Death and Grieving; Life’s Ultimate Transition

Chapter 14 in: Toward a Meaningful Life – The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson  by Simon Jacobson

And the living shall take to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

The soul never dies.

The Rebbe

WHAT DOES DEATH REALLY MEAN?

Death: The very word strikes fear in people’s hearts. They consider death as unfathomable as it is inevitable. They are barely able to talk about it, to peer beyond the word itself and allow themselves to contemplate its true implications. This is an understandable reaction, given the fact that so many people think of life as nothing more than a state in which the human body is biologically active. But we must ask ourselves: What happens after death, if anything? What does death really mean? How should the surviving loved ones react?

The mystery of death is part of the enigma of the soul and of life itself; understanding death really means understanding life. During life as we know it, the body is vitalized by the soul; upon death, there is a separation between body and soul. But the soul continues to live on as it always has, now unfettered by the physical constraints of the body. And since a person’s true character—his goodness, virtue, and selflessness—lies in the soul, he will ascend to a higher state after fulfilling his responsibilities on earth.

Continue reading Death and Grieving; Life’s Ultimate Transition

CHange in Plans for the Walk-a-thon

TO:  Family and Friends

Perhaps you have heard about the Governor of Massachusetts’ new COVID rules, but if not…. well, they seriously buggered up our plans for the ALS Walk-a-Thon scheduled for Saturday, October 3.  The new rule is a limit of no more than 50 people for an outdoor event.  We had more like 100 people hoping to attend this fundraiser, celebration, and walk for Phyl’s ALS team, Phyl-in-Tropics in October.  Frankly, I was getting nervous about this event and the new rules made our decision for us.  

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After Two Months….

August 15, 2020

TO:  My Family and Friends

FROM: John

I’ve decided to record my thinking from time to time as a way to both clarify my own thoughts and create a record of where I’m at now that Phyl is gone.  I recorded some thoughts “after two weeks” and this new one is “after two months.” I know that you all are grieving Phyl’s absence too, so I hope this isn’t just an unwanted reminder of something you’d prefer not to think about.  If so, stop reading…

August 15, 2020 – two months after Phyl’s death – how am I doing?

I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.  I had someone who loved me for more than 50 years.  It seems like a lifetime and it was (almost)… for Phyl.  We met when she was 15 years old and she died when she was 66.  She wasn’t ready to leave me.  She told me so.  The day we were driving home from our second neurology appointment, the one that confirmed she did indeed have ALS, she asked me to pull off the road.  She cried…. “I don’t want to leave you John.  I’m not ready.  We were supposed to get old together.”  We both cried for a while and then I drove home. 

Continue reading After Two Months….

One of my favorite authors…

newell-011215-300x300John Philip Newell, the author of Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, is one of the most prominent Christian teachers of spirituality in the Western world.

Formerly Warden of Iona Abbey in the Western Isles of Scotland, he now divides his time between Edinburgh, where he does most of his writing, and teaching on both sides of the Atlantic as well as leading international pilgrimage weeks on Iona. He is the co-founder of Heartbeat: A Journey Towards Earths Wellbeing (www.heartbeatjourney.org), established to expand sacred vision, deepen spiritual practice, nurture reflective community, and enable action for change.

The following is a talk he gave in Hartford, CT last year that I hoped to attend but could not while I was caring for Phyl.  Fortunately, it became available on You Tube.  I’ve linked a slightly edited (shorter) version here (click on the picture) as well as an audio-only file (since it is simply a “talking head” in video form).

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Audio Only –

Our Journey with ALS

Phyl transitioned to the spiritual realm on June 15, 2020, after dealing with the symptoms of ALS for about 5 years.  After two years of trying to figure out what was causing the symptoms of weakened muscles, she was diagnosed on March 15, 2017.  For the past three years, Phyl asked me to keep her friends and family informed about the progress of her disease and our efforts to “live well with ALS” as she called it.  The following is a record of my email messages and blog posts which were password protected up until now (Phyl didn’t want to read these posts).  I’ve  added some photographs.  The links below provide a record of her courage and her resilience in dealing with what is always Continue reading Our Journey with ALS

Navigating those Big Transitions in Life

Phyllooks2Everything looks the same – and nothing feels the same.  My wife has died.  The center of our family has been ripped out leaving the rest of us to hold onto each other, still alive –  but without our heart.  Nothing makes much sense in my world without Phyl.  The searing pain appears unexpected from time to time, and then fades back into a dull ache.  And the worst part is that the world seems to look sort of normal.  But nothing feels normal.  Nothing feels right.  Everything has changed…

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The First Two Weeks

grandcanyo
Phyl’s spirit was more grand than the Grand Canyon….

I read somewhere that the first two weeks after the loss of a spouse was the “easy part” since there are so many things to do, visitors, cards, practical arrangements, and just plain “busyness.”  I’m not sure it was “easy” but I can attest to the “busy” part.  Family and friends have been keeping me company while I try to navigate the early days of grieving.  Here is a brief update….

Continue reading The First Two Weeks

Obituary

Phyllis Ann Ebner Gerber passed peacefully on June 15 following a 5-year illness.  She was surrounded by flowers, her family, a rose scented candle and Beatles music.   Phyl, as she was known to everyone, spent her early years in West Haven, CT and at a young age moved to Great Neck, NY where she attended Saddle Rock Elementary School and Great Neck North Junior and Senior High Schools.  As a 10th grader, she met John Gerber who was a senior, and began a 50+ year relationship.  Phyl attended the University of Hartford for two years before marrying John in 1973.  They lived in Ithaca, NY for 5 years where Phyl learned to become a potter, often selling her wares at local craft fairs.  They moved to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1978 where Jacob was born and then to Urbana, IL in 1979.  Phyl loved her life as a fulltime mom in Urbana, where Brian and Jeremy were born and her boys spent their early years.  The family moved to Amherst, MA in 1992, where Phyl worked as a potter and a teaching assistant for special needs children at the Wildwood Elementary School until she retired in 2013.

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The letter I never wanted to write

TO:  Family and Friends….

This is the letter I never wanted to write.  Your friend, family member, and my wife of almost 48 years passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by her children, lots of flowers, a rose scented candle, and Beetles music.   Phyl just ran out of time.  Her breathing has been getting worse for the past year and finally her lungs quit on her, even with the mask and respirator.

The past two weeks have been tough as she struggled to breathe and lost her ability to communicate.  When she experienced air hunger, we gave her morphine which gave her some relief.  Yesterday morning I helped her dress and took her into the dining room in her power wheelchair.  She had three doses of morphine before she got comfortable, but this also made her groggy.  We didn’t think she was aware of what was going on around her, but when she heard our grandchildren playing at the dining room table Phyl perked up and waived to them weakly.

We kept her comfortable all day with morphine.  She seemed to perk up when her brother Howard call, but she slept most of the day.  Her breathing became weaker and weaker all day and we knew she was transitioning when her oxygen level began to drop.  Jake, Brian, Jeremy and his wife Sam, and I held her hands, rubbed her legs, talked to her, and cried until her breathing stopped altogether at 2:45am.  It was a relief as she was suffering.  She passed very peacefully.

Phyl will be cremated and we are planning a celebration of life sometime in the fall, hopefully associated with the ALS Walk-a-Thon in Look Park.  More on that later.  We’ll also ask for donations in lieu of flowers etc. for the ALS Association of Massachusetts which has been very good to us.  Here is the link if you would like to help;

http://web.alsa.org/site/TR/Walks/Massachusetts?team_id=386635&pg=team&fr_id=14146

I’ll tell you more in another letter, as I’m exhausted and can’t think.

Love to you all…..

John


Click here for Phyl’s obituary


After her passing……  a few posts about John after….

June 28, 2020 – The first two weeks

July 4, 2020 – Navigating Transitions

August 15 – After Two Months

Not much time left

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TO:  Friends and Family…

My wife of nearly 48 years, your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, or friend is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  The person I have loved the most, hurt the most, and shared the most joy, the most challenges, and the most adventures with is leaving me – and I don’t want her to go.  Phyl has been the center of our family, the hub around which our holidays and family events all revolve – and we don’t want her to go.  She has been a good friend to many of you, some of you have known her for more than the 50+ years that I can claim – and you don’t want her to go.  But for Phyl who is suffering emotionally and physically, who has lost so much – I think it time that we to begin to let her go.

As some of you know, the air hunger caused by poor (no) lung function has increased to the point that she is getting small doses of morphine most of the day to treat or prevent air hunger.  While this reduces the anxiety of not being able to get enough air, it also makes her sleepy.  She is sleeping much of the day and night.  When she has visitors, she struggles to stay awake to listen to the conversation but after a while this makes her fidgety and anxious.  Since she can’t talk and her hand movements are limited, she has difficult time telling us what she needs.  We play a guessing game that seems exhausting to Phyl and sometimes she just quits trying to tell us what she needs.  Sometimes she moans quietly (a few nights ago it went on for 3 hours) and we can’t figure out what is wrong.

Continue reading Not much time left

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