When Breath Becomes Air

by

Paul Kalanithi

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Lucy Kalanithi Character Analysis

Paul’s wife, who works as an internist (a type of doctor). She and Paul meet in grad school at Yale and marry after four years. After graduating, they move to Stanford together. Though their marriage is strained at times due to Paul’s long hours, the two remain deeply in love through Paul’s deterioration, and Lucy works to support Paul in whatever ways she can. The couple always wanted kids, and Lucy lets Paul take the lead on whether he would like to spend his remaining time as a new father (eventually she does get pregnant and supports both her newborn daughter Cady and her dying husband). She works with Paul through physical therapy and supports his decision to return to surgery. Lucy also shepherds Paul’s manuscript into existence after his death, and she writes the epilogue to When Breath Becomes Air. In this way, Lucy not only helps Paul to gain a sense of meaning in his final months, but she also preserves his legacy after he is gone.

Lucy Kalanithi Quotes in When Breath Becomes Air

The When Breath Becomes Air quotes below are all either spoken by Lucy Kalanithi or refer to Lucy Kalanithi. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of When Breath Becomes Air published in 2017.
Prologue Quotes

At age thirty-six, I had reached the mountaintop; I could see the Promised Land, from Gilead to Jericho to the Mediterranean Sea. I could see a nice catamaran on that sea that Lucy, our hypothetical children, and I would take out on weekends.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Lucy Kalanithi
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1 Quotes

I knew medicine only by its absence—specifically, the absence of a father growing up, one who went to work before dawn and returned in the dark to a plate of reheated dinner.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Lucy Kalanithi, Paul’s Father
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Lucy Kalanithi (speaker), Cady Kalanithi
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Feeling her weight in one arm, and gripping Lucy’s hand with the other, the possibilities of life emanated before us […] Looking out over the expanse ahead I saw not an empty wasteland but something simpler: a blank page on which I would go on.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Lucy Kalanithi, Cady Kalanithi
Page Number: 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

This book carries the urgency of racing against time, of having important things to say. Paul confronted death—examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it—as a physician and a patient. He wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality.

Related Characters: Lucy Kalanithi (speaker), Paul Kalanithi
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Caring for our daughter, nurturing relationships with family, publishing this book, pursuing meaningful work, visiting Paul’s grave, grieving and honoring him, persisting…my love goes on—lives on—in a way I’d never expected.

Related Characters: Lucy Kalanithi (speaker), Paul Kalanithi, Cady Kalanithi
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire When Breath Becomes Air LitChart as a printable PDF.
When Breath Becomes Air PDF

Lucy Kalanithi Character Timeline in When Breath Becomes Air

The timeline below shows where the character Lucy Kalanithi appears in When Breath Becomes Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
...himself is a neurosurgical resident in his last year of training at Stanford. His wife Lucy sits by his side, and asks if he thinks it could be something else. Paul... (full context)
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...that he had “reached the mountaintop,” and looked forward to a more manageable life with Lucy and their future children. (full context)
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...has severe chest pain. He decides to get another X-ray, this time of his chest. Lucy sees that Paul is researching the frequency of cancer in people his age, and she... (full context)
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Lucy decides not to join Paul on a vacation they had planned to take to New... (full context)
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Paul offers to skip the trip and see a couple’s therapist, but Lucy is adamant about needing time alone. Paul decides to go on the trip, figuring that... (full context)
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Lucy picks Paul up from the airport. He tells her that he has cancer. She affirms... (full context)
Part 1: In Perfect Health I Begin
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...but are also shielded from the brunt of responsibility. But Paul’s girlfriend (and future wife) Lucy understands the subtext of the work. While studying EKGs, she identifies one which came from... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy attend Yale when Shep Nuland still lectures there. Nuland’s work How We Die is eye-opening... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy marry just after they finish medical school, and then head to California to begin their... (full context)
Part 2: Cease Not till Death
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...to the day he is diagnosed with cancer, where the prologue left off. He and Lucy look at the CT scan images, which show that the tumors have invaded multiple organ... (full context)
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Emma leaves, and Paul, Lucy and his family begin to search their network of medical colleagues for the best lung... (full context)
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...new mattress for his back pain, and setting up financial safety nets for himself and Lucy. Paul’s father believes that these modifications represent Paul’s resignation to his disease. He believes that... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy return to the hospital for his first official appointment with Emma. Emma explains the two... (full context)
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The next day, Paul and Lucy visit the sperm bank to preserve options because the cancer drugs might affect Paul’s sperm.... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy return home from the sperm bank and learn that he does have the treatable EGFR... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy also start seeing a couple’s therapist who specializes in cancer patients. The therapist tells them... (full context)
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The largest decision that looms over Paul is whether he and Lucy should have a child. Lucy feels that the choice should be Paul’s, because he would... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy agree to have a child. Because of the medications Paul is on, they decide to... (full context)
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...to its prior trajectory. He comes home each night exhausted, sneaking into bed next to Lucy, who is now in the first trimester of her pregnancy. (full context)
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...interview, but fears scenarios in which his cancer relapses two years down the line, forcing Lucy to care for a newborn and a dying husband away from family and friends. (full context)
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A few weeks later, during Lent, Paul, Lucy, and his mother and father attend church together. Paul interprets the reading that day as... (full context)
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Paul returns home to tell Lucy about the cancer growth. It is Thursday night, and he wouldn’t have another appointment with... (full context)
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Paul and Lucy go to Emma’s office on Monday. She says that they will look for more mutations... (full context)
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Paul, Lucy, and Paul’s mother go to the infusion center together for Paul’s chemotherapy, to which he... (full context)
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...of his mouth. He is in severe pain and comes in and out of consciousness. Lucy, thirty-eight weeks pregnant, moves into his old call room to be close to him at... (full context)
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Paul is discharged from the hospital, and two days later, Lucy has her first contractions. She stays home while Paul’s mother drives him to a follow-up... (full context)
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On the way home from the hospital, Lucy’s mom calls to say that Lucy has gone into labor. Paul and his mother turn... (full context)
Epilogue
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Lucy takes over the narration, opening with the circumstances of Paul’s death: surrounded by family, in... (full context)
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Lucy jumps back in time to describe Paul’s deterioration. Around Cady’s first Christmas, when she is... (full context)
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...The prospect of neurological decline hits him hard, as he fears losing agency and meaning. Lucy and Paul strategize with Emma about how to preserve his mental acuity as long as... (full context)
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Lucy describes Paul’s final Saturday. The family sits in their living room, holding Cady on his... (full context)
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To prepare for his clinical trial, Lucy must videotape Paul doing the same task every day to track any decline in his... (full context)
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The next day, Paul has a severe 104-degree fever. Paul, Lucy, Paul’s father, and Paul’s brother Suman return from the emergency room within a few hours.... (full context)
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...comfort care may be the best option. He expresses a desire to go home, but Lucy worries that he might die while being driven home. Paul then asks for Cady to... (full context)
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...arrives and is nestled next to Paul. Paul’s medical team discusses his respiratory failure with Lucy outside. Paul’s condition is declining, and he must be intubated quickly in order to prevent... (full context)
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Lucy returns to Paul’s bedside. He tells her “I’m ready,”—to take the mask off, to start... (full context)
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...he slips into unconsciousness. For nine hours, Paul’s family—his mother, father, Suman, Jeevan, Cady, and Lucy—sit vigil as Paul’s breathing becomes increasingly effortful. More family arrives, and then their pastor. (full context)
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...comes to a close, a family friend arrives to take Cady home for the night. Lucy holds Cady against Paul, knowing that Cady doesn’t understand that this moment is a farewell.... (full context)
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Lucy tells the reader that When Breath Becomes Air is in a sense, unfinished, because Paul... (full context)
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Lucy confesses that many of their friends and family will have been unaware of her and... (full context)
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Lucy explains that Paul was committed to ensuring a meaningful future for her, and that she... (full context)
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Lucy writes that Paul’s voice in When Breath Becomes Air seems somewhat solitary. She feels the... (full context)
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Lucy knows that Paul was and would have been proud of the book, which was a... (full context)
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...had been unattached to the fate of his body after death, and left it to Lucy to make those decisions. Lucy says that she chose his grave site because of its... (full context)
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Lucy visits Paul’s grave often, pouring wine out on the grass for Paul, and rubbing the... (full context)
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Lucy knows that had Paul lived, he would have made great contributions to the fields of... (full context)
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Two days after Paul’s death, Lucy writes a journal entry addressed to Cady. She writes that “When someone dies, people tend... (full context)