The First Two Weeks

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….

Phyl’s ashes have returned home in an urn that she made and picked out for herself.  She made one for me too.   They have both been sitting in the basement for years with our names on them and we were not planning on using them for a long time.   Our plan was “to get old together.”  So much for our plans.  So her urn and ashes have come home and if you are a “local” you are welcome to come by to see the urn (its beautiful).  It is residing on our window sill looking out over Phyl’s beloved deck and gardens….


I’m not making any plans or decisions regarding the future.  I’m trying to  live in “the neutral zone” which I’ve written about here.  Otherwise, I’ll be in Rhode Island from August 8 to 29 at the same house we rented near the beach last summer.  I have two online summer classes that run from July 6 to August 14 and our fall class schedule starts early this year, on August 24.   I’m able to do a bit of work on classes and then my stomach knots up and a sinking feeling rises as I realize that Phyl is really gone.  So I work a little bit at a time.   My most important job is keeping Phyl’s gardens weeded and walking our dog Riley.

Frankly, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to do “the next right thing.”  I learned this practice in my 12- Step kristenProgram, but our granddaughter, Elena, tells me that this particular saying, “when you are lost, just try to do he next right thing”, comes from the movie Frozen 2.  In any case, it seems to be all I can accomplish right now.

Our sons have been amazingly supportive in both holding me up and doing their own grieving.  Phyl built a robust and resilient network of family and friends that is a source of strength for us all.  Lots of people are bringing food and my brother Dan and family stop by often to make sure I’m eating.  Sleep is a bit elusive but getting better.  While the pain is beyond comprehension, I’m still walking through each day, one step at time, thanks to all of this support.  I hope you too are able to think about Phyl, talk about her with others, and cry.  I’m certainly doing a lot of all three.

I’ve read several books (actually I started but didn’t finish several books) on grieving the loss of a spouse and found them to be mostly crap.  They don’t tell you about the searing pain that feels like a knife entering my chest when I think about her.   They don’t tell you that everything you do again for the first time without her takes your breath away.  But I did find one book that I’m sharing with folks that seems mostly consistent with my own experience and feelings.  The title is “It’s Okay that You’re Not Okay” – and I’m a long way from being “okay”.   If you are curious and need some help grieving honestly yourself, you might want to listen to the introduction which I’ve linked below.  If you prefer denial and distraction (which are useful tools for dealing with unbearable pain) don’t listen to it.   The introduction chapter is about 9 minutes long. 

So, if you just listened to the audio recording, to finish her sentence, she said “here is what I most want you to know: this really is as bad as you think.”  You will need to get the book to learn more…. sorry. To continue…

Jake, Brian, Jeremy, and I are beginning to think about a memorial in the fall.  It is a bit tricky with COVID but we hope to build something around the Western Mass ALS Walk-a-Thon which has been moved from September 13 to Saturday, October 3, 2020.  We still hope to have it at Look Park in Northampton, but as of today, there are strict limitations on the number of people who can attend any event.  We’ll keep you posted but please don’t make travel plans as everything could change.

You are welcome to share your own thoughts in the “reply” box below.  For now, please join me in celebrating and grieving the life and spirit of the love of my life, my best friend, and the center of our family.  We knew this would be hard and miss her more than we ever could have imagined….

On day 15….



July 4, 2020 – Navigating Transitions

August 15 – After Two Months

To read all of the chapters in Phyl’s three-year journey with ALS, see:

Phyl’s Story

6 thoughts on “The First Two Weeks”

  1. John,
    Thank you for sharing that! Phyl’s urn is beautiful…she was certainly proactive, even though her illness didn’t come into play at the time.

    In these 2 weeks, I’ve thought of some things that reminded me of her and wanted to tell her, so it hurts to know she’s not physically here, but I do talk to her and remember how much fun we had. The “fun” part is a good thing to concentrate on while you put one foot in front of another. Keep on trucking!
    Karen W.

    1. John,
      I am so grateful to you for sharing what’s going on and your feelings with us. We all miss Phyl so much and can’t believe that she is no longer in this world. It is unfortunate that we who are grieving can not be together with each other, and with you and the family. I sure could use a hug. The magnificent urn Phyl made will stay in my mind for awhile.
      Thinking of you,

  2. John,
    Thanks much for this update and sharing of your experience and thoughts at this incredibly difficult time. The pain is truly unimaginable.

    As I mentioned in an email that I sent you, I am comforted by having a solar-powered color-changing garden globe in my yard in honor of Phyl.

    Phyl gave me one of these at my Mom’s “Celebration of Life” services in 2012, and she told me “may the changing lights be the spirit of your Mom, and a reminder of the love that you shared.” I loved the gift, and my “Mom” has been in my yard ever since. I see “her” changing colors at night when we go to the hot tub and I talk with my Mom. Now I have that second Garden Globe in my yard for Phyl, and it comforts me and I talk with Phyl when I see the changing light colors. Phyl will always be in my heart, and always in my yard as a reminder of the love and friendship that we shared.

    I wish you and the family all the best always as you struggle with this terrible loss and grief.

    With love,
    Carol Mihal

  3. John, what an amazing life. Wow! You both were so lucky to have an amazing partner that loved you. I just lost my fiancé to brain cancer. We didn’t have enough time together. But there’s never enough I don’t think!

  4. John,
    I admire your heartfelt words and honesty. The depth of your pain is unimaginable and being witnessed in that can bring healing. Phyl will always be with you, but the loss of her physical presence is so deep. We pray for you to have the patience, self love and support to keep taking those steps forward one day at a time.
    Peace and Love,

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