Category Archives: Spirituality and Health

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).

newel

Audio Only –

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…

Continue reading Navigating those Big Transitions in Life

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

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

Thoughts on life and the afterlife

I’m really not sure why anyone would be interested in my thoughts on the afterlife but it helps me to clarify my own thinking when I write.  So I did.  I’ve been thinking about death a lot as several close friends have died recently and the corona virus has surely put death in the news.  These sort of ponderings seem to happen to many people as they age.  I offer these ideas in a public forum in hopes that some readers might share their own thought/feelings about life and death (in the Comments box below). 

SO HERE GOES…

First, I’m not terribly fond of the word “afterlife” – even though I used it in the title.  Most people know what is meant by the term afterlife, so it is useful.  But the word “afterlife” feels too final as I have come to believe in the continuation of consciousness after the death of the physical body.  For me, the death experience appears to be more of a transition to another form of existence, a continuation – not an ending.  I need a better word to describe the “condition of being that follows once the spirit-self has left its bodily container.”  Perhaps you have a suggestion.

I surely don’t have a picture in mind of a heaven with “pearly white gates, hanging out with old friends playing harps in the clouds etc.”, I do understand why that description might be a useful story to tell children and I suspect it can be a comfort to those who believe.  But it’s just a bit too easy for me to accept what seems more like a fairy tale than a thoughtful depiction of the state of existence that continues following the demise of the body.  Nevertheless, I believe that we live forever, as suggested in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic book, The Secret Garden.

Continue reading Thoughts on life and the afterlife

An update on Phyl (from Florida)

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Leaving Amherst on a cold day in January

This is a story about our month in Florida.  We decided that our winter break from the cold needed to be someplace we could drive to, since getting on and off an airplane has proved pretty difficult and we need our wheelchair accessible van to get around.  So we drove to Naples, FL where we rented a small house for the month of February.

The drive down was uneventful (thank goodness) and we took our time.  Finding wheelchair accessible rest stops has become my new hobby.  We booked accessible hotels one day in advance and it worked out.

One night we spent at Jekyl Island, GA where we had spent many spring vacations with the kids, my brother and my parents.   Phyl recalled the beach where Jake took off on a wind surfer and couldn’t turn around.  John swam out to “save” him and they both had to be towed back by a local fisherman.  And there was the beach were Jeremy lost his beloved toy train “Percy” in the sand – which Phyl says is still out there!  And another beach where John and his Dad Continue reading An update on Phyl (from Florida)

When someone is grieving….

I wish I had written this myself…..

John Gerber


The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ~Henri Nouwen

It’s hard to stand at the edge of someone else’s grief.

There’s the awkwardness. You always feel a little like an uninvited guest who arrived late and missed the first half of the conversation—a conversation that turns out to be a wrestle between another person and the deepest parts of their own soul.

What can you say when you realize you’ve barged in on an interaction so intimate, so personal that you just want to avert your eyes and slink quietly away?

Then there are the triggers. Continue reading When someone is grieving….

Why I bother with God….

In a recent episode of the TV series The Crown, Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Phillip, had a brief conversation with his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, who asked him casually “so how is your faith?”  After a slight hesitation he replied, “dormant.”   The aging Princess told her middle aged son bluntly….  “That’s not good, let this be a mothers gift to her child … find yourself faith, it helps, no… not just helps … its everything.”

It is easy to imagine why the husband of the Queen of England might find himself too busy to worry about his faith… too busy to “bother with God.”  After all, there are all those royal ceremonies to attend!  But what about you and me?  Why and when did we let a sense of the divine, the spiritual or the sacred slip out of our lives?  Or maybe we are hard core materialists (if you can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist) and have never had any sense of the spiritual in the first place?  If so, you would not be all that unusual in the secular world in which we live today.  Most of us today don’t “bother with God.”

Continue reading Why I bother with God….

Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work

Adapted from an Interview with Matthew Fox by Mary NurrieStearns

Much of our life is spent in the world of work. Our time, energy, and even identity are wrapped up in what we do and how much money we have. Therefore it is important to explore how work is associated with prosperity. At times, work is a job an exchange of effort for money. But work can also be vocation. When work is vocation, it is where we express our unique talents, find meaning, and contribute to what Matthew Fox calls “the great work,” the work of the universe.

To discuss this subject with Matthew Fox was like finding a gold mine. The author of many books, Fox describes in “The Reinvention of Work” a new vision of livelihood. In his envisioned world of work intellect, heart, and health come together to celebrate the whole person. He is a true teacher of what he espouses. He was dismissed by the Continue reading Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work