(Many names and personalizing details, including location, have been changed to protect privacy.)

Introduction: Here's Who We Are

When I answer the phone, a woman's voice says, "How do you do it? I mean you've been doing it six years! I'm only a few months in and I'm going crazy, crazy!" It's Francie again, calling three thousand miles from Pasadena. On the day her older son flew east to start college, her husband was diagnosed with kidney failure.
Both journalists, Francie and I met years ago in Chicago while covering, ironically, a conference on stress. Podium talk about juggling the many hats of the working mother brought laughter and plenty of "Amens" from the audience. There was no mention of what I was going through, though - wearing all those hats, plus living with a chronically ill husband who needed to be assured about his manhood and his adulthood. I was alone and growing lonelier. I couldn't speak to my husband the whole of my sadness at what was happening to him or much of my sorrow at the loss of a life's companion, and nothing of my daily fear that I wouldn't be able to keep the kids in jeans or myself from eventually becoming like an older woman I knew who, when she turned her disabled husband over in bed, would sometimes "accidentally" scratch him with her fingernails.
"Seven years," I remind Francie. "And it was only this year I got my second wind. So tell me, what's happening?"
Some months my phone bill to the coast hits fifty dollars. It's worth it. What Francie is going through provides me with a backward glance at myself, lets me forgive myself for emotions that seem perfectly justified when they come from her, and shows me just how rocky our road is, and how far I've traveled.