on, Michael,” she said. “They have video monitors in there. You can see Cathy clearly.” I liked so much that she called us by our names.
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We went into the control room and they closed the massive door behind us. I saw Cathy on the video monitor. She looked like some Frankenstein experiment, strapped to a platform and being subjected to harmful doses of radioactive material shot into her skull. It was gruesome.
“How long does this take?” I asked.
“It’s done,” came the response from the technician in charge.
We went as quickly as possible to Cathy’s side and gingerly moved her again back onto the gurney for the ride back to the MICU.
The day was getting worse.
Cathy was the embodiment of the phrase “pain and suffering.” Most of her left side was paralyzed. Her right hand, which had spent most of the morning up at her eyes covering them from the light, now lay still on the bed. I was the helpless man at her side. There was very little to do and almost nothing to say.
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I actually thought about her funeral for a moment. We never really talked much about those things. We were young and so full of life. We never really had a serious discussion about what each other wanted. We should have. Now here we were, in this moment, with me yet again looking to the woman I loved to guide me.
I stammered, “Should we talk about . . . what you want?”
Cath was confused. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Where . . . um, where do you . . . I mean, where do you want to go?”
“I’m going to heaven,” she said without hesitation. She was calm. Matter of fact. She was sure of it. Incredibly, so was I.
“I know, babe, I know,” I said. I let it go.
She seemed to want to talk now. “Make sure that Charlotte grows up to be strong. Make sure she’s a strong woman, MJ,” she said.
“I will,” I promised.
She was stroking my hand now. Actually telling me what to do and comforting me. “Tell the boys how much I love them,” she continued through the pain.
I was crying now. “I will, my love, I promise.”
“Make sure Charlotte knows that she is the best little girl I could ever hope for.”
“I will.” I promised everything she asked for.
She rested for a few moments and held my hand as best she could. She told me that she loved our life together and that she loved me.
“I love you back,” I said.
“I’m going to tell the angels about you,” she said.
We cried and I held her in my arms. The love of my life was slipping away and all I could do was watch.
They allowed us back in the room. Cathy began vomiting, though there was no actual food to spit up. Christina had told me to expect this. Outside the window, the dull gray sky was showing the long light of the afternoon and I wondered if my love would see another dawn. She was in and out of coherence and that was a blessing. Her pain was continually a 9 out of 10. The vomiting was just another insult. From time to time she could drift into a type of sleep.
Out of the blue, without opening her eyes, she said to me, “Call Gina Kell.”
“What?” I said incredulously. I knew the name. She was Matt Kell’s widow. I tried to dismiss this.
“Call Gina Kell,” Cathy insisted. “She has two boys and they will need to learn basketball. You’re a coach, you can help them.”
I wanted to completely change the subject. This was making me very uncomfortable. This was not what I wanted to talk about at this moment. Yet it seemed so very important to Cathy.
“Cath, please. I don’t want to talk about these . . .”
“Michael,” she stopped me. She opened her eyes and squeezed my hand.
“Call Gina Kell,” she said firmly. “She’ll help you, too.”
This was the last time I would hear her use that tone. Don’t argue; just trust. Unbelievable, I thought. She is dying and all she can think about is other people who might need help.
"Taken from The Color of Rain by Michael and Gina Spehn. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive