Motherhood

The First Thing I Did After My Wife’s Death

The First Thing I Did After My Wife's Death by John Duberstein

This past spring, Nina Riggs died from complications of breast cancer at age 39. While she was sick, she wrote The Bright Hour, a beautiful (and even joyful) memoir on living and dying. Here, her husband John Duberstein describes the unexpected way he found comfort right after her death…


The title “father-in-law” can evoke Ben Stiller-style awkwardness. But these days I can’t imagine life without my father-in-law, Peter. I’d even pick Pete if family were a choice.

If you’re going to bond, two deaths in two years is a powerful adhesive.

First, my mother-in-law Jan died from multiple myeloma. Then, just 18 months later, my wife Nina died from complications of metastatic breast cancer at age 39. Nina’s cancer left me a widower and single parent to our boys, Freddy, 10 and Benny, 7.

What it did to my father-in-law Pete seemed almost unfathomably cruel. With the loss of his life partner still fresh, he had to face the loss of his first-born child — raised safe, sound, and successful to adulthood, the way every parent hopes; then suddenly gone.

Leaning on each other during grief is not the ideal way to get close to someone, but boy howdy, it works.

We’re not the odd couple, exactly, but definitely odd as a couple. Pete, nearly 70, looks young for his age. He’s fit, rides a motorcycle and can fix or build anything. He also plays golf, guitar and soccer. He’s almost pathologically laid back. I’m younger, but less kinetic. I read difficult books about difficult people. Social gatherings make me uncomfortable.

Nina first introduced me to Pete in 1998, when we were in the throes of a summer romance. We then surprised our families and friends by marrying just a year after that first meeting with her parents. Nina and I negotiated all the twists and turns of our twenties and thirties together: grad school (her), law school (me), moving from Paris to Greensboro, North Carolina, where we traded strolls along the Seine for Nina’s dream of drinking bourbon on a wraparound front porch with our best friends — who all lived down the street.

Pete and Jan followed us to Greensboro — and found a house less than a mile from ours. I worried it would make for a tricky in-law situation, but it turned out having them close by was as much of a boon for me as it was for Nina. Pete and Jan were there for all of it — from the birth of our oldest son, Freddy, which was attended with the normal mix of joy and neurosis, then Benny, who was born so quickly I almost didn’t have time to eat the sandwich I bought en route to the hospital (and Nina’s fruit salad was still cold when she ate it postpartum); for the minivan identity crisis; for the purchase of our rambling old bungalow.

Pete had always connected with others by fixing or building things with his hands. But after Jan died, his tool kit expanded: He kept tabs on Nina’s oncology appointments and chemo treatments, took care of the boys whenever we had to be at the cancer center, learned to manage Freddy’s blood sugar and insulin dosing for dinners (and overnights when we were late) and remembered important details about Nina’s articles and, later on, the memoir she wrote.

When Nina died, Pete wrote a beautiful passage but couldn’t bring himself to read it aloud. I, on the other hand, prepared lengthy, detailed remarks and wound up speaking extemporaneously for more than an hour.

Still, Pete and I share the obvious: almost two decades spent negotiating life with two fiercely loving women, the two of them so close they spoke daily on the phone even on days when they knew they’d see one another; and of course our common shipwreck of loss.

Two days after Nina’s memorial, I decided to take my sons away to the coast. I called it our “griefcation.” The only part of the whole thing that was clear to me was I wanted Pete with us.

I make a list. I shop. I even buy a new Nerf football. But I also forget milk, butter, lunches, books, board games, cards, markers and paper. We arrive with several loaves of bread but nothing to put on them, and enough mixed nuts, guacamole and corn chips to throw a Super Bowl party, but nothing for dinners.

Nina and Jan would have been apoplectic. Nina used to make lists of what we would need, down to the last detail. Lists of groceries, lists of beach supplies, toys and medications, and a master list of all the lists to make sure each one has been accounted properly — one list to rule them all! And Jan was her mentor. She wasn’t a dictator, but she did make the damn trains run on time. Adieu, military precision and discipline. There are many things missing from the list on this trip. Including toothpaste. And toothbrushes.

The beach is gorgeous. And my crowning achievement pays dividends: a game of Nerf catch! Peter throws to Freddy, who drops a bunch, but sells out on every one, diving in the sand. Pete encourages him without criticizing, the way Nina did, but in a fatherly way, giving it a whole new feel. As I watch the tosses back and forth, something hits me: Pete’s mortality. Like with all the dying — both our wives in such a short span — I’d forgotten that one day that’s the path he’ll take, too. And I suddenly feel a visceral sense I will not be able to bear losing him. I see the odd geometric pattern we’ve started to form laid out for me: Grandfather, son-in-law, grandson; father in law, father, son; grieving father, grieving husband, motherless child. Repeat.

I want to try, the way Nina did, to embrace life with death as an integral part of it. To love all the days, no matter how fraught, or how few. But there’s no field guide. I doubt there’s a support group for men who have lost their father-in-law. You don’t even hear much about widowers, come to think of it. When Nina died, I joined a terrific online support group, but it’s for young widows — my peers are 90% female. Widows, but not widowers. So what do you do when your whole family dynamic is built around widowers? We still feel just like a family, but one whose contours I am only just learning to articulate.

Later, when I shoo the boys toward bed at the beach house, Pete is already starting to clean up after dinner. This routine was always quintessentially marital for me. Picking up wine bottles, scraping plates, wiping countertops. I would wash the dishes; Nina would clear, organize and put things away. Hand in glove. It had a real rhythm to it, a domestic, if not balletic, grace. Pete and I fumble through it, not fully synchronous, but still enough in rhythm. He clears, I clean. I wash, he dries. We have washed some dishes twice, others not at all. But we figure it out.


The First Thing I Did After My Wife's Death by John Duberstein

“On Father’s Day 2014, we’re wearing paper hats that my boys made for us, one for the Pirates (my team) and one for the Red Sox (Pete’s).”

Thank you so much, John. We can’t wait to read Nina’s book, The Bright Hour.

P.S. How to write a condolence note, and my sister’s apartment makeover.

(Top photo by Rennie Solis, via Amber Interiors Shoppe.)

  1. Marie McKenna says...

    I just finished The Bright Hour while I’m home for a sick day. I am amazed at the beauty of Nina’s writing and also her strength. I then googled your name to see if you had written anything and saw this article. How beautiful that you and Pete can be there for each other and the boys. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I hope you, Freddy, Benny and Pete are doing well and I wish you strength and love in your journey ahead.

  2. Jen says...

    Just read this for the first time after reading your sister and johns heartwarming news. Beautiful writing. Thank you all for sharing. Sometimes it is easier to process these intimate life experiences in this form. I feel such a sense of connection to your stories and voices. They speak so deeply of our humanity, and make me feel less alone. I haven’t experienced grief like this, I am just mothering 2 small children. Sometimes that can mean I feel cut off from people. I have little energy for things beyond work and parenting, but I so long for deep connection. Your sharing from the heart has really resonated with me. Thank you.

  3. Spencer Barnett says...

    John,
    Two years ago, my wife passed away suddenly and I wanted to say thank you. We are few we young widowers. When Jodi died all I wanted in the world was someone who understood my own personal pain and grief. To have coffee with another man who’s partner was ripped away too young was something I searched for and to some extent, I still do.

    The days of torturous pain have passed thankfully and now I’m comfortable (most of the time) again. I no longer relive the last week and last day. I no longer see her in the ICU with that crispness that trauma brings. I’m thankful for that.

    What I experience now is a smile and warmth when I recollect. I hear her laugh at Family Feud, I see her smile, I remember her as she was and love her in health, grateful for the time we were given because it was good. I loved her and I’m proud.

    Time has given me blessings. We can’t stop the inevitable reality of our mortality but we can learn hard lessons via our tragedies. Mine was to value the friendships I had, my family, and now the opportunity to love another again.

    She’s wonderful. She’s not a replacement or a crutch. Rather, she’s beautiful loving gift from a universe I felt cold and unforgiving. Life. Life is this thing we all have been gifted with. It wasn’t until Jodi died that I truly became aware of how frail yet monumental it is. I’m grateful for Jodi, I will always love her and I miss her daily, but there absolutely is room in my heart now to love again. It is not the same, to be frank it is deeper and more valued. But that’s the gift.

    Thank you again for your story.

    SWB

  4. Yvonne Stevens says...

    Pete looks fit and healthy. I reckon he’ll be around for a long time. I loved this article and I loved Nina’s book: it was life enhancing and so wonderful for the boys to read when they are older.

  5. Diane Nelson says...

    Just finished Nina s book. It was beautiful, she was a gifted writer.
    Thank you for publishing it and your thoughts at the end. God bless you and Pete and your sons.

  6. Paddy Hansrote says...

    I finished Nina’s book last night and was stunned; the passages, the funny parts and the window into her life as she underwent treatment. I cried myself asleep thinking of those who she left behind. This is a wonderful article and appreciate you posting it in the midst of the dense fog of grief.

  7. Kellie McCracken says...

    What an incredible woman and what a gift she was to you and the boys. As soon as I finished the book, I restarted it. It’s the first time in 48 years I’ve ever done that.

  8. Linda Terlizzi says...

    I just finished Nina’s book, and am in awe of her ability to pen such a lovely memoir while confronting her own mortality. I hope Pete, John, and her boys can find comfort in the great love she shared with them.

  9. Jewelie Dee says...

    I started to write a comment but realized there is nothing to say except that, because of Nina’s book, I see you. I see you both, and you are a wonderful sight for these tired eyes.

  10. Joan MacMullen says...

    Just ordered Nina’s book. Your essay is beautiful!

  11. Amy says...

    Just finished Nina’s book this morning and was mesmerized by her writing. She was an incredibly gifted writer and to think she wrote this all while processing the loss of her mother and then her own life…what an incredible human being. My sympathies to all. May Pete live to see 100.

  12. Lots of hugs.

  13. Erica says...

    very beautiful xo

  14. Shreya Simon says...

    Such a beautiful and sad story!
    Wishing John, Pete, Freddy and Benny the best!!

  15. Nuran says...

    Wow – this is such an amazing piece. I am on the verge of tears.
    This line particularly got to me:
    “I want to try, the way Nina did, to embrace life with death as an integral part of it. To love all the days, no matter how fraught, or how few. “

  16. Tears and lots of love in my heart… thank you for sharing

  17. This is so beautiful

  18. writergal says...

    In the words of Adam from Girls, I am very moved. What a great piece. Sending lots of love to them both.

  19. So touching and beautiful. I shed tears reading it. Men are so amazing, aren’t they? Full of love, loyalty, pain, tenderness, and surprises–just like us.

  20. amyks says...

    Tears, that’s all I have to say.

  21. this was so beautiful. incredible. thank you for a good morning cry.

  22. Courtie says...

    Words fail me, what a wonderful piece.

  23. This is incredibly beautiful. Such a reminder to hold close who is most dear.

  24. Allegra Liu says...

    Beautiful and poignant

  25. such a beautiful memoir. blessings to your family.

  26. Barbara says...

    This is so incredibly moving. What a beautiful gift of love you have given to each other in your grief. John, I’m so touched by this post and your precious family, but also by your incredibly thoughtful and sensitive replies on this thread.

  27. Carly says...

    So lovely. Beautiful

  28. Jaclyn says...

    beautiful and a wonderful friendship.

  29. Tamara says...

    I have no words, this was a beautifully written piece, thanks for sharing!

  30. Mariana says...

    So beautiful! Wish this family all the best.

  31. Anna says...

    I love this – a beautiful story, and now I want to read The Bright Hour! Wish there were more of these stories.

    • Anna says...

      (in the world). Love the wonderful posts on Cup of Jo! This quite literally made my eyes mist up.

  32. Kirsten says...

    I just got a chance to read this piece, and wow, it is stunning. This weekend was the seventh father’s day I have… celebrated? acknowledged?… since my father passed, and even seven years later, I can’t truly articulate the grief I feel. It’s a strange mix of sorrow for the loss and a desperation to remember ever detail. This piece was such an interesting look from another side. Thank you, John, for sharing your story and words.

    And as always Jo, you are THE best.

  33. Susan Levine says...

    I just finished reading The Bright Hour . It took me less than one day. I couldn’t put it down. Being a breast cancer survivor myself, I could identify with many of Nina’s experiences though she possessed a strength I could never hope to achieve. What an inspiration! The memoir is a literary masterpiece, so beautifully written, and one that I will most likely re-read again and again.

  34. Beautiful story. I’m so sorry for your loss, I’ll have to check The Bright Hour out.

  35. Lilia says...

    Such a moving and beautiful article. Best wishes to John and Pete as they grieve and raise those two little boys who, though suffering the unimaginable loss of their mother at a young age, are fortunate to have the tremendous love of two good men.

  36. Jann (with a mother named Nina!) says...

    Thank you for this article, John. I am almost done reading The Bright Hour. What a beautiful and inspiring memoir. And what a treasure for you and your family.

  37. marsha frenkel says...

    Man Jo! Your content is beyond on point. this is life. not some bs aspirational, Chanel totting entry, but sharing of another human life and how people react, behave who have lost. thank you.

  38. Kristi says...

    John, thank you for sharing this part of your life and grief with us. It was a privilege to read.

  39. shira says...

    I just finished reading Nina’s book and was so happy to hear from her husband on Cup of Jo. I was thinking of them and how they were doing and thought a lot about her father and how much he had lost in such a short time.

  40. Alison Langley says...

    When you mentioned Benny’s birth, I had to chuckle. I remember meeting you at the midwife’s office, and her telling you to head on over to the hospital, but take your time, no hurry. You took her at her word and went by Maria’s on the way. I went on to Women’s and it was clear by the time you arrived that things were moving along! If you would like a copy of Benny’s Birth Story, I would be happy to email it to you. I have followed Nina’s story all along, and have enjoyed your writing too. Pete sounds like a gem, and I’m so glad you and the boys have him.

  41. jennifer mulson says...

    Beautiful. Made me teary. Thank you.

  42. molly says...

    SO beautiful. xoxo

  43. Mary says...

    Oh, my, this was beautiful. Thank you.

  44. Alex says...

    I have locally advanced breast cancer and were I in time not to be here, well, it gives me such peace to think (as my husband and I discuss) of my husband and theee young daughters moving in next door to my parents… to co parent in my absence. It’s funny how close they all are and how my husband, in his wisdom, seems to coexist with my parents idiosyncrasies better than I do.

    In short I loved this piece. I would love more pieces on living in the midst of reminders of our mortality- many of us live here all the time…

  45. Agatha says...

    I’ve been reading cup of jo for years and love it – this is the first story that left me completely in tears, my morning coffee growing cold beside me as I read it this morning. Beautiful and poignant -thank you to John for sharing

  46. Katie says...

    I love that you, John, decided to pick up the pen and write about your experiences. What a brave thing to do, and I’m sure

    • Katie says...

      I’m sure Nina would love it too. Thank you.

    • John says...

      She might cringe a little! She had high standards for writing that I probably do not uphold in my own. And it would not be the first time I embarrassed her in public!! But I do think she’d love how much Pete and I have leaned on one another and taken care of the boys together. Thanks for reading TBH and my thing too!!

  47. kate s says...

    Thank you.

  48. LB says...

    This is so touching and beautifully written. What heartbreak to lose both women in such a short span of time, it’s almost unfathomable. It’s inspiring to see such grace and love in what must be the most difficult time of their lives.

  49. Such a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing

  50. Dee says...

    Oh my goodness, I cant. My heart. Tearing up at work. This is probably one of the best articles I have read in COJ.

  51. Kazuko says...

    I’ve made the big mistake of reading this beautifully written heart-breaking story at work… I’m a sobbing mess and feel nothing but admiration for this family.

  52. jenna says...

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  53. What a beautifully written essay. His words fell into my heart and found that place I wish more writers could go. Thank you so much for sharing.

  54. Helen from Boise says...

    This is beautiful. I am a widow. My daughters are 7,6,&3. He passed away in an accident 4 years ago. I am so close with his parents – they remind me of him in so many little ways. And their presence in my daughters’ lives keep him close to all of us. It is a special bond I cherish. Thank you for sharing this.

    • John says...

      Pete’s involvement in the boys’ lives is HUGE. They adore him. They look up to him. And they know he’s their mom’s father, a close link to her, which is only part of what makes him special but doubly important these days. Thanks for reading and sharing. I’m really sorry for your loss but really glad you have caring people around to support you and help remember.

  55. Brettne says...

    John, I’ve read and reread this so many times today I’ve practically memorized it. It’s such a beautiful, vivid piece, and it captures your experience in such an authentic and open way. You and Nina were quite a pair: like Nina, you have this uncanny ability to stare directly into the darkest corner of the human experience and still find light, laughter, and joy.

    Keep on keeping on, as my mother would say. Big hug to you and those precious boys. BB

  56. Brettne says...

    John, I’ve read and reread this so many times today I’ve practically memorized it. It’s such a beautiful, vivid piece, and it captures your experience in such an authentic and open way. You and Nina were quite a pair: like Nina, you have this uncanny ability to stare directly into the darkness corner of the human experience and still find light, laughter, and joy.

    Keep on keeping on, as my mother would say. Big hug to you and those precious boys. BB

    • John says...

      Beebs!! If I were going to arrange to meet you someplace on the Internet, this is probably where I’d pick! Suits you perfectly. Next time bring your mom!! We can have lunch. I bet Joanna has great suggestions. :)

  57. Claudia says...

    Joanna you never cease to delight and amaze me …you bring joy to the worst of moments with your blogging …I never miss a day of checking yours out…recommend it to any one who will listen. Thank you for making the world kinder more informed and giving it a fresh perspective. Your food for thought truly nourishes the heart, the mind and the soul. Whenever I need a gift idea or a pick me up…I look to you!

  58. Art Goldschmidt says...

    I read this poignant essay with great pleasure. and I could almost hear your voice saying the sentences and paragraphs aloud. John, I look forward to a longer article or even a book of your own.

  59. Stacy says...

    Dear John,

    Thank you for this. I sit in my living room with my husband, I’m reading this while he watches television and I start crying uncontrollably. Not only for what you lost, but what you gained. I love all of the characters in this real life story, and I can only hope that we all have a Pete or John in our life to help get us through in times of deep sadness.

    Peace like a river to your family, and thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  60. Tyler says...

    what a beautiful relationship .

  61. Genna says...

    Hi John, I am the daughter of a widower. My mother was 25 when she died. I; 3. My sister; 5. I am 30 now and have an incredibly beautiful relationship with my father. Peace to you, Pete and your boys. You are creating something rare and beautiful that only comes from a strong place.

  62. Jamie says...

    This is one of the most beautifully written essays I have ever read. Thank you for sharing, John.

  63. Carol DeWitt says...

    You are putting your own excellence out there, John! Your writing gives to us so unconditionally. You and Peter are the heros of two fine women that I love dearly. Keep on, keeping on!
    Love to Charlie and those two clones! <3

  64. Sandy Avis says...

    Oh my mind is swirling. I am 54 with terminal BC and I look at my husband everyday and wonder-who will catch him from falling when the time comes? Our 3 beautiful boys (27,25 and 22) are grown and live elsewhere. While we have a wonderful support system of friends in Northern MI and family at our beckon call, I hope someone will step up and be his “Pete.”

    My heart breaks for all of you. I am lucky for the time being that maintenance chemo is working its magic and buying me time. Isn’t it incredible and mind numbing that all of us with this insidious disease- all we want is time. A day, a week, one more anniversary or a chance to hold a grandchild.

    Peace to you and yours.

    • Nora says...

      What an impossibly hard thing to contemplate…

      Love and strength to you both.

    • Ali says...

      Peace to you Sandy,
      I pray you get the time for many more anniversaries and grandchildren xxx

    • Sandy, you will be on my mind today. Sending love to you and yours.

    • John says...

      I don’t know how Nina was able to keep all of this stuff in her head and still keep perspective. I know it wasn’t always smooth or easy, like writing her book was in her last few months. Life is messier and harder (not that writing a book while dying of cancer is easy, I don’t think?). I’m really sorry for what you’re facing. It sucks. Nina used to say she could find a way to let go of everything but being a mom to our boys. And that was true. But not readily, not easily. There wasn’t a time I remember talking to her about it that she also didn’t want more time with me, with her dad, her mom before she passed, or at least more reassurance that we’d all be OK after she died. It sounds like you have lots of people who care about you and that makes sense, because you seem like a caring person yourself. Not everyone gets a Pete, it’s true. I’ve only ever met one. But I bet your people are superstars in their own right. And I wish you and your family the best possible things that can be under the circumstances.

  65. Susan M. says...

    Amazing writing, and so sad. Bright but not sugar coating. How lucky to have each other. And how lucky to have in laws who actually want to move closer when you have a family. Thanks!

  66. Loribeth says...

    This is my favorite corner of the internet and this piece is exactly why. Thank you John for writing and Joanna for sharing.

  67. Paulina says...

    John, this is beautiful. So touching. Thank you so much for sharing this precious part of your life.

  68. Hi John –
    Lucy sent me this book and I’m midway thru (started yesterday – wanted to finish, but #kids). It’s beautiful, and close to home as I am also dealing with a St. IV (lung) cancer dx, while parenting 2 younger kids.

    I saw that you mentioned being a minority amongst mostly female young widow/ers. I thought it might be worth pointing you in the direction of my friend Micah Hyman. He lives in LA. His wife, my friend Erin Williams-Hyman, passed of BC almost two years ago. He also has two boys, about your boys age. Erin was also a beautiful writer (http://bmatzav.blogspot.com/), and Micah, is a rabbi, both funny & a deep thinker, as rabbis tend to be. It seems like you might have a lot to share with each other.

    My condolences,
    Lisa

    • John says...

      It’s odd. I don’t think men traditionally identify as widowers as much. It’s a strange kind of gender bias. Men are also seemingly allowed to remarry or repartner anyhow, and it’s just much more socially acceptable than when women do it. Statistically I read that women stay single after being widowed far longer than men. So it’s not so much that I feel alone as a widower, as I think there are genuinely fewer of us (not fewer men who have lost partners, that seems likely almost dead even if not more men, since we die earlier on average). Anyhow. Thank you for steering me to your friend! And I can always use a good rabbi. :)

  69. Francie Riggs says...

    Beautiful John. Your writing so powerfully and heartfeltingly speaks to the bond of you and Pete and ultimately to all of us if we
    find the way to be like the two of you!

  70. Andrea Glynn says...

    Beautiful piece of writing. You are amazing. Andrea

  71. Jill says...

    I love this.

  72. John, I love this so much. You are amazing.
    Love,
    Samantha

    • John says...

      Thanks Sam!! Feeling is mutual. I’ve been surrounded by you cover art for months and couldn’t be happier! :)

  73. Claire says...

    poignant and so beautifully written. Thank you.

  74. I love this essay and deeply appreciate your sharing it. Thank you and blessings to your lovely families!

  75. s says...

    such an absolutely moving read. I am sincerely touched by it’s authencity and grace.-

  76. Giulia says...

    Thank you for this, to John for sharing so gracefully and passionately the story of his family and such a happy and at the same time grieving bond. And thanks to you Joanna, for always being able to touch with lightness and again, grace, the deepest themes as well as the cheeriest. They share a special, lively and fearless light, and we all come back to this blog for it. Giulia

  77. Alyssa says...

    This is truly touching. I’ve been realizing the fragility of the world and doing my best to soak up every moment I have, specifically with my parents. While they aren’t at a particularly advanced age, I’m realizing how fast and fleeting the moments are. And I’m clinging to those moments every bit of the way.

  78. Karen T. says...

    Beautiful.

  79. Molly says...

    This is crushing and so beautifully done. Bravo!

  80. Ginny says...

    I was beyond excited to see John Duberstein’s byline at the top of Cup of Jo today. I read Nina’s NYT essay when it first came out, and then voraciously devoured everything she’d ever written that I could find online. When I got her memoir in the mail, I read it all in one night (and I have a toddler and am pregnant, so giving up that much sleep only happens for something REALLY GOOD). I love Nina’s voice so much; she is funny, with so much wisdom and grace. Thanks for sharing this, John. What an incredible family you married into.

    • John says...

      Marrying well = my greatest skill in life. Hands down.

  81. Alice Jones says...

    Thank you, John, and wishing you all the strength as you raise your lovely children. They are lucky to have you as a father, and Pete as a grandfather.

  82. Alice says...

    Incredibly moving, and honest. Such a personal insight too, I feel I am mourning their loss alongside them. But what a wonderful alternative family the four of them make. I wish them all the best in the world

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, absolutely a wonderful alternative family! so much love and sweetness there.

  83. Sarah says...

    Today is the anniversary of my mom’s sudden death, and I’m still at a loss about what to do today (the mundane) & everyday without her. My stomach has been flickering with fear all day — fear of what?!??? — even as my mind has been thinking​ about absolutely everything but her (fix light fixture on porch. Oh we need more cereal. These sunglasses would be cute on little one.), and then loops back to recriminate myself for honoring her so poorly. I’ve been lying on the couch all morning, waiting to get up. I just read this post. Thank you both, to the writer for capturing this so well and laying bare his thoughts so that others might take comfort in knowing that someone in the world gets it, and to you, for sharing this. My stomach is still freaking out, but I’m getting up now.

    • Alyssa says...

      Holding you up to the light today, Sarah. <3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending you a big hug, Sarah. That must be really hard, you’re doing such an amazing job just getting through it. xoxoxo

    • Kate M says...

      Your comment moved me, Sarah.
      “I’m still at a loss about what to today and everyday without her.”
      Sending you love and bravery as you find your way.

    • Lindsay says...

      Keeping you and yours in my thoughts today, Sarah <3

    • John says...

      I hope you’ll read Nina’s book. She lost her mom, too, not long before she died. And it was really tough, and hit her at odd times and in unexpected ways. They were super close. And I bet you’d have a lot to say to each other, even if it’s just on the page.

  84. Amy says...

    Whhhhhy did I read this post at work? I’m all choked up. That being said, I’m grateful to have read it. I’m having a tough day, and this post really puts things into perspective. Thank you.

  85. Zakia says...

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful essay.

  86. Lana says...

    What a beautifully written article and wonderful tribute to not only Nina, but to her father as well. I’m not religious but i once read that we keep coming back, finding souls we are meant ti be with. All I could think while reading this is that these twin souls were meant to be together again and life had such a tragic way of making sure they found eachother. Also, this makes me wonder how Lucy is doing and hope she’s finding joy.

  87. This is so very lovely. Thank you for posting.

  88. Amanda Blair says...

    This is a beautiful and moving essay. Thank you for sharing!

  89. Kate says...

    Wow, thank you. Thank you John, thank you Joanna, thank you Peter, thank you Jan, thank you Nina. Very powerful. After reading this, I clicked on the link to John’s Twitter feed & read much of it, read some articles about the book & interviews with John, read Nina’s “When a Couch is More Than a Couch” in the NY Times, ordered the book from Amazon, and came back here to read this article again. This speaks to me a lot.

    John, I hope you write a book or at least a long article for the New Yorker with your insights, perspectives, & thoughts as you continue with the grieving process, raising your son, honoring Nina, embracing life, developing your career, & building community. You have a calm, sincere, kind, powerful voice. Thank you again.

    Thinking of Joanna’s sister, Lucy, & Joanna’s husband, Alex, all the grieving you all have been going through in these recent years, & how what you’ve shared on the blog about it has meant a lot to me & been very helpful. I first read Paul’s writing on this blog, then read his book, Lucy’s article in the NY Times, read about her apartment makeover, &watched her TED talk–all so very thoughtful, profound, & moving.

    Thank you all for opening your lives & sharing, allowing us to accompany you in your grief, life, & reflection, & allowing us to feel like you are accompanying us on our journeys as well. Much love to you all.

  90. Jo says...

    I completely just ugly-cried at my desk at work. This was so beautiful and heartbreaking.

  91. Beth says...

    Thank you for the beautiful essay. I am still reading Bright Hours and it is so moving at times I can’t even put it into words. It is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s wonderful, Beth. I can’t wait to read it; it’s on my bedside table, waiting for me tonight!

  92. Tracy says...

    Thank you, that is beautiful. I will add the Bright Hour to my reading list and thought I would share this similar type of memoir book by a friend http://amzn.to/2rNGhWj

  93. There’s no greater gift than giving dignity to the dying process and the healing for those left behind. Thank you for sharing this powerful testament to life and the love that expands from the contrast of loss. My mother passed away at age 45, when I was six years old. In that, I learned very early on that life is best experienced appreciating every damn day. I don’t waste a single one and that’s brought waves of peace amidst heartache, thousands of times over. These days, I volunteer with Hospice in their program that matches children who have recently lost a parent or sibling with adults who have experienced the same in childhood. I encourage John and Pete to reach out to their local Hospice; they offer free counseling and support groups for widows, widowers, and children of the deceased; as a heads up. Sending love to everyone out there who is struggling with loss, and hope for all of us to continue to see the gift of beauty and light as we navigate through life after loss. And, Joanna, your work as a facilitator and gatekeeper of compassion is so resonant and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who is thankful for you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a lovely note, catherine. thank you so much for your kind words. and hospice is a great recommendation; i didn’t know they had free counseling and support groups for family members, and it must be incredibly helpful for many people. thank you so much for taking the time to write.

    • Alice says...

      This comment moved me as much as the piece itself. Thank you for sharing

    • Dee says...

      Facilitator and gatekeeper of compassion. I couldn’t put into words how I appreciate the work of the COJ team. You just said it. Thank you

    • John says...

      Our kids have been doing Kids Path. Nina and her dad went to grief counseling at Hospice after her mom died, and now I’m going. I’m also exploring the support groups, though I haven’t gone yet. And our kids also get to go to this fabulous (non-hospice) program called Camp Kesem. It’s for kids with a parent/primary caregiver with cancer or who died from cancer. It’s 100% free, staffed by incredibly able, well-trained college kids, and it provides the best environment for fun you can imagine for kids in that situation. Two major league support organizations in hospice and Kesem. Can’t recommend them both highly enough.

    • John, what wonderful programs and what a gift you’ve given your children by fostering their unique processes of healing in this way. I remember, after my mother passed away, how very much I was mindful of my father’s grief and, too, of his utter devotion to and beautiful love for his children. Being an empathetic child didn’t lack for some intensely heavy shit at too young an age; but I can now see the gift of it. I mean, having both witnessed and experienced the aftermath, during that time I also got to dream of a life that would be lighter and happier. Some may argue that it’s a form of escape. Ok fine. But I mostly see it as a roadmap, loosely navigated- with detours and pit stops- creating and evolving into the life I’m now living. Which is lighter and happier. I wish you, your children and your in-laws similar hope and peace as you honor your grief. I so enjoyed reading your insights (beautifully written!). Thank you so SO much for offering a fresh voice.

    • Thank you, Alice…I’m really glad you felt some comfort there♥

    • Dee, yes! I so agree! It totally describes Joanna and the COJ team (and we have my strong coffee for helping my brain construct that term…ha!)

    • Joanna, your response is very kind; thank you. I’d like to also share that I had sent the link to this post, as well as, a link to both The Bright Hour and When Breath Becomes Air to the volunteer coordinator at the Hospice I work with. (She’s an incredibly compassionate, funny, and insightful woman). In her email response, she mentioned that The Bright Hour is listed as recommended reading in their upcoming newsletter. And, get this, she told me that she quoted When Breath Becomes Air- shortly after she read it last year- in a Volunteer Care meeting. The most touching words, she said, from Lucy. And then she sent me the link to your sister’s TED Talk; which I had already watched, but weeped in a whole new way when I just watched it again. It made a whole lot more sense to me having experienced it with new eyes, several months into my mentorship with hospice. I gave Paul’s book to SO many people, so I know how very much he’s touched lives. And so has Lucy. She is remarkable, isn’t she? Such a light! You too. Your blog is the first thing I click on every morning when I start working. It’s a safe and nurturing space that, yeah, shepherds us through our lives (it’s true! You’re THAT good!♥)

  94. Glenda says...

    I’m in the last chapter of The Bright Hour. As I’m reading I wondered about Nina’s men. Thank you John for sharing this beautiful post. I’m so happy you and the boys have Pete.

  95. BMP says...

    A beautiful and moving story.

  96. jeannie says...

    “The Bright Hour” is beautifully written and so honest. l completely loved reading it. It was heart-breaking, funny and thought provoking. I highly recommend it.

  97. Such a beautiful story. I feel mixed emotions when I read this. This is sweet and sad at the same time, and I can relate to it. I lost my dad too over a year ago, and I am still learning each day how to live without him. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so sorry for your loss. xxx

  98. Gemma says...

    How lovely.

  99. Holly says...

    This is so close to my story. My husband died 7 years ago and his father died in January. My mother in law and I have never been closer, bound by our shared grief. She has become a second mother to me and I will always be grateful for someone who knows exactly how I feel and also misses my husband as much as I do. She is maybe the only person left who I can honestly grieve with. Everyone else has moved on and expects that I have also.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, holly, i’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your husband and father-in-law. how devastating. what a gift that you and your mother-in-law have each other. sending so much love your way.

    • John says...

      I’m really sorry! The losses piling up on losses thing is just too much. I don’t know how Nina dealt with losing her mom and facing up to her own situation at the same time. If you’ve remained close with your MIL and you two are able to share the experience of grief that’s a huge victory. And having a second mother is HUUUUGE. How wonderful for both of you. I feel SUPER lucky to have Pete around, obviously (I don’t write things about everyone. In fact, no one else!). Thanks for sharing and for reading here! xojd

  100. Annie Green says...

    The hats are perfect. As are they.

  101. laura says...

    This was truly heartwarming. Thank you for sharing.

  102. Katie says...

    Thank you for sharing! Beautiful story!

  103. Melinda wold says...

    I’m guessing this ranks as a phenomenal Father’s Day gift to your wife’s father

  104. Maggie says...

    What a moving, beautiful entry. Thank you xo

  105. Caroline says...

    Reading this makes me feel like tearing up. The beauty of families created you aren’t born into.

  106. What a beautiful beautiful post. Pen x

  107. Lauren E. says...

    This is so beautiful. Although not bound by grief, my husband and father have a special relationship, too and it’s always made me so happy and grateful.

  108. Lynn McKoy says...

    Wow!!! My heart is heavy and happy at the same time while reading this. I am still mourning the loss of my mother (1 year). It is so important to have someone help you with the grief. This story is infectious! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Kay B. says...

      Lynn, I agree that I did find some sort of comfort from reading this. My Mother, my very best friend in the world, also passed away just one month ago. I need to find a way to help me accept her death, my immense grief and my familial relationships.

  109. L8Blmr says...

    We don’t often get to hear how men grieve with such beauty and articulation. Thank you for sharing this story.

  110. Thank you for sharing, this was beautiful.

  111. Jasna says...

    So touching and beautiful…

  112. Anna Kleinfeld says...

    What a beautiful and brave story. Thank you John.

  113. judy says...

    This is a treasure for anyone. I’m grateful he wrote it and your shared it. Goodbye grace to these courageous men and the boys they are raising. Two proud angels are taking tender care from above, no doubt.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “Two proud angels are taking tender care from above, no doubt.” = what a beautiful line, judy.

  114. amy says...

    I loved The Bright Hour!

  115. Ximena says...

    This is such a beautiful story <3 thank your for sharing