Today, I’m talking with author John Sardella about his new book, A Journey without a Map. In this book, John shares his own experience of losing his wife, Margaret, following her seven-year battle with cancer and the process of working through grieving her loss in the years that followed. This is the book that John wishes he had when he lost his wife–a book that allows space for pain and gently supports people in moving forward.

In this conversation, John talks about Margaret, helping his children through sickness, loss and grief and what the three years following Margaret’s death have looked like. He also shares words of wisdom and encouragement not only for those who are walking through grief themselves but also for those who have grieving friends and family and want to help but don’t know how.

Nikki Van Noy: I’m here today on Author Hour with author John Sardella, who recently wrote the book A Journey without a Map – Stories of Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward. John, thank you so much for joining us today.

John Sardella: Well, thank you, Nikki. I’m looking forward to the conversation today and sharing about my book and the journey that it took.

Nikki Van Noy: All right. First of all, let’s talk about why you wanted to write this book.

John Sardella: Well, I actually was trying to write a book of stories just from my life. I was in the world of education–I was a coach for many years and stories of experiences that I had that were related to connecting with people. As I went through the stories, I realized there was a common thread.

The common thread was actually the story of my life and my wife and her battling cancer for seven years, the three years afterward and moving forward, beyond the experience of her cancer. Moving forward and trying to figure it out and what it’s been like, not only for me but all the people around us, whether it was my kids or other friends. It was a book that ended up coming together and threading a lot of those stories together in more of a meaningful way.

Nikki Van Noy: Let’s start by telling me a little bit about your wife, Margaret.

John Sardella: My wife Margaret was just a wonderful person. We had the opportunity to be with her for 30 years. She was kind, she was a caring person. She gave love unconditionally. She had such a great spirit about her, and she was authentic. She was a person who was simple in life, but the things that were important to her were the strongest pieces of her life.

Her family was extremely important to her. Her friends were extremely important to her, but those all started with the importance of her upbringing and her belief in God and her spirituality, which was very strong. She had a great deal of integrity in who she was.

I was very fortunate to meet her, be married to her, have three kids with her, be part of her family’s life and to be able to become a better person through that. She made me better as I tried to make her better. As we grew together, we became one and it was very special.

A Testimony to Margaret

Nikki Van Noy: Everybody should be so lucky.

John Sardella: Yes. Yes. Everybody should have the opportunity to be able to meet somebody who makes them better and to grow and to really have a special relationship. As this book was being written, it really is a testimony to her. I really think we were able to capture the person who she was through this book, along with the experience that she had with the cancer and we had with supporting her. The most important thing was about showing who she was and the power of the simple things that really made the difference.

Nikki Van Noy: Let’s talk a little bit about your experience with Margaret’s cancer. She was battling it for seven years, is that correct?

John Sardella: That is correct. She was diagnosed back in 2010 and she passed in 2017. When she was diagnosed in 2010, it was a simple doctor visit. It was just a checkup because she was having some pain in her abdominal area. They did an x-ray and found the node that happened to be the cancer in the pancreas.

Nikki Van Noy: Over those seven years, did you have an idea of where you were headed, or was there at least a phase when you guys thought this would be a chapter of life, perhaps a difficult one, but things would go on from there?

John Sardella: Well, we had confidence that at the beginning, it was going to be an experience that she would always have medicine. The doctors couldn’t operate on the tumor, because she had a blood clot that was over by the pancreas in the portal vein. No doctor would take on the challenge of trying to have it removed out of the pancreas and to mess with the blood clot, because if they did, it could have been dangerous and could have killed her.

When we first had the experience, we started Dana-Farber and going to Dana-Farber for a clinical trial, we lasted there for three and a half years or connected to Dana-Farber rather, the first eight months at Dana-Farber, and then they approved one of the medicine she was taking. We were able to do that locally in Syracuse where we lived.

We were confident that just doing a stabilizer, along with a chemo treatment at the beginning, was going to be what she would be on for the rest of her life. After three and a half years, that all changed. The cancer metastasized to the liver and then she was on nine different treatments from there until her death.

At one point, we had the hope that she would live a long life with the cancer. And then that all turned and changed three years prior to her death when it metastasized, like I said, to the liver. It changed everything. Now the focus was on the liver and doing whatever they could to control the cancer within the liver and try to stabilize that. It got to a point where nothing was working. Then the revelation of her death came closer within the last year and a half of her living, knowing that there was that possibility.

After having a conversation with the doctor when she was hospitalized a year before her death, he said if we ever stopped treatment, it’s realistic that she could pass away soon after. It was just going through the journey and trying to understand what she was experiencing, which was very overwhelming at times and very emotional. It was an array of emotions. It was a rollercoaster.

Trying to have the ability to support her and understand it more, because as you go through this, you try to get an understanding, whether you like it or not, to be able to handle the situation for all those people around you.

Nikki Van Noy: Were you guys able to speak openly about her death, especially in that last year?

John Sardella: Margaret and I would have conversations more her last six months of living, about the demise. We had to the last year, unfortunately, get things in order. We had to have some very intense conversations with our lawyer, who is a personal friend of mine. To get all the appropriate paperwork in order, so that upon her death, or upon her going to the hospital, her process of passing was simpler. As much as the power of attorney, or a healthcare proxy, all those things had to be taken care of. Things like that we had to do and those were very intense conversations and very difficult conversations.

We didn’t go into detail about those conversations. We just knew what it meant.

There are other times that we had more of a serious conversation, where we talked, we sat, we cried, we went through the emotion of her going. She always said she was ready to go towards the end, but she wasn’t ready for this end that’s left behind.

Profound Grief

Nikki Van Noy: I’ve thought about this a lot because the major losses that I’ve experienced in my life have been sudden. There was not this period of knowing what lies ahead. I’ve often wondered in scenarios like yours, is there some part of the grieving process that begins to happen before the actual death, when you know, or is that a totally separate thing?

John Sardella: I would say yes. You are preparing and you’re grieving through that, through preparing people, through preparing yourself. You’re also cautious with how you share out that grief with others because you don’t want to sound like you’re losing your hope. You don’t want to sound like you’re giving up.

It’s limited, but internally in self-reflection, you definitely feel that feeling of loss, that it’s coming. You don’t know when it is and that’s part of the journey. That’s why the book is called what it is, a journey without a map because there’s no set standard of how that process is going to go. You just have to try to figure out and let it evolve. The grief that does happen after is so much more intense than the grief prior to it, because you still have that person there, that physical presence of the person is still there. Therefore, you have the ability to grieve but still know that she’s there and connected with you physically.

Nikki Van Noy: That makes a lot of sense. I just like to talk as openly as possible, personally at least to ask those questions about grief and death, because I feel a lot of people shy away from them, and it’s such valuable information to hear people talk about.

John Sardella: Well, there are moments where it becomes very emotional and overwhelming, even to this day. Then there are times when I think it’s important to share respectfully. You don’t have to give every single detail, but it’s amazing when you give perspective to somebody because they are going through the same thing or they experienced it already. The power of openness is the power for them to be able to know they’re not alone.

I’ve had a number of conversations with others. In those conversations, we’ve been very open. You connect with somebody who literally lost somebody three months ago. As soon as you talk to that person, it’s like you’ve known each other for 20 years, because you share a common bond that not everybody shares. Losing a spouse is intense. Losing a spouse when they’re young like my wife was 51-years-old, is even more intense.

I would never ever rate it on a scale to say that one’s more than the other because you have marriages that last over 50 years and those people lose their spouse. That’s got to be even worse and more intense because they’ve really lived a lifetime together. When somebody in their 80s loses somebody, I feel for that person because they’ve had a lifetime of experiences. I had 30 years and it’s intense.

I also go back to your question and the comment about openness, I think it’s helpful for others to hear the same parallels to their story because it helps them to understand that they’re not alone and what they’re going through is not just them. That when they go through that numbness after death and when they go through the anger after death, and they go through some of the other pieces, they come to the realization that, “Hey, I’m not alone. But hey, look at this guy, three years later he’s doing better.” Not that it’s perfect, but I can get there. I think openness is important.

Nikki Van Noy: You just touched on something in that which I haven’t heard a lot of people talk about, but at least I found to be very true, which is that there can be a lot of isolation in grief.

John Sardella: An extreme amount of isolation. There can be a lot of loneliness. What I have found is when I surround myself with people, I’m good. The first year you go through this numbness and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to show that I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be strong.” You just wake up and you go through and you do things and you get out of the house, or you have some purpose. You’re almost doing it out of the feeling that you’re numb and you’re not really sure why you’re doing it.

As time goes by, you come to the understanding that it’s more of a purposeful day. You realize that what you do is making more of a difference for yourself so that it’s given you more of a purpose to find self-identification. To show that you’re not just living day-to-day with numbness, but you’re living day-to-day to enjoy life.

Part of that though is when you end up alone on days, it can be lonely. That’s when things creep inside and say, “Hey.” You start feeling that loneliness, that sadness, that reflection on loss and everything else. That’s when you have to be careful with where your mind goes, because you can go into a depression, or you can go into sadness that is unexpected and you just don’t want to stay there too long.

I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had great people around me. I have great friends. I have a great family constantly. There are people with me, or around me, or I purposely make sure I’m around them. It’s been very helpful. Very helpful.

Monitoring Yourself

Nikki Van Noy: I’d love you to speak to that a little bit, this idea of monitoring yourself. There is so much sadness and losing someone but being aware that at some point you want to pull yourself out a little bit. What might that look like for people, when they have those moments where it would be helpful to turn out or to get some relief?

John Sardella: Well, I think you have to have an outlet. I’ve always tried to be active and do things. More importantly, in the last two years I have been going to the gym more consistently. Now it also coincides with when I retired two years ago from my job as an educator. When all of sudden I retired, I have these open days. More open days, without a purpose always. I was a principal for 15 years. When I was a principal, I was busy. I would get up, I would go to work, and I was constantly doing something.

My first 10 months after Margaret passed, I was still working and I had a purpose every day. That kept me going. I had people around me. I was working with kids. I was making a difference every single day. Then I retired in December of 2017. When I retired, I realized I have these full days, but I then purposely went on a vacation. I went on a cruise with the kids during the holiday season, so we didn’t have to go back to the house and feel the grief at the house with having Christmas, because Margaret passed right after Christmas the year before.

We went on a cruise and it was wonderful. We had the greatest time, me and my kids. Then from there, I ended up going to Florida for four weeks and I traveled down here, stayed with a good friend of mine in Naples, Florida. I ended up buying a condo in Naples, Florida. That gave me something else to look at, kind of a new beginning and a new opportunity.

I still had voids to fill. I still had the empty days. I still had when things settled down, what was my purpose today? I said to myself, I knew I was going to write a book, and I said, “But I’m not going to write it for another year or so, or eight months.” What ends up happening though, I still had those open days and I really started working out more. I was trying to take care of my mom because she was ill and I would be there for her and help and support her. I was finding purposes in another way.

Then in the afternoons, I was still coaching lacrosse. I coached and I was working with kids and I was making a difference with the kids. I was able to fill my void by doing things that I wanted to do, not what somebody else was telling me to do. When somebody gets in that situation, they have to proactively move forward with finding what makes them happy.

What makes them happy can be anything. It could be sitting on their patio and reading a book. It could be golfing every day. It could be whatever their enjoyment is of going to see their grandkids or going to go see their kids participate in something. They have to take that step to do it.

My world, what motivated me through it, was my mom lived for 17 years after my father passed and she became a homebody. She didn’t take those steps to do those things. I watched that and I said, “I can’t let this happen to me.” I really worked hard to self-reflect on that.

I wrote a quote that was on my mirror. The quote said, “Every day I wake up, I have a choice to make. Do I want to have a good day, or do I want to have a bad day? Do I want to be sad, mad, have self-pity, or do I want to be happy?” I have made the decision that I will have good days, because that is my responsibility to my wife, to my kids, to my friends, and all the people around me.

Nikki Van Noy: It’s beautiful. I want to back up a little bit and talk a little bit about your trajectory. You’ve mentioned that it started with numbness. Was that the first part of grief for you? Am I understanding that correctly?

John Sardella: That is correct. I definitely had the feeling of numbness. But you don’t realize you have numbness until you get through the numbness. When you reflect back on what you experienced–I figure it was probably the first eight months–I look back and I said, “Holy cow. How did I get here?” I did it because I just did it. I didn’t really think about it. I just did it. That was pretty powerful in reflection to recognize that and to realize it. Because then, it helped me with my next steps, after that of seeking help, and getting support.

I ended up going to a friend’s house by the ocean and the sadness and just the extreme feeling of a depression creeping in. I recognized that within myself and said, “Okay, I’m through a certain phase. Now it’s time I go through the next phase because I’m ready for that. To sit with a therapist, to talk it out, to be able to work through some emotions and to see really what are those things that are affecting me at this point and through this loss.” That was another phase of that. It does go in phases. If you want me to, I can continue to talk about some of those phases.

Every Emotion

Nikki Van Noy: Please do. Yes.

John Sardella: Then what I found was the next year, I felt angrier because of that loss and the loneliness of not having my wife and why me. I went through that period. I didn’t try to let people know that, but in some of my actions, I was a little more reactive to things and maybe a little shorter to things. It said to me, “Okay, I’m acting out because I feel a sense of some anger here. I need to work through this.” Luckily, that was short-lived.

Looking in the mirror though and saying, “Why me?” That still happens. You go through some of those emotions. The deep emotion of sadness and crying does get better through time as you live it longer and longer. Because the first year, the sadness and the crying, it came from your toes. It was so deep. It’s anything to trigger it. As time went on, that got better. That’s sadness.

One of the most positive things that I had though was writing this book because the process of this book actually took place over a year ago. As I was going into January of 2019, I was writing down all my thoughts, but I started with organizing my thoughts. As I organized all my thoughts, all of a sudden, I took everything that was scrambled inside my head, that was constantly things I was thinking about, turning to writing it on paper, gave it more meaning and gave it a sequence.

Ultimately four months later, I end up connecting with my publisher. As I worked with my publisher, now we have a year later, a powerful book that has everything that was scrambled inside my head that I want to get out and I needed to share, where talking through it really was good temporarily. If I wanted something longer, now I have it in written form and it’s a pretty powerful thing.

The book also gives others the ability to understand what the experience was. Even my closest friends who’ve now read this have said, “Wow, we never knew it was that deep and that intense.” Now they have a better understanding of how to connect and work with me. I love it because they’ve been more open than they’ve ever had because of this book. That’s very cathartic too.

You go through every emotion. You go through sadness, depression, laughter, anger, numbness. You go through every feeling of emotion. It gets better as time goes and you don’t feel some of those heavy things as much as you just learn to live with your new norm.

Nikki Van Noy: Where would you say that you’re at today, generally speaking, three years out?

John Sardella: I would say I’m in a pretty good place. I see 2020 as being a really great year to be able to do things and move forward and to live life even more. I see it within my kids. They’re all having great years. My oldest is getting married. My son has moved to Maryland and he’s starting a new job and a new experience there. My youngest daughter is graduating college this year. She’s going to be going to New York City. She already has a job commitment there.

As tight as we are and as close as we are, we’re all looking forward to the new experiences that are coming in our life. I have this book coming out. I have other things that I want to do. I’m looking at moving permanently down to Naples, Florida when selling my house. I enjoy having a conversation with somebody like you to talk about the book. I enjoy having the ability to be able to share my story and to get a response from people because it opens up the door of communication. It’s powerful communication.

I think right now, I’m doing very well. Do I have my sad days? Absolutely. Do I have my tough days? Absolutely. That’s where I’ve learned how to figure out some things with making sure I reach out to people, I connect with people. There are days I just go, and I’ll go out and play golf at 3:00 in the afternoon just by myself. I’ll just enjoy the beautiful weather and hit the ball around for 18 holes and just take my time and reflect and just enjoy the scenery and the beauty of what we have every day in life.

Being a Father

Nikki Van Noy: I want to ask you a more specific question now but talk to me about the experience of moving through your own grief while at the same time, being a father and understanding that your children had just lost their mother. How did you navigate that?

John Sardella: Okay. Now, this is the emotional part. I think it’s important to talk to it because my three kids–it spells it out right in the book–they were at three different levels when she was diagnosed. My one daughter, she was a junior in high school going to be a senior and then leaving for college–that was my oldest, Megan. Then Harry my son was 9th grade going into 10th grade. Julia was in 6th grade and she was the youngest.

We had to figure out how to have conversations with all three of them. Some of the conversations we had were very difficult, brutal to say the least. Because we had to talk to them about the diagnosis and then we had to talk to them six and a half, almost seven years later, that mom is probably going to die. Those are pretty typical conversations. As you have those conversations, you have to know your kids well enough so you know what you can say to each one of them.

We shared more with Megan. As we shared more with Megan, she took that to heart, and she became the real big sister to help and support the other two. Harry really was the connecting piece. He listened to Meg, but he also was able to help Julia, the youngest. Then Julia went through life and she was so innocent about a lot of things that we didn’t really go into detail with everything. As she grew older, she was the one who took it to heart to try to figure out some things a little more about what Margaret experienced with her death. She even took a college course in her freshman year about that. I think it helped her to understand that this is part of life.

Navigating and working with the kids was based on understanding their level of understanding and their ages. The other thing is the phone calls people don’t know that were taking place. I talked to their coaches. I talked to their principals. They went to the same district that I worked in. I knew these colleagues personally. I had conversations with them, and I said, “Hey, just keep an eye out for them. See how they’re doing. If they need any help, or if you see any signs of anything, let me know we can get them the proper support and help.”

My colleagues were wonderful about that. The coaches, even when my girls went to college to play lacrosse, I shared with the coaches, behind the scenes and it was confidential conversations, just to say, “Hey, listen. Keep an eye on them. That’s all. It’s all I ask as a parent is to keep an eye on them, so that they’re going to be okay. If you see any signs of struggle beyond their typical struggles of adjusting to college, let me know. If there’s an emotional piece that needs to be addressed, I’m there to pick that up and try to support them in any way I can.”

There was a combination of a lot of things of understanding your children and then, in addition, it’s also trying to make sure the support system was around them. I had conversations with some of their friends’ parents just to say, “Hey, Julia is over your house all the time. Keep an eye on her, okay? Do what you can.” They all were fantastic. “Whatever you need, John.” They were doing it for both of us, me and Margaret.

There were times Margaret didn’t know I had those conversations, because it was so delicate, and I didn’t want to trigger something within Margaret that made her sad or have her feel bad. It really was a team effort to try to keep an eye on them and work through it and to make sure they had a support system in place so that they could get through this the best they can.

Nikki Van Noy: What a good dad. That’s just incredible to me. Every kid should be so lucky.

John Sardella: Yeah, now you’re making me cry.

Nikki Van Noy: I know. That made me tear up a little bit. That was really, really beautiful. I love that you weren’t having group conversations but were really considering each kid as an individual and what they needed in that moment. That’s amazing.

John Sardella: Well, we were very private in what we did. We wanted to make sure that people were respectful of our kids. Even with the diagnosis, we were very, very private about it. Our community people, when you’re a teacher, when you’re a principal, you’re a coach within the community, everybody knows you and everybody gets to know your story. There were people who wanted to do fundraisers. They wanted to do bracelets for us. You have all these visible signs.

My wife didn’t want any of that and I supported whatever direction she wanted to go. I said, “Margaret, I will support you in whatever you want to do.” That was important to me because of the fact that it helped to protect the kids. Now there were times though that the kids would be asked, “Hey, how’s your mom doing?” Or, “Hey, what’s going on with your mom?” They were at times very upset about that. They didn’t like that question. They just wanted to have normalcy within their life. Margaret wanted them to have normalcy also.

Margaret always said to me, “I don’t want to be that mother with cancer. I don’t want my kids identified by that. I want them to be identified by us being a great family.” It was trying to really keep it under guard along with that. Letting the kids know though when it was important and they needed to know, but also protection was the most important thing for our children because they’re the most important things in our lives.

The Isolation of Grief

Nikki Van Noy: Such a tricky balance.

John Sardella: Yes.

Nikki Van Noy: What I really like about what you did too is we talked a little earlier about this isolation that can come with grief. I feel, for the most part, people really want to help, but often don’t know what to do. Or they feel maybe you’re having a good day, so they don’t want to bring it up to upset you. Because if you haven’t been through it, I don’t think you can understand that for that first year at least, you’re never not thinking about it. It doesn’t matter if someone brings it up or not. I love that you were in part reaching out to people to let them know how they could support you, whatever that looked like. It also occurs to me that this book is really very valuable for like you said, with your own friends, for people who have someone close to them who have lost a loved one. Perhaps, those people don’t know exactly what they can do. It seems like this book could offer a lot of illumination.

John Sardella: I agree with you. It does give them insight. It gives them understanding. It gives them inspiration, I think. It gives them an opportunity to be able to say, “Okay, I don’t have to complicate it. I can do it in a very simple form.” One of the pieces I talk about is just being physically present.

It’s amazing when you just go over to somebody’s house and you sit with them and you talk with them, how much and how far that will go. That person will talk about that for weeks to come. People think they always have to make food, or they have to do this, or they have to do that, or they come up with an excuse of like, “Oh, I know you’re busy, or I know you probably don’t want visitors.” It’s not an excuse for the person, it’s for themselves. That’s really what the excuse is.

I’m trying to give permission to people to understand that death is part of life. Along with that, just try to be as normal as you can with the person, especially if you’ve known the person. If you know the person, just still be you. Still, be physically present for the person. Try to make an effort. It doesn’t have to be a daily effort. It’s a once in a while effort to try to make a difference for that person. It is amazing how far that goes.

The book ended up coming out where this story of Margaret was shared for three chapters and about her, about her experience, about those left behind. Then the last three chapters are really about how to move forward and the importance of the people around you and the connections that you make as you move forward. I write in the book about how it’s not the quantity of people. I know a lot of people in my world. I was, like I said, a community member, I was visible. People knew who I was and know who I am. It’s not about the quantity of friendships, it’s about the quality of friendships. It’s having the right people around you at the right time.

Through this adversity, I found those people and it’s powerful. Some people say you can count them on one hand, how many friends you truly have. Well, I have more than one hand and it’s special. The reality of it is you really do, through this adversity, find out who your true friends are and the people who will be there for you.

What I’m hoping out of this book is that there are some people on the fence of what they don’t know what to do, but here’s an opportunity to learn and say, “I can do that. I don’t have to make a bracelet. I don’t have to make a t-shirt. I don’t have to make a meal. I can just simply go there and say hello, even if it’s for a minute.”

“Hey, I just wanted to see how you’re doing. How are you doing?” That’s it. It doesn’t have to be more than that.

I’m really hoping that people, when they read this book, that as complex as the experience was, it’s really simplified, because it’s simplified through what your beliefs are, faith, family, and friends. It’s simplified by the things that you can do for somebody.

Nikki Van Noy: I mean, obviously grief is incredibly difficult. There are a lot of negative things that a person goes through in the course of grief. You just mentioned one of the positives that came out of it was really understanding who your people were on a deep level. Is there anything else you can point to that has been a net positive from going through this?

John Sardella: In my world right now, it’s the ability for me to connect with other people going through a similar experience. I’ve always prided myself on being somebody who’s a mentor to others, whether it’s working with a lacrosse coach, or whether it’s working with teachers, or it’s working even with parents or children. What I find in this role that I’m in and writing a book, I’ve been able to connect with people who are going through the exact same experience. They’ve been very open and honest with me. It’s powerful.

I just recently had a conversation with a gentleman. We played phone tag for about a week. When we finally connected, like I said, it was like I knew this guy for 20 years and I talked to him for three minutes in my lifetime. He asked all the right questions, but I had those experiences, so I was able to help and guide him. By the end of the conversation, it was like we were best buddies and we wanted to go out to go grab a bite to eat and have a beer together.

That’s powerful, because as much as a person is seeking the help, the person who is able to provide the help, it’s very motivating and powerful to be able to do that. I’m finding my purpose more and more every day through this and it’s powerful.

I’m doing it on my terms and that’s what I love about it. I’m doing it. Somebody’s not telling me what to do. I’m doing it on my terms, at my pace, and what I believe. I’m staying true to who I am. That’s what the power of it is. I lived in the world for 31 years in education where I helped a lot of people and I made a difference in lives. This is a continuation of that process.

Nikki Van Noy: To start to bring this back home again and back to Margaret who’s at the heart of this, do you still feel you have a connection to her in some way?

John Sardella: I do. I do. I still feel I have a connection with her. I think about her every single day. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t. I’ve been very fortunate, because her family has been great to me and they have stayed connected with me as I’ve stayed connected with them. I still talk to my father-in-law quite a bit. We’re basketball fans and I’m a Syracuse fan and he’s a Villanova fan and we talk all the time about Syracuse and Villanova basketball. He still has three championships to our one, but someday.

Nikki Van Noy: Someday.

John Sardella: Yes. I feel connected through that. I also feel through this book, it’s given them some insight. It’s going to provide the opportunity for others in the family to be able to see what the experience was like and give them a better understanding. We live four hours from her family, so they didn’t see the everyday experiences that we had. I think that the power of those everyday experiences, writing them down, being able to share with her family, keeps her memory alive.

Then the other piece is there’s a lacrosse scholarship that we do every year for a boys and a girls lacrosse team at our high school, Liverpool High School where I worked and coached. That’s a way to connect with her because she never played lacrosse, but all my kids did. I wrote books on it. I coached. I’ve been part of the game for 50 years. She did whatever she could to help support, whether it was me or the kids. She saw thousands of games and it made sense to do something for players. Three of the players out of the 11 that have received scholarships have been her former students. That’s special.

She’s there. She’s physically present. The color yellow, whenever I see it. There are little things that we do like, such as Converse all-star sneakers that we have that I got her when we were dating. The color yellow reminds me of Margaret and that’s a way to connect. I have pictures of her. I don’t do it overwhelmingly. Do it simply, because she was very simple. I’m a very simple person. I try to keep her memories alive like she would want her memories to be remembered.

It is Going To Be Okay

Nikki Van Noy: I’d love you to just take a minute or two to speak directly to anyone who might be listening to this podcast right now, who is new into this experience of grief. What would you like to let them know?

John Sardella: Most importantly, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to take time. Don’t give up. Try to find your purpose every day as you go through it. Most importantly, embrace those around you that will be around you. Make sure you have the right people around you and those right people will help you get through it. Most of them will just physically be present, reaching out to you, stopping over, maybe going out to dinner, or simple things. Ultimately, it’s going to be okay.

You feel, especially the first couple months, that, “Oh, my lord. What is going to happen here? How am I going to get through this?” You’ll get there and that’s what’s most important. It’s going to be okay. Try to focus on the good things and what you created together. I was able to focus on my kids. They’re the most important things to me. That focus alone gave me purpose and helped me through the sadness.

I want to say it one more time, it’s going to be okay. You won’t forget the memories. You won’t forget the things that you did with your significant other. You’ll have great memories, but you’re going to be able to move forward. You’re not going to forget. This is something you just don’t forget. When you go through a tragic experience or a very intense experience, you don’t forget those intense experiences. Going through the adversity of death like this is an intense experience.

I think about her every day, but it’s gotten better where the sadness is less frequent. It does still happen. You’re still going to have those emotions, but that ultimately, it’s going to be okay. In the long run, your life is just going to be and feel different. You have a new norm. You can figure it out and you have to keep persevering through that.

Nikki Van Noy: Such a powerful phrase in this context. It’s going to be okay.

John Sardella: First chapter, it’s going to be okay.

Nikki Van Noy: John, thank you so much for sharing and talking today and for writing this book. Again, the book is A Journey without a Map. Where else can listeners find you?

John Sardella: What they can do is they can go to and to my Twitter, which is @Sardella_John on Twitter. Then they can also go to my LinkedIn account. If they do want to e-mail me, they can e-mail me at [email protected] Everything is on the website. If they go to, they can easily connect with me. I check my information daily. I will definitely get back to them and work with them however they want, whether they just need to have a conversation or something simple with an e-mail, or they want me to come and talk with a group or anything like that. I would be willing to do anything to help others who are going through a grieving process and this experience like what I have. Even if it’s not identical to it, that’s okay, because I think this book could help anybody who’s going through a challenging experience.

Nikki Van Noy: Beautiful. John, thank you so much for joining us today.

John Sardella: Thank you, Nikki. I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be able to talk about my book and my experience. I hope that I made a difference for some people today.