When Amanda* met Sam* in her mid-20s, she thought he was the most interesting person she had ever met. "It was almost like he had tried to live his life a different way," she told me. "I was just enchanted by that."
Three years into their marriage, the couple found out that they were unexpectedly pregnant...with twins. Amanda says she took on the lion's share of the work at home while also juggling a full-time job that was paying most of their bills. "I was angry with him for not knowing how to help me," Amanda remembered. When Sam was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma while the kids were still toddlers, she says that neither one of them gave it the full attention it deserved.
"It certainly didn't change the things it should've changed," Amanda said. "Starting with a will would have been nice."
Sam didn't exhibit many physical symptoms at first, but mentally, he started to turn inward after his diagnosis. "He went to this place of living his life in secret," Amanda said. "And not sharing anything about how it was feeling or what he was doing with me." Then, the cancer spread to his spinal column and brain. He was admitted to the hospital and quickly lost consciousness. That's when Amanda discovered, among other secrets, that her husband had been having an affair. She planned to confront Sam when he woke up, but he never did.
Amanda was left with a lot of anger—and, as it turned out, money problems—to process. But she had to keep most of it to herself. "My husband was really very well-liked," she explained. "You've got to be this plate for everybody else's feelings about your dead husband." With two young kids and everyone else's mourning to deal with, she says it took years to get around to her own emotions.
Eventually, Amanda remarried. But only after figuring out what she really wanted out of a marriage—and her life. Her current husband, Frank*, is completely different from her first husband. She says he only has one deal breaker -- infidelity. But she's surprised to find that the rule isn't as comforting as she once expected.