When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

Start Free Trial

Epilogue by Lucy Kalanithi Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

In the epilogue, Lucy reveals that Paul died on Monday, March 9, 2015, in a hospital bed and surrounded by his family. Cady had been born eight months before in the delivery ward only two hundred yards from the room in which Paul took his final breaths.

During Cady’s first Christmas, Paul’s health declined sharply, to the point that even chemotherapy had no effect. He became intent on finishing his memoir once he learned that neurologic decline and death were inevitable. Though he accepted his terminal condition, Paul was unnerved by the prospect of losing his sense of identity and agency. Regardless, Paul died sooner than anyone expected after contracting a 104-degree fever. He was sent to the emergency room, then returned home, only to have trouble breathing the following day. The family took him back to the ER, where it was discovered that Paul had high levels of carbon dioxide in his blood.

When it became clear that Paul would not recover, Paul told Lucy and the others that he was ready to remove his breathing mask, the only thing that was keeping him alive. He requested that his manuscript eventually be published, even though it was not yet complete. Before he slipped into unconsciousness, he asked to hold Cady one last time. Nine hours later, he died.

Lucy and the family buried Paul in a willow casket by the Santa Cruz Mountains. She says that Paul left no instructions for his remains. She feels she and his other loved ones chose well, even though the unpredictable weather can make visits difficult. Though she misses Paul, she says she does not feel that he’s entirely gone:

I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.

Paul lives on in their child and in his book. Lucy affirms Paul’s courage in the face of death and settles the question that plagued Paul throughout his life—that is, whether or not he could face death with grace. She writes,

In the end, the answer was yes.
I was his wife and a witness.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Part 2, Section 2 Summary