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Overwhelmed with caring for her dying husband, newborn, and toddler, Jen teeters on breakdown. Tom shows her, through the simple request of a shave, how to be with him until he's gone.
Backtrack to 8 ? years earlier when Jen and Tom meet on a rock-climbing adventure. They both came to the sport to find themselves and, despite reason, found each other. Jen can't deny the knowing vibrating through her bones telling her there is something important to be lived out with Tom.
A month into their passionate, taboo relationship, Tom discloses the mysterious fifth mid-life crisis he's having: cancer. Tom's illness gives them a reason to live full-on, until Tom has second thoughts about what he's getting himself and Jen into.
Jen and Tom recommit to the adventure, pack up their separate lives and hit the road together, traveling through Europe for six months. Living in the moment begins to stale for Jen as she tries to reconcile the contradictions Tom exposes.
Reality hits hard as they return to the States and Jen is faced with a sudden loss. Her heart is cracked open, letting anticipated grief over losing Tom one day.
A rollercoaster of remission and reccurence leaves Jen and Tom certain of one thing: uncertainty. They are at a crossroads. Big issues-children, sex, treatment, quality of life over quantity must be addresses before they can commit to marriage.
A car accident with her cousin and a brush with the law has Jen cleaning up the common drug habit she and Tom share. With the move out of their crime-ridden neighborhood and a cleansing visit to the hot springs, Jen is cleared for new life. Tom is forced to consider the long-term future.
It seems Jen and Tom are on the same page until the baby is born. Tom anticipates someday having to leave his son, medicating his emotional pain with secret indulgences in marijuana. He can't help but fall head-over-heals for little River. Meanwhile, Jen tries to complete her degree, longing all the while to be a full-time mother. Life vacillates between high tension and tender moments.
Just after graduation, a death-threat enters their lives, not from Tom's cancer, but a car deal gone bad. Abruptly, they move back to Seaside to escape danger, only to find their house is not the "home" they left four years earlier. Tom smiles outwardly until he can't disguise his hopelessness any longer. He lets Jen in on his darkest secrets.
Jen learns she's pregnant again and the coin flips to "hopeful." Great efforts are put forth to keep it a secret while she secures new jobs at the hospice and hospital. When Jen unexpectedly becomes a patient at her place of work, the secret is out. So is the grief she has kept at bay to maintain a "professional" facade. She and Tom are both bed-bound and questioning their faith.
Tom's escalating symptoms have him reluctantly signing on for surgery. Tom's ex-wife, Louise, and Jen meet for the first time in the hospital corridor. After years of bitterness, Louise isn't going to let it end this way. The surgery confirms Tom's fears and has an unexpected side effect. Sex, hope and faith are all in the process of redefinition. Jen and Tom take one last leap of faith.
Tom tries chemotherapy in an effort to buy time, now that cure has been deemed moot. Every side effect in the book hits him at once. A spontaneous ritual is made in the bathroom as Jen cuts off the braid that Tom has grown out since his diagnosis 8 years ago-before cancer can claim it. Tom tenderly explains to their son what is happening.
Jen's supervisor recognizes she's near breakdown and insists she helps herself before contining to see clients. Though she preaches the same concept to families at her hospice job, Jen isn't walking her talk. Reluctantly, she begins therapy and discovers the relief of congruence. A referral to a recent widower for advice, however, leaves Jen confounded as to why she can't call him.
Easter brings a new beginning in Tom's string of "lasts." Once he stops the frantic search, Tom discovers an experience of the spiritual life he has always wanted to live from. Jen is frustrated by talk of Tom's deteriorating condition being the avoided "elephant in the room." Desperate to share with someone who understands, she calls Nick, the widower.
Boundaries blur as Jen develops a close friendship with a hospice patient at work. Larissa teaches her how to grow closer to someone as death nears and how mutual giving and receiving are. Peripherally, Tom and Larissa develop a camaraderie around dying.
With the implications of Tom's new diagnosis of a brain tumor, Jen tries to keep their family afloat. Her choice is to sink or get past her stubborn independence and take Nick's advice to set up a support network. Meeting Nick causes feelings Jen is not ready to have.
The silence is finally broken over their trip back East being one for Tom to say his goodbyes. Over the course of two weeks at the beach cottage with Jen's family, hope shifts from Tom getting better, to having one last chance to show him what he has meant to them.
Upon their return West, Tom gambles for more time, taking a trip to Mexico for an alternative treatment. Jen says goodbye, not knowing if he'll return in time for the baby's birth-or at all. Both are focused on the passages ahead-birth and death. Nick's son, Conrad, becomes a beacon of hope for River on how to survive the loss of a parent at three years old.
Though barely able to remain conscious, Tom returns in time to coach Jen through a tough labor- the same way she hopes to support him through his death in days to come. Once the visitors have gone home, Jen indulges in the celebratory meal delivered to "the lucky parents" -alone, finding solace in a bottle of champagne and two plates of salmon. She doesn't know if she can handle what's at home waiting for her. Surrender is the only option.
Tom announces he's cachexic-his body is feeding off itself- dying. Jen calls work, confusing a coworker with her request for a doctor.20 Days
When Dr. Biller confirms that Tom has only days to live, Jen begins whirling like a top, unable to comprehend the end is at hand, while Tom seems relieved.21 Weaving
With a foot in both worlds of living and dying, Tom offers meaningful messages to those who come to say goodbye. When Nick visits, Tom seems to have an alterior motive.
When Jen has made a week's worth of last suppers and Tom has left them untouched, she decides food is for growing children and waits to learn what dying men need.23 Leaving Behind Names
Tom's body has outlived his prognosis, while parts of him have drifted into spirit, including his memory of Jen.24 Future Presence
Jen tries to resist the pull of the future that keeps her from being with Tom in what last moments are left.
Nick gives Jen simple advice on going through a spouse's death. Only through being with Tom while he unloads nightmares of earthly baggage, does Jen understand Nick's advice.26 Sweet Acceptance
A split between Tom and his mother is mended through a simple act. In accepting his inevitable death, she is able look beyond her own pain to be with him.27 Light Homefront
Tom's dying and Jen's living both take on lightness she couldn't have imagined possible.
While Tom enters into other realms on all Hallow's eve, Jen guards his passage-even from the parade of his four costumed children.29 Birth / Death Day
River's third birthday and, possibly, Tom's death day coincide. Family gathers for a bedside vigil, while others celebrate at a near-by park. Jen is torn between the dying and the living.
Just after midnight on River's birthday, Tom begins actively dying. Jen tries to balance his wish to go naturally, with the conflicting pull to medicate him out of his misery. Once Tom is gone, River sees his daddy's spirit, Jen dodges the sales pitches of the funeral director, River cries hysterically over thinking both parents have died, and Jen makes her first debut as a widow.
Jen drops swiftly into the world outside the grief time-warp she's been in for months. A mandatory work meeting has her worried about her job security and feeling the awkwardness of being a new widow. The tension is unbearable.32 Guardian Angel
Synchronicity abounds when Jen receives a promised message from Tom via a comic in the Sunday paper as she takes over the cinnamon roll ritual Tom used to share with River on Sunday mornings.33 Ashes to Ashes
With the surprise shock of picking up Tom in a shoe-sized box on a way to meeting with her new boss, Jen is on edge-about to unravel.
Tom's Catholic family is pushed beyond their boundaries attending a Tom-style service at the Elk's Lodge. Tom's ex-wife and his daughters sit with Jen, her sisters, and Nick-creating a new family in honor of the thread that brought them all together: Tom.35 Giving Thanks
As Thanksgiving approaches and Jen adjusts to life without Tom, gratitude fills her. She has come to life in unimaginable ways through his dying. A new family is woven together through a Sunday meal ritual.
River helps his mamma fill shells with Daddy's ashes for the ceremony when they will scatter them into the sea. It is another round of letting-go but Jessica isn't ready.37 Faith Tested
Jen's faith is at an all-time high, until River escapes through the gate and a frenzied neighborhood search ensues. Christmas back East with family consoles Jen, while New Year's Eve out West with Nick inspires a meaningful resolution.
Life has moved quickly until this impasse. Jen cannot move forward until she has completed Tom's wishes-scattering the remaining ashes high in the Sierras. She, and her mix of new family, take an adventurous road, mule, and hiking trip to carry out Tom's plan. What she first thinks is an obstacle to overcome, becomes a plan of divine genius as it unfolds.