Love Is Strong As Death
  by Rick and Nancy Fleeter

Print on Demand Publisher Our walk through the valley of its shadow
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  ISBN: 9781432729110
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Love Is Strong As Death

Our modern lives are managed for us by experts in birthing, in exercise, in nutrition, in education, in choosing a mate, in distribution of news, entertainment, government and groceries. An army of experts is ready to advise us how to eat, how much to sleep, what car to buy, how to simplify our lives and lower our blood pressure. Nancy and I were not experts on any of these things, much less on facing life’s most difficult passage, death. This book is our experience, two innocent novices, in dying, death and rebuilding one life where once there had been two. It offers no advice, but simply a window into this most personal, and at the same time universal, of human experiences. Love Is Strong As Death



Maybe growing up, as I did, on a steady diet of cartoons from my parents’ New Yorker subscriptions, explains for me Nancy’s attraction to a certain population of men, depicted in those black and white figures and their one line captions as older, financially established members of exclusive, politically incorrect clubs, to which they are delivered by their drivers from the back seats of large, ecologically incorrect dark colored sedans, to eat blood red in the center of steaks preceded only by iceberg lettuce-wedge salads, drink Scotch or Bourbon, and smoke cigars. Men who vote straight Republican and vacation without their wives, with guides in Land Rovers, in Africa and South America, hunting big game. Not that Nancy supported many of these vices, herself an animal lover, Democrat to the core, insistent on vacationing with me, generally bothered by even cigarette smoke, and when she drove at all, it was in a VW Beetle. Nancy wouldn’t spend an hour in the bush, even to photograph an animal. Though she did appreciate an occasional steak at Morton’s preceded by a peaty single malt and being a guest in that smoky men’s club exclusivity she admired.

But these men, and they were all men, from the cynical board members of New Yorker cartoons plotting their next corporate takeover to the cigared denizens of summer hunting mansions with animal busts jutting from raw-hewn walls, combined intelligence, power, and the freedom only an excess of money can provide, with the self confidence to be and act just as wrongly or rightly as they pleased. Working in the world of finance for some of the United States’ major fine arts institutions provided Nancy the perk of spending time in the company of these people who in a previous era would have been labeled tycoons. They were a surrogate for the self-confidence, freedom, and security she simultaneously dared not even aspire to, and resented, because of their excesses and their occasional indulgence in simple idleness.

Few of the real individuals she met of this ilk, the men who put money into her arts institutions and whose wives put time into their executive committees, whose names were at the top of the wall of golden circle donors in the biggest type sizes, whose companies advertised in the playbill, and whose pictures appeared in the Society section of the Sunday Times, lived up to the New Yorker’s phantasies. They were human. Up close she saw they too had weaknesses, even if only that of just trying too hard to be what they were. Most simply lacked that lack of desire she so desired.

But if there were one epitome, to her it was Jim. I know only a little about him. He was a self-made millionaire who then married into a much bigger fortune, which he neither needed nor cared about, except to complain about its burdens, which accrued more to his wife than to him directly. Jim was 20 years older than Nancy, tall and lanky, or so she said, since I never met him. He didn’t really run his banking firm any more, delegating mostly to others, but he stayed somehow involved, sat on boards, cared for an infirm adult daughter, belonged to clubs, and invited Nancy to join him sometimes, I suppose on evenings when women were permitted as guests of the members. He hunted all over the world and had never met a Republican he didn’t like. He and Nancy shared a love and a knack for finance. Nancy sometimes would call Jim to help her break a financial logjam, or think through a strategy to pull some financially devastated nonprofit from the brink. Or just to argue about where the markets were going and which political candidate was more certain to destroy the economy once and for all.

I think women instinctively understand that men, some men anyway, will always have an eye for an attractive female. They wouldn’t say so, but they know it’s the sign of a healthy male psyche. And I considered Nancy’s attraction to self-made, uninhibited, powerful older men of the upper class to be similarly a sign of a healthy female psyche.

Whatever the underlying psychology, biology, anthropology, and Darwinian logic, I encouraged her to enjoy these chances to spend time with the upper crust of the other half, which isn’t really a half, but an esoteric, infinitesimal fraction of a percent of the world’s population. Being chief of the green eyeshade brigade in the guts of a huge performing arts center, spending twelve- and often fourteen-hour days in windowless offices tucked up against the IBM mini mainframe with its whirring hard drives, high speed printers, cooling fans, and elevated flooring to accommodate all the power cords and cables is otherwise sorely lacking in, to put it politely, je ne sais quoi.

A few of these men telephoned from their cars and offices to check on Nancy during her illness. Many sent flowers regularly, or their wives or secretaries did, and several came to visit. Jim was one of the telephoners, and he was Nancy’s favorite. I knew she was seriously ill when I took his call and she asked me to say she’d have to call back another time. That happened, I think, twice, and after that, I don’t remember him calling again.

While writing this book, I took over one of Nancy’s old computers, a Macintosh laptop she had custom-painted in metallic purple with a contrasting white keyboard and track pad. This was her travel machine for use on airliners, and it mainly saw duty as a DVD player. As she got weaker, she used the laptop at home to watch DVDs from her hospital-style bed because it was lighter and easier for her to manage.

Other than a few iTunes movies, there were no files on it, except for two. The first was a journal article on her disease, vulvar cancer, written by one of her doctors from Memorial Sloan-Kettering. I read it. Clinical. Nancy had a disease that fewer than a tenth of one percent of cancer patients get, and an even smaller fraction of that small group “experience mortality” from it. She was, in yet another way, one in a million.

The other file was labeled Private Letter. I am guessing it was never printed nor sent.

Dear Jim,

I have no idea why I’m writing this other than I’ve been a bit emotional over the last two months. I so appreciate your calls. It helps me to know you’re thinking about me. I’m scared. I’m scared I won’t make it and I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what happens after we die and I’m not ready to leave this earth yet.

I try to keep positive but it’s difficult when I feel so lousy. I’m enjoying the time off … I’ve been working since I was seventeen … I enjoy having the time to read the NY Times every day and The Economist cover to cover. The time passes; I’m not particularly bored, just apprehensive because I don’t know what’s happening next. All my life I’ve tried to do the right thing in order to prevent bad things from happening, and this … this I don’t have control over.

Promise me one thing … that if it comes to it you’ll come say good-bye?


About Rick and Nancy Fleeter

Rick and Nancy were both professionals whose work took them all over the world. He founded and managed the aerospace engineering company AeroAstro while Nancy managed arts organizations including American Ballet Theater and the J.F. Kennedy Center. Rick also wrote books and taught aerospace engineering as an Adjunct Professor, while Nancy continued to practise and teach ballet. They lived at various times, sometimes simultaneously, in suburban Washington, DC, Manhattan, Charlestown, RI, Rome, Tokyo and Gold Coast Australia. In addition to this book written with Nancy, Rick has written several books and book chapters on the engineering and management of miniature spacecraft and on cycling, triathalon and living nomadically for business and pleasure.

Rick now writes and is a professor in Rome and Charlestown, teaching at The University of Rome La Sapienza and Brown University.

Rick also blogs at:

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