In a moving essay, Cindy McCain reflects on her last moments with her late husband, Senator John McCain, who died at age 81 in August, and how his memory guides her. Though, she admits, going on “without him is not an easy adjustment.”
“It was a year of hope and resolve, of courage and kindness, of future plans and poignant goodbyes,” Mrs. McCain, 64, writes of the year before her husband succumbed to brain cancer in an essay for Today‘s Voices series. “There were many highs and a few lows. And as we knew he would, he faced them all with grace, and the sly humor he had always used to lift our spirits at low moments — to tease us, to laugh at life’s curveballs, to make life with him so much fun.”
The legendary war hero had been battling cancer since 2017. When his last day was upon them, the end “came swiftly,” Mrs. McCain says of her husband of 38 years.
“[It was] as if he had taken the final measure of his situation and resolved to embrace it, give thanks and leap into the hereafter,” she writes in Today adding, “like the daring aviator he had once been and the brave soul he had remained.”
According to the essay, in his final moments the senator was surrounded by loved ones as “My Way” by Frank Sinatra played. The patriarch of a large family, Sen. McCain was the father of seven children.
Shortly after Sen. McCain’s death, Mrs. McCain tweeted, “My heart is broken.”
“I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years,” she continued. “He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best.”
Known as a “maverick,” Sen. McCain was a prisoner of war for five years and went on to challenge the conventions of the Republican party. Late in his life, the senator also stood out because he challenged President Donald Trump.
In one of his last acts, Sen. McCain composed a letter that was read aloud by close friend Rick Davis, a Republican political consultant, after his death.
The letter addressed Sen. McCain’s gratitude for his accomplished life and the importance of sticking to American ideals despite “present difficulties.” According to some observers, it also took subtle shots at President Donald Trump through mentions of “tribal rivalries” and “[hiding] behind walls rather than [tearing] them down.”
In the letter, the senator also gave thanks for his family and reflected on his long career. At the end, he offered hope and a challenge to the American people.
“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here,” he wrote. “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history. Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.”
Just like his letter, Mrs. McCain writes in the Today piece that her husband wanted his funeral to serve as inspiration “to keep the faith, to fight for our ideals.”
“And so he did, in the illuminating accounts and funny stories of a patriot’s life, offered by friends and family and fellow Americans,” she recalls, according to Today, “in the rousing chorus of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and the affecting lyrics of his favorite song, ‘Danny Boy.’ “
‘He Made Me Better.’ George W. Bush Pays Tribute to Former Rival John McCain
In a moment of humor, she writes in the Today essay, “as the music swelled in that magnificent cathedral, I could’ve sworn I heard his voice complain it was taking ‘too damn long.’ “
It is this legacy of integrity and humor that continues to push Mrs. McCain forward. Not only has a new campaign, Mavericks Needed, been launched in the senator’s honor, Mrs. McCain has also been inspired to continue her good works.
“My own work in the same spirit continues, fighting human trafficking, chairing the McCain Institute board, speaking out for the persecuted and threatened,” she writes, per the essay, “enjoying and worrying about my children, and especially enjoying our grandson, Mac, otherwise known as John Sidney McCain V.”
Mrs. McCain is motivated by her husband’s legacy, according to Today, but humanitarian work hasn’t eased her sorrow completely.
“Admittedly, after 38 years of marriage to the force of nature that was John McCain, living without him is not an easy adjustment,” she writes in the Today essay. “But adjust we will. He left us our instructions, and every day I can still hear him insist, ‘Don’t slack off. You know what to do.’ “