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Connect: Life with a husband’s diagnosis

Beverly Seaton Ingersoll has just published a book about the four months from her husband's diagnosis with cancer to his death. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Beverly Seaton Ingersoll has just published a book about the four months from her husband's diagnosis with cancer to his death. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

People die every day; it’s a natural part of living. Sometimes death comes as a surprise brought on by an accident or sudden illness. Sometimes death lingers for years like a foul odor that can’t be scrubbed away, or it hangs like a gray cloud over family holidays and gets in the way of summer plans, because no one knows when it’s going to strike.

Beverly Seaton Ingersoll, 58, knew her husband Larry Seaton was dying. He was a decorated Vietnam veteran and a stoic, disciplined, hard-working man, she says. When he was diagnosed with rapidly progressing lung cancer that already had metastasized to his brain, doctors weren’t sure he’d live through his first night in the hospital. But he hung on through four months of surgery, ups and downs, close calls and sudden changes.

“Throughout my life I have had so many miracles around me,” Ingersoll said, about what kept Seaton alive against many odds. “Had I not had my faith to start with, I couldn’t have endured life as a military wife.”

Ingersoll has just published a book, “4 Months of God’s Mercy,” about what life was like when her spouse was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away at age 56. “Exactly 35 years, 12 hours and 40 minutes from the time our life together began, it came to an end,” she writes about Seaton’s death on Jan. 25, 2003.

Theirs is a classic American love story of two people who first met as children – she was 11, he was 14 – then became engaged years later and married right before he shipped out to Vietnam.

“We had 10 days together after we got married and before he left,” Ingersoll said, blushing a little bit, waving a hand in front of her face. “I’ll never forget that time.”

Ingersoll was a senior in high school and Seaton looked like James Dean, she said.

They had two children – a boy and a girl – and life was good. In 1985, Seaton retired from the military, which had kept him away from home for months and sometimes a year at a time, and went to work for an electrical supply company.

As a hobby the couple took up kite flying.

They were living in Spanaway, Wash., in 2002 when Seaton’s demeanor began to change. Suddenly the active man spent long periods of time sitting in a chair, staring out the window. He got lost on his way to and from places he’d visited hundreds of times. He suddenly was smoking again, having quit years before.

“He wouldn’t go see a doctor,” Ingersoll said, but she finally persuaded him.

After the diagnosis, Ingersoll found herself starving for information on death and dying.

“All the books I found were very heavy, or they were about cancer,” she said.

Ingersoll prayed a lot, alone and with her family and friends, and relied on local hospice workers for medical help and advice. Central to her sanity and strength was her unwavering faith.

“God’s mercy was always all around me,” she said, pausing. “But when someone you love is dying, you don’t feel like you are part of the world anymore. You go to the store and you see all these people laughing and smiling and you ask yourself, how can they be so happy?”

After Seaton passed away, Ingersoll began writing a journal chronicling the last four months of his life, never thinking anyone else would read it.

“There is this pain and emptiness. I found that keeping a journal, writing things down, allowed me to release it and let it go,” she said.

As the writing progressed, Ronald Hunter, Ingersoll’s pastor at The Church of the Nazarene in Coeur d’Alene, was one of many who encouraged her to try to get published.

“What she’s written is a transparent story about her journey during a very difficult time of her life,” Hunter said. “It’s not as much a self-help book as it’s her story of how she walked through a difficult segment of her life.”

Hunter said people who are dealing with cancer and death in their family could gain valuable insights from the book.

“You may be going through a situation like this – but she knows the turf, she’s been there,” he said. “We often think we are the only ones going through a difficult time. Sometimes it helps to see that someone else has been there and come out in the sunshine on the other side.”

There are beautiful and touching passages in “4 Months of God’s Mercy,” like when Ingersoll sees angels in her gravely ill husband’s hospital room, or when friends and family gather to celebrate what turns out to be Seaton’s last Christmas. She describes the honesty, intimacy and complete vulnerability that flowed through the long conversations Ingersoll had, day and night, with her dying husband.

Yet a harsh reality cuts through every paragraph.

Ingersoll had to take her husband’s car keys away when doctors said he couldn’t drive. Morphine changed Seaton’s personality and behavior to a point where Ingersoll thought he might physically hurt her. Sleepless nights became the norm. Ingersoll found herself helpless on the floor, next to Seaton, after he fell and she wasn’t strong enough to help him up.

There was nothing easy about those four months, but there was healing in her faith.

“I know Larry is in paradise now, he’s in this wonderful place,” Ingersoll said, sending a glance skyward. “That helps.”

She now is married to Donald Ingersoll, even though it took a while for him to persuade her.

“The first time someone mentioned dating after Larry passed away, I was like, no way, never, I don’t need that,” she said. “But it does get lonely. I wasn’t really lonesome for a man, but I was lonesome for the companionship you have.”

Friends introduced them, and for months they got to know each other via marathon phone conversations, sometimes lasting six hours at a time.

“He’s a long-haul truck driver, and we just talked a lot,” Ingersoll said. “Then, when we met after all those conversations, there was just that connection.”

The couple settled in Hayden in July 2005 to be closer to Ingersoll’s mother, who had a stroke.

Ingersoll is now office manager at North Idaho College’s Riverbend Professional Technical Academy, and she’s working on her next book, about how to move on after losing a spouse.

So is she more resilient than most people?

“I don’t know. I mean, I try to let things bounce off me,” she said, smiling. “My mother was a tough cookie. She’d say, ‘Get up and get on with it.’ And I married a military man who was exactly the same way, so maybe there’s something there.”