Jon Ellis had never been afraid to die. And he still wasn’t. But it was becoming more difficult to live through the pain.

Pancreatic cancer, with which he was diagnosed not long after the pandemic hit, and chemotherapy rendered him a stranger in his own body. As a pilot for 50 years, Mr. Ellis knew how tenuous life really is. But at least in the sky he was free. Down in his 1,500-square-foot home in Maine, Mr. Ellis, 75, could hardly pull himself off the couch.

Mr. Ellis probably wouldn’t have survived, he said, if not for his wife.

Rita Ellis would drive him to chemotherapy appointments, then shepherd him home and make sure he drank his smoothies. “She knew better what I needed than I did,” he said.

Mrs. Ellis, 72, refused to complain, even when, on top of everything else, the Ellises’ daughter became ill and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The Ellises had moved to Maine from Memphis about five years earlier, in part to be closer to their children living in the Northeast. Now, forced to spend time with each other more than ever, the couple spoke about what Mrs. Ellis’s future might look like in practical terms: She would have to move, they agreed, to a less rural part of town, if Mr. Ellis were to die.

“I was ready to hear that I wasn’t going to make it for another year,” Mr. Ellis said. “We had some really good heart-to-heart talks about our longevity on this planet. In our case, at least, it made us very much closer. I’m grateful for that.”

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