In November 2021, a month after his wife, Elaine, died from breast cancer, Alan Nathan was visiting her grave at Cambridge Cemetery when he noticed a freshly dug plot next to hers.
It was for a 5-year-old boy.
Months later, after a heavy snowfall, Alan, then 75, cleared a long path to his wife’s grave, and a separate path to the boy’s.
A few weeks later, after another heavy snowfall, Alan returned with shovel in hand, only to find that someone else had cleared the two paths.
And then, on a blustery day as winter ended and spring hesitantly approached, Alan was standing at his wife’s grave when a woman walked toward him.
“Are you Mr. Nathan?” she asked.
She told him her name is Suzy Amor, that her son Jonah is buried next to his wife. She thanked him for clearing the path to Jonah’s resting spot.
“When I saw what you had done,” Suzy recalls saying, “my eyes filled with tears, because, at such a dark time in my life, it made me believe there was still some kindness, some humanity in the world.”
Alan was similarly moved.
“When you suffer a huge loss,” he remembers replying, “it’s comforting to have someone in your corner, even if it’s a complete stranger.”
They stood in the chilly wind for a half-hour, trading stories about the two people they loved most.
Suzy told Alan all about Jonah, that he was a sweet boy with a sweet smile, a smile that rarely left his face, even as he endured the pain and constant hospitalizations required because of a rare, aggressive form of brain cancer.
Alan told Suzy about his wife of 38 years, the way the nurses at Mt. Auburn Hospital fawned over Elaine, because she never gave up and never stopped smiling throughout seven years of grueling treatment.
They both agreed that Elaine and Jonah were kindred spirits, and imagined them smiling, together, somewhere.
“We bonded as only grieving survivors can,” Alan says. “We exchanged phone numbers. We were strangers no more.”
They met regularly at the cemetery. When Suzy was away, Alan watered the flowers on Jonah’s grave. When Alan couldn’t make it, Suzy watered the flowers on Elaine’s grave.
As Thanksgiving approached last year, Suzy didn’t want Alan to be alone. She was prepared to ask him to spend Thanksgiving with her family, her partner, and their daughter, and asked if he had any plans.
He told her he was going to spend Thanksgiving with his best friend, Steve, who was fighting pancreatic cancer. Steve didn’t have much time left.
Suzy was touched by his loyalty. The night before Thanksgiving, Suzy texted Alan, asking to meet at the cemetery next morning.
At the cemetery, she came toward him carrying a big shopping bag and a wide smile.
“I have the world’s best apple pie for you to bring to your friend Steve,” she said.
Suzy asked Alan to tell her more about Steve. Alan said they met in 1973 and ran together every morning for 30 years, that Steve and his wife, Dee, were the matchmakers who introduced him to Elaine, that Steve was a sociology professor at several local colleges, including Simmons.
“Wait,” Suzy said. “What’s Steve’s last name?”
“London,” Alan replied. “Like the bridge.”
Suzy had been Steve London’s student at Simmons.
“I remember him so well,” Suzy said. “He was a great teacher.”
Alan strapped the apple pie in with a seatbelt and drove to Steve’s house. He told Steve and Dee about Steve’s former student who baked him an apple pie. Steve had tears in his eyes.
Steve London died a month later.
“Steve and Elaine were the two bravest people I’ve ever known,” Alan Nathan says. “Losing them was devastating. But everything evens out. When we lose one friend, another one appears. All you have to do is shovel a path and wait to see who walks down it.”
Suzy Amor firmly believes Elaine and Jonah have guided her and Alan down the paths that brought them together, to form a life-affirming friendship, to find love and light and meaning amid the darkness of their loss.
“There are too many coincidences for this to be coincidence,” Suzy says.
If she didn’t believe that before, she had no choice but to believe it after what happened Monday morning.
Alan had mentioned to Suzy that Steve London’s daughters, Andrea and Jessica, were running in the Boston Marathon for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Suzy was doing the same, raising money for researchers at Dana-Farber who are using Jonah’s cell line to find a cure for the brain cancer that killed him and continues to kill children all over the world. The foundation named for Jonah is a driving force behind that research.
Alan suggested Suzy might bump into Steve’s daughters at the Marathon, and Suzy laughed, knowing the chances of finding two strangers in the middle of 30,000 runners were slim and none.
As hundreds of runners from the Dana-Farber teams boarded buses at Boston Common for the drive out to Hopkinton, Suzy walked into the Starbucks on the corner of Charles and Beacon.
“I saw this woman,” Suzy said, “and I saw her bib, and I just knew.”
It was Steve’s daughter, Andrea. Andrea called her sister Jessica over.
The three women embraced. They took a selfie and texted it to Alan. He looked to the heavens and smiled.
After all they’ve lost and what they now have found, Alan Nathan and Suzy Amor believe that death doesn’t mean losing the ones we love forever. It just means we have to find another path, and go down it. They’ll be waiting.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.