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Love Is Strong As Death
by Rick and Nancy Fleeter

Our walk through the valley of its shadow

Ordering Information

6.14 X 9.21 PAPERBACK
ISBN: 9781432729110




Other Books by Rick Fleeter

Travels of a Thermodynamicist


The Logic of MicroSpace

Also Avialable for the Kindle

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.



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

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

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

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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In database since 2011-08-04 and last updated on 2014-10-16
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