I think of all the opportunities I have missed over the years to write you love letters, purchase Hallmark cards, send you flowers. I always thought that was supposed to be your department since romance seems to fall in the “male category”. What nonsense! I know how important it is for you to know how much I love you — and so I am writing this to you secretly — hopefully to give it to you when I am well, but if that is not part of God’s plan, when you are in that alone place you will at least have my words, and with them my hope for some measure of comfort.


With these words written to her husband just days after receiving a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, Debby begins a journal to Tom. She continues to write her “letters” until the cancer ends her life eight months later. She writes of their life and of their love, of the memories she cherishes from their life together, of the challenges of living with cancer and the fear of dying from it. The letters are ordered as they were written, by date, but they move from past to present to future and back again as do our own private thoughts were they ever to be recorded. There is thus a powerful sense of being present in the story, of being part of its unfolding.

Her story is intensely personal and yet universally applicable. At 50 years of age, she has been living her life with intentionality, seeking God’s will and honoring the call she has been given. But she, like most of us, has also assumed there will be plenty of time for enjoyment and fulfillment, for understanding God’s bigger plan and being part of it. With little warning, and with no preparation, a new reality replaces the old assumptions. Debby writes in the moment, sharing her thoughts and her life as she discovers time is her most precious gift.

Given the journal only after her death, Tom writes his own letters in response over the next year and a half. While he responds to each of Debby’s letters, he is also able to bring context to the larger story — a story of two young people following the God-directed path of two becoming one. In choosing to see their marriage as the foundational commitment of their lives, they work through the challenges of married life and of raising a family. With great openness and honesty, their marriage is presented with its cracks and blemishes for sure, but also with a refreshing focus on commitment and the resulting benefits. Tom takes the time to reflect on their life together, Deb’s illness, her death and the life (his) that still remains on this earth. In is from this vantage point that Tom ends his final letter:

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So it is here that I will end what you began when you picked up an empty notebook late one night and began to tell our story. It’s a beautiful story with one really tough chapter, but a story with the last chapters yet to be written. We will yet write them together. It will be finished with my hands, but they will be hands that you first held and then shaped to fit your own. It will flow from my heart, but it will be a heart that you softened and prepared for its purpose. I have no more words for the expression of my love or my gratitude. The days that remain of this life, the work yet to be done will be my response — my “thank you” for a gift beyond measure, the gift of the life we shared.

The book concludes with a final chapter sharing eleven life lessons learned from their experience. While each of these lessons is wound in and through the letters written by both Debby and Tom, they are clearly illuminated with thoughtful application at the end. They include lessons for living, lessons for loving, lessons for dying and lessons for living again. They are all part of the larger lesson to be learned from their whole story — the God given gift that is offered when life is shared and shared well. This book brings us into their story, and in so doing gives insights into life’s possibilities for love, ideas for dealing with loss and a process for healing that is genuine and hope-filled.

Copyright © 2009 by Jim Mueller. A review of The Life We Shared by Tom Rogers, published by Inspirit Publishing.

An important book for anyone who is dealing with the fear of loss or loss itself. These are the writings of two front line participants in an effort to live and love as fully as possible with the time they are given — lessons of lives well shared. Get The Life We Shared — click