Sometimes it starts with a lump. And it did. We’d separated quite some time ago, but as an ex-husband the awful stories reach you anyway — whether you want it or not. So one evening, at a dinner party with one of my best friends’ family, the news came out that my ex-wife had breast cancer. We divorced about ten years earlier, but even then such dark news remains spooky all the same. There were no more details. I remembered all too well that she had an aunt who had died very young from an aggressive form of breast cancer: my ex-wife’s mother often recounted the sad story of her poor sister, and the horrible suffering she had to endure before dying young. When I heard the news, it immediately crossed my mind that faulty BRCA-genes might run in the family of my ex-wife’s mother’s side. And I guess they did. And when my ex-wife felt the lump in an armpit and went to the doctor’s, she had no idea whatsoever that the diagnosis would be nothing less than a death sentence. Stage IV breast cancer, with metastasis to the bones. As the ex-husband, I only heard the real in-hindsight-details when the final news had trickled in via a common friend. I had seen my ex a couple of times in full-powered COVID-19 times, waiting on her kid who did gymnastics in the same club as my daughter’s. She seemed okay, so cancer did not cross my mind when I saw her in a near distance. We are all actors in a game called life, and it proceeds without waiting. We never talked — we noticed each other, and ignored each other. Sometimes silences are stronger than superficial small talk. But then, near the end of June, I saw her again at the same venue, and something had changed. Her skin was yellow and had the composure of the skin of an orange, and it made her very hard to recognize. One friend saw her two months later, and he told me that: “I was sure it was her, but at the same time she looked so different I doubted.” I had the exact same feeling, but if you have been together for so long, you recognize the person with a mask on, just by the moves. But this was a death mask. I immediately understood that the cancer had metastasized to the liver, and that her days were numbered. For about an hour, we sat there, back to back, without saying a word. I was working while waiting for my daughter; she was staring into empty space — in hindsight more empty than most of us can understand. She looked broken, empty, exhausted, and beyond desperate. As if all hope had evaporated, and she would part soon. And when I heard the news in the beginning of September, I realized that she knew what was coming. (And it did.)