GAR 97 | Going Through Loss

After twenty-seven years of marriage, John lost the love of his life when his wife, Margaret, passed away following a seven-year battle with cancer. John looked for a book that would give him space for his pain and inspire him to move forward, but all he found were clinical books written by psychologists. That was John’s motivation to write A Journey Without a Map, which demonstrates the power of connection and shows that, with the proper perspective, a person going through the loss of a loved one can still continue on and live life to its fullest extent.

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:

  • The steps John took to work through his grieving process.
  • Why the power of connection is so important to a grieving person.
  • The quality of your friends is more important than the quantity of your friends.
  • Why it is important to have the right people around you when you are grieving.

SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS JOHN:

  • What advice did you receive that helped you and Margaret to not become victims to her disease?
  • What are some of the special signs you have received from Margaret to tell you she is around you?
  • Why were you open to therapy, how did you find a therapist and how was working with a therapist helpful to you?

 

Listen to the podcast here

John Sardella: Retired Educator Who Is Now An Author Helping Those Going Through The Loss Of A Loved One

 

 

 

 

 

I hope this finds you well and smiling. I’m at my studio in West Orange, New Jersey, looking forward to what I’m sure would be a heartfelt conversation with author John Sardella who will be speaking to us from Naples, Florida about his helpful touching book titled A Journey Without a Map. After 27 years of marriage, John lost the love of his life when his wife Margaret passed away following a seven-year battle with cancer.

John looked for a book that would give him space for his pain and inspire him to move forward, but all he found were clinical books written by psychologists. That was John’s motivation to write A Journey without a Map, which demonstrates the power of connection and shows that with the proper perspective, a person going through the loss of a loved one can continue and live life to its fullest extent.

John, who was a teacher for 16 years and a principal for 15 years, is also the author of two previous books titled How to Start a Successful Youth Lacrosse Program and L is for Lacrosse: An ABC Book. I will soon be talking with John about A Journey without a Map: Stories of Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward, which is a number one Amazon bestseller in the categories of psychoanalysis, oncology, and grief and loss.

John, welcome to the show.

How are you? Thanks for having me on.

My true pleasure. Let’s begin our interview with this question. Your journey without a map began when you learned that your precious wife Margaret had cancer. What would you like to share with us about the seven years that spanned Margaret’s cancer diagnosis to her funeral?

Margaret, my wife, we were married for 27 years. We met back in college at Cortland State where we both went to school. I graduated and went back and visited and met her. From there, we fell in love and we got married. After having three kids, living a great life together, and forming a family. In 2010, she had pain in her abdominal area. She went to the doctors and they found a node that was in her pancreas. The node was diagnosed. It was diagnosed that it was cancerous.

GAR 97 | Going Through Loss

A Journey without a Map: Stories of Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward

Through that diagnosis, what ended up happening was it began our journey. A doctor friend of mine said, “You are on a journey without a map.” I will talk about him a lot more as we continue this episode. The journey was without a map. We ended up trying to figure out she had a very unique cancer called a neuroendocrine tumor. It was in her pancreas. A lot of doctors didn’t know what it was about, but we were unfortunate to be able to connect with Dana-Farber. She did a clinical trial at Dana-Farber, which helped to stabilize the cancer for three and a half years.

You had a little more time with her. Thank God.

We were very fortunate. The doctors were optimistic that she would live with that tumor for a long time. The only thing is they couldn’t go in and they couldn’t operate on it because the portal vein ended up having a blood clot. That blood clot interfered with anybody doing an operation because it was too dangerous. Doctors all over the country who we reached out to said that it would be too dangerous to do an operation because of that blood clot. If it shifts, it could be deadly. We said, “We will work with the clinical trial.” We worked at Dana-Farber. It was Dr. Jennifer Chan. She was fantastic. She had a great bedside manner and is a great person.

Where was all this taking place?

At the time, we were in Liverpool, New York, which is a suburb of Syracuse. It was in the Syracuse, New York area. Every other week, we would travel to Dana-Farber. She would either have scans or a doctor’s visit. It was a quick turnaround like a 24-hour turnaround. We would stay with some good friends on Thursday night, go to the doctor’s visit on a Friday, and then we would be home by dinner on Friday.

She would take her medicine. At first, it was a chemo with a stabilizer. The stabilizer was called Afinitor. At the time, it was called RAD001. It got FDA-approved after eight months. That FDA approval meant that we could stay in Syracuse, work with a local doctor, Dr. Wong, and be able to monitor it. The thing is after three and a half years, it metastasized to her liver. It became a different focus. For the last few years, she was on about nine different types of treatments in order to battle cancer until finally, she succumbed to it on January 8th, 2017.

How intense. How did you two not become victims of her disease? You were living with so much stress and so much distress.

What we did was once we found out more information, we connected with my very good friend who’s Dr. Mike Lacombe whom I grew up with and played basketball even with in middle school. We are still good friends. Before this show, we were texting each other because he is coming down to Florida for a visit. We are going to connect, so I’m very excited about that. He happens to be a radiology oncologist.

They say, “No accidents,” right?

Yeah. It ended up being when he said, “You are on a journey without a map. Do not be a victim of this disease. Do not let it control you. You can control it.” From the beginning, my wife and I took that to heart to say, “We are going to try to control this the best we can. We are going to control the journey. We are going to be together in this every step of the way. We are going to get through it together.” We had that mental mindset to be able to do it.

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The other thing that was beneficial was the fact that my wife was able to still function, still teach, still be a mother, still go to the gym, and still do things in the lead of active life. The difference was she was on medicine. She was taking blood thinners, whether it was injectable blood thinners or pills. There were times when she was on a different type of chemo. She prided herself on trying to live a normal and active life, be a mom to our kids, be a wife to me, and be a great sister and friend to everybody else.

Margaret sounds so wonderful. I know that is a big tribute to you, too, because I know how important it is to have a very supportive spouse when you are going through something like that. She had her best friend with her.

We were very close. It brought us even closer together. In those last few years, we were the closest we have ever been. She was a wonderful person. She had a great sense of humor about her, but she was a very kind, caring, and loving individual. She loved me unconditionally and loved the people around her unconditionally. She had a kind heart and was just a gentle person. She was a wonderful person. I was married to my wife. I still think of her all the time. I always think of all the memories fondly.

I can relate. You have three children. How did you handle that? They had to know what was going on or didn’t they know what was going on? How did you handle it? They had to have different personalities. What happened in that department with the kids?

When she first was diagnosed and we had to go to Dana-Farber back in 2010, we had a conversation with our oldest two kids. They were juniors in high school and ninth grade in high school. That was Meghan who was my oldest and Harry who was the second child in ninth grade. Julia was in sixth grade. She was younger. She didn’t have as much understanding at that age.

We talked to the two older kids because when we would leave, they were in charge of the household. Meghan took that to heart and said, “I’m in charge. I got to take care of my brother and sister.” The conversations were a little different. I had more of a conversation with Meghan because she was older and more grown up. With Harry, it was more of a wait-and-see at times when we would have conversations. With Julia, it was a lot less.

It wasn’t that we hid things. We didn’t always share everything. When it came to the bigger things, as we had conversations as the years went by and had to adjust and go back to Dana-Farber after it metastasized to the liver, that was when we were more inclusive with the three of them. Upon her death, we had to share that with all three of the kids.

How the kids took it and handled it was all different. Meghan took it to heart and was like, “I’m the big sister. I got to take care of my little brother and little sister.” Harry is a very quiet, reserved kid. He is similar to Margaret in a lot of ways. They had a close relationship. He didn’t have a lot of people to talk to, but when he did talk, he would usually talk to me or a close friend. He would open up and talk about it. We have some open conversations, which has been special because of his maturity. It is the same thing with my daughter, Meghan.

Julia, as she continued, she had to observe things a lot more because she lived with them. She didn’t go to college. She was in college for one semester, and then Margaret passed away. The conversations, we had them, but she could see the signs. She knew something was up. The three of them also interacted quite a bit together. That interaction together was very important because they do take care of each other. It helped them to prioritize what’s important in life and take care of each other.

That’s a big compliment to the way you and Margaret were together and how you raised your children because it doesn’t sound like there was any out-of-the-way sibling rivalry or anything. They all banded together. They bonded. They were there for each other, which is wonderful.

Thank you. I always told them to be like their mother because she was such a great person. Ironically, they got some of my traits, too, but I try to do my best.

They had good role models. That’s important.

We did pride ourselves on always trying to talk through things, work through things, not to get upset at things, and to be able to work through it. The other thing is when you do go through this experience as you have gone through a very difficult experience, the priorities happen pretty fast. You look at things and all of a sudden, the small stuff doesn’t matter as much. My kids realized that. I live by that. I live by the motto, “Keep it simple.” By keeping it simple, it’s amazing how if you keep it simple, your priorities rise to the top and the little stuff doesn’t affect you.

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You lose interest in all that drama that other people seem to like to create for themselves. That’s it. You state that many of the challenges in life can feel like a bucket of water in the ocean. When you lost Margaret, she was your ocean. What were some of the steps you took to work through your grieving process?

Throughout my life, I have always prided myself on trying to find that balance with faith, family, friends, and integrity. I am always trying to have a moral compass and trying to do the right thing. When Margaret passed, it ended up being I lost my balance because I lost my partner. I lost that important person in my life that helped me to balance. When I was making decisions, I didn’t have that person to talk to to make decisions with and things like that. That was a big learning curve for me. I had to work through that and try to figure out how to do that.

What I did was made sure that my spirituality was always there. I always made sure that I put the right friends around me. Those right friends are the friends who were there pretty much throughout the whole experience. Not only the experience but even when I was younger and smaller. We are great close friends.

My family was great, whether it was my brother or whether it was Margaret’s sister and her family. We work through things together and try to connect that way. As she passed, I talk to her sister, Gail, still every other week probably. We talk often. I talked to my in-laws still probably every other week, too. I try to stay in touch with them. They are growing old. I always want to make sure that I’m in touch with them because they are special people. They raised a special daughter. I always want to make sure I honor them the right way.

I stay in touch with my kids. We are very close. Those are things that are important. As a matter of fact, my youngest is down here with me in Naples because she’s working from the condo where I live. She’s not able to get into New York City yet once her job starts or once that opens up in New York City, but she’s with me. What I have worked through is you are very lonely when you first go through this experience.

What I found was it wasn’t the companionship I needed as much. I needed people around me. As long as I have somebody around me, I’m in a good place. As for companionship and things like that, I’m good. I don’t need that. I still have such a love and a deep feeling for my wife. It’s tough to move on with somebody else because I don’t feel I can give much to somebody else.

It’s very hard to compete with that memory with her. I can relate to that with my husband. You have had someone so wonderful. You still feel loyal to them. You love them. It’s tough to find someone that hits all the boxes.

I don’t think we will ever find that. The other thing that I did was I retired a little less than a year after she passed away. She passed in January 2007. I retired in December of the same year. I came down to Florida. I ended up staying with a good buddy. I ended up drinking the Kool-Aid because it’s so nice down here. It’s so beautiful. I ended up buying a place. I have been coming down here for the last few years. It’s a great getaway.

I found that I still had to have some purpose. I knew I was going to write a book, and that book happens to be A Journey without a Map. I was going to write this book more about leadership and things like that and take some of the stories and try to guide them into like, “Here is how you persevere through something, the connections you make with somebody,” and so on and so forth. The publisher said, “Your story is you.” That’s how the book came and evolved. Writing has been a passion of mine. This writing has been very cathartic for me. It has helped me through this whole process.

The other thing that has been important to me is I have been a lacrosse coach for over 30 years. When I came down here, coincidentally, you put people in your path. A few years ago, I played golf in a league. It was the first time I ever played in the league down at the golf course that I belong to down here. It so happens that the person who was in my group is a lacrosse coach. By the end of the eighteen holes, he was asking me if I would be his assistant lacrosse coach at a local high school with coaching these girls in a varsity team.

I ended up joining him. I found that the joy of lacrosse and coaching and connecting with kids still has helped me tremendously to be able to move forward. It happened when Margaret was going through her battle. I had two years where I didn’t coach, but Margaret said to the coach I used to work with, “Make sure you bring him back. He needs a coach with you,” and he did. That was special.

That saved you in a lot of ways. It gave you passion. I can understand that. Share with us how the way your mother handled the loss of your dad inspired the different way you handled the loss of Margaret.

My father passed away in 2002, I had a great relationship with my father. He was a teacher, and I ended up being a teacher. We had a lot of commonalities. He was a guy who was the funny guy. He liked to bust chops on others and things like that. We had a great relationship. We laughed all the time. I would drive him nuts. He’d be like to my older brother, “I don’t know what I’m going through with John today,” but in the long run, I was the one who eulogized him and honored him when he passed away.

The reality of that was my mother was a single child. She grew up in a household where her parents already passed away. She didn’t have any siblings or anybody like that. She had my aunts from my father’s side, his sisters, and things like that that she connected to. She ended up becoming pretty much a loner and reclusive, and I watched it. I tried to get her out and tried to get her active, but as anybody, you can’t keep pushing somebody. They have to realize it within themselves in order to be able to do things. I always respected that with my mom. I always went over and try to take care of her in whatever way I can.

Even back then, even before the diagnosis, I said, “There is no way that I’m going to do that to myself,” whether it is with Margaret or without Margaret. When Margaret did pass, I made the conscious decision that I’m going to have a purpose every single day in life. I’m going to have to go outside and walk around. I’m going to have to figure out what my next step is on that day and what my schedule is. It’s pretty easy for somebody to sit on a couch and watch TV all day.

The other thing you did, which was important to me when I lost my husband, is I vowed that I was going to get through this and keep moving forward so that I would be a role model to my son. I knew that he was watching me and was grieving also. One day, he’d have his own family and his kids. What was I showing him? Look at what you did. You changed that script in your family. You have set such a wonderful example for your kids because they are going to go through things, too, in their lives. They are going to know, “Dad, I can make it through this.”

What you said is exactly the purpose of why I did it. I did it for myself, but I had to do it for others. I had to do it for others because they were hurting, too. I had to give them permission to move forward as much as I need to move forward. I also love the term moving forward because what I find with everybody who I have been talking with about grief is they use the term moving forward. A lot of people want to say, “I will move on.” When they move on, they want to forget about what they have gone through. Moving forward you still are attached to what has happened in the past, and I like that term. You are spot on by me moving forward, it gives other people inspiration or at least motivation to be able to work with every single day.

GAR 97 | Going Through Loss

Going Through Loss: A lot of people want to just say, “I’ll move on.” And when they move on, they want to forget about what they’ve went through. With moving forward, you’re still attached to what has happened in the past. It’s a great term It gives other people inspiration.

I find the same thing. People go, “I admire you.” I went through all this help, this therapy, and all these things that I did. Thank God that I could do that. It’s a lot better on this side than to stay stuck on that other end. That’s the whole purpose of grief and rebirth. I want to also ask you. You talk about the power of connection and why it is so important to a grieving person. Would you like to tell our readers about that?

What I found was going through this journey, in 2010 when she was diagnosed, there were a lot of people that came out initially. We kept it close to the vest. We didn’t share with everybody, but we were community members. People knew our story. It was getting out there. You would have people come and say, “What can we do?”

People wanted to do a fundraiser. They wanted to send food over. It was like, “We got a diagnosis, but she’s still living normal as we are as a family.” Those people all went away. It wasn’t that we told them to go away, but they initially do something for a month, and then you don’t see them for the next five years. Not to any fault of their own, but that’s a reality of life.

There were ones that stuck around like my boyhood friends. There are eight of us together. We text and talk all the time. We connect all the time. They would be down in Florida, but because of the pandemic, they are not. We usually have the annual golf outing that we do together. Those guys were there for me, every one of them.

The moment she was diagnosed, they came over to the house. We had a barbecue. They hung out. They were like, “Whatever you need, John. Whatever you need, Margaret.” Whatever the kids needed, they did it and they support it. Dr. Mike Lacombe is one of those people. Another person who’s in that group is a lawyer who helped and supported us through all the difficult paperwork that we had to go through. Each one of them had a role in a different way, and it was very special.

I have three coaches that I worked with for many years and I coached with. They were there always for me. Coaching gave me that outlet, but they were always there to support me. Those friendships were second to none. As I spoke about the doctor, he was there even closer because he got us through every step of the way as the other doctors did, too. It was even getting the scans over to him to look at scans and get an understanding of what it’s all about. He also was that person who would stop over every once in a while out of the blue with a six-pack of beer and say, “How are you doing?” Then have a beer.

I had the lacrosse coach, Mike Felice, who is our head coach up at Liverpool. He is twenty years younger than me, but he has got the wisdom and the character of somebody wise because of his own experiences of going through cancer himself and also losing his mother as my kids lost their mother at a young age.

Talking to him, he was always there to help and support me. He was ready for me to either break down and lose it or say, “Whatever you need.” He was there and it was special because he got it. He understood it in that type of relationship. I then had the player. All my players, I love. I had this one player. Ironically, we talked about New Zealand. He lives in New Zealand, but when Margaret passed, I got a phone call from him. He said, “Coach, you are always there for me, so I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

I tell people when they are dealing with very difficult problems, find your wagon train. It is exactly what you say about the quality of the people around you versus the quantity. I always say different people fulfill different roles, but find those people who you can trust and who are going to be around you. You don’t need to have a lot of them. Your lawyer was one, and this one was another. These were the spokes on the wheel that surrounded you and helped you.

Different people fulfill different roles, but find the people that you can trust, who are going to be around you. You don't need to have a lot of them. Share on X

The irony is that we are very close friends. They happened to be in certain roles. It was special because they understood it. They were able to get through it. Their heart bled for me and Margaret and my family. They knew what we were going through. They were empathetic. That’s something that as you keep growing and as you get older, you become so much more empathetic. You go through an experience like this and you even become more empathetic. You grow your spirituality. You grow your beliefs. You grow as a person to be kinder, calmer, a better listener, and better to people.

You also learn, at least that’s the way I am and I’m sure you are the same way, to value every minute because you know that there is not a lot of guarantee. Make quality with what you have. Every one of the moments with all the people in your life means something to you.

In addition to that, it’s not only the quality of every moment. It has taken one moment at a time, too. I cherish today. I will figure it out tomorrow tomorrow. I’m not going to figure it out tomorrow today. I focus on today.

That is such wise advice for everyone. What are some of the signs that you received from Margaret to tell you she’s around you? What do those signs symbolize to you? Do they have any special meaning? Do you see some of them more often than others?

She loved the color yellow. I still buy roses and I put them up around the house. Whenever I see somebody wearing a yellow pair of shoes, I’m like, “There she is.” They could be a high-top pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. That was something that was highlighted in the book. Also, other people, as they have read the book, have sent me pictures of their yellow Converse All-Stars and things like that.

What I see and recognize is when those types of things happen, I feel that her spirit is with us. That spirit with us is very special. Spirit in the Sky is a song that I have on my phone. That was a song that she loved and wanted to be played at her funeral. That comes down on every once in a while. When that comes on in the car, I’m like, “Here we go.” I’m looking up going, “Am I doing okay? Am I doing the right thing here?”

There are a lot of little things, but the biggest thing is I see my wife through my kids. I see the special qualities that they have and the kindness and the softness. My youngest daughter has so much of it. I used to call her mini mommy. I see such grace from my kids that is a reflection of their mother. That is probably the most special thing that I have. They will do something and I will be like, “That’s Margaret.”

That’s the greatest gift they can give you when that happens and you see her reflected in them. That’s wonderful. Give some people who are reading some great advice about what you say or what don’t you say to someone who has a significant loss in his or her life and is grieving. A lot of people say a lot of wrong things or they feel very tongue-tied.

A lot of times, it’s silence. People don’t know that they have permission to be able to say something to you. Sometimes, initially, they are like, “It was God’s plan.” It stinks. People say, “You got to move on.” That’s false. They should not say that. Some people try to relate a death of a 91-year-old grandparent to losing your spouse. I’m empathetic to that because they do want to try to connect with me. I understand that, but it’s different.

When you lose a spouse, and I believe when you lose a child or a close partner, that close connection that you have, there is not a lot that can connect with that. What I say to people if they stumble or they struggle, or they don’t say anything to me is, “It’s okay.” I then might mention and bring something up about Margaret. I may say, “Margaret would have enjoyed this. She would have loved to watch this game,” or, “She would have loved to go for this walk and enjoy the beauty of what it is.” What I do is I have them come out and they talk. What I find the majority of the time is the silence that people have around you. They are afraid to share. The reality of it is I wish they would ask and share.

What I found over the last few years is that I don’t feel the need myself to talk about Margaret to others as much whereas I felt at first, people needed to know my story. I’d come down to Florida and I’d be like, “I’m a widower.” They’d be like, “That’s pretty powerful stuff.” All of a sudden, some people would say, “I get it. I lost somebody, too.” We would have that connection and that was pretty nice.

What I found is writing the book and talking about it more through these interviews, podcasts, and the different things that I do, I don’t have to have to share my story as much anymore. I’m coaching this group of girls. Here I am. I’m a transplant from New York down here. I don’t know if these girls know my story, but it is okay because I don’t want them to know my story if it’s not necessary. However, maybe they do. Maybe they are being respectful of it because they are such a great group of kids. It’s okay if they know my story but don’t share it with me. All that I would want them to do is truly understand who their coach is and where he comes from.

It sounds like as far as you have come with this, it’s a reflection of your healing. Your needs are changing. You are not as needy for it anymore. You have healed certain parts of it. That brings me to therapy. How did therapy play a role in helping you to move forward in such a healthy fashion? How did you find your therapist? A lot of men are much too proud to go to therapy. How were you open to that and how did it work? How was that helpful? Did the therapist also help you when it came to your kids, too?

Yes. All of the above. In the first year, what happened was you were numb. You are trying to figure things out. You are waking up every day, but you are trying to figure out your purpose. Your mind’s jumbled. You are like, “What am I doing?” You are going through the motions. You are watching TV, but nothing’s registering. It is things like that. You are reading a book and you forgot what you read.

All of a sudden, eight months into it, we go over to Hull, Massachusetts, which was right outside of Boston right on the water, with our good friends, the Chipmans. I came to the realization when I was hanging out with them. Mary Alice Chipman, who is the wife, was best friends with Margaret. She was one of the people that eulogized her. We are hanging out. I had my kids there. I’m finding I’m going into a depression because I’m not interacting with anybody. I’m secluding myself. I’m removing myself from a good time. I was going down, watching TV mindlessly, and lying in bed.

You are starting to breathe.

In a major way or a big way. I realized right there that it was time for me to reach out to a therapist. I went back to work the next week.

It is so admirable that you even were open to that. I know so many people who are not. It takes such courage to do that. I admire people who have the courage to do that. It is wonderful that you were open to that.

Thank you. I appreciate that because it’s trying to be reflective and recognizing things within yourself. I have always tried to be very reflective of who I am to be a better person. Since I was a principal, I had a psychologist and a counselor that was in my building working with me. It so happened it was the summertime and they were in the building. I called them both into my office and said, “I need a little help here. Do you have any recommendations?” My counselor had a great recommendation.

This therapist, I connected with her. I went in. For about three months, I worked with her probably every other week. She was fantastic. She got it. She was a wonderful person. We worked through a lot of things. What you find when you go through therapy is that you think it’s one thing, but it is other things. What came out in my therapy sessions was a couple of things about my mom’s experience. There were experiences with some others and so on and so forth. She worked me through it. I connected with her before I came down to Florida. I still stay in touch. She says, “Anytime you need to reach out to me, please reach out to me. I’m here for you.” I do that on occasion.

She’s your troubleshooter.

In the first three months, it was more intensive, but I was able to work through it. I always stayed in touch with her. She’s a wonderful person. She knew I was going to be writing a book. She finally read the book in the fall. She got back to me and said, “This is going to help a lot of people.” She was very complimentary of what I was able to write. She knew a lot of those stories, too.

She did help some of the members of my family. Certain members reached out. Some of my kids are not living in the Syracuse area, so they try to work with their support somewhere else. They try to reach out and use their resources, too. I try not to be an example of that, but what I do is I try to share with others that it was very helpful. It was helpful to the point where it helped me to move forward and be able to recognize some things in me and then also heal.

in addition to that, and I may have written this in the book but I can’t remember, what I found was writing it down as I did in the book was even more healing than going and talking to a therapist. It became more permanent by writing it down. By writing it down, that permanency ended up creating something that got out of my mind so I could move forward because now it was there and it was out there.

GAR 97 | Going Through Loss

Going Through Loss: By writing it down in that permanency, I ended up creating something that got out of my mind so I could move forward.

You expelled it, in a way.

That’s a good way to put it. That’s a good word there. I appreciate that. I did expel it and as of expelling it, it helped me to move forward. Not that moving forward is perfect. I still check in with my therapist.

You go back and forth. It is a few steps back and then a couple of more steps forward. Every once in a while, you take a step back.

I recommend to anybody who is going through a very difficult time, who’s holding things in, and who doesn’t have a resource to be able to talk with somebody to reach out to a therapist. It’s amazing if you have health insurance. Health insurance will cover that because health insurance is recognizing that. Where we are with mental health in this world is becoming more prominent. The word is getting out there more. The problem is we still lack so many resources, and those lack of resources are holding some people back. What’s holding people back sometimes, too, is not taking that step to therapy. I know that the people who finally make that step to therapy, it does help them to move forward. It makes them become the whole person that they are capable of becoming.

I could not agree with you more. I know that you have moved forward. What keep you going every single day? What is it in your mind? What is your mindset when you get up in the morning and you are still without Margaret but you are moving forward?

I have a quote that I use. I will read you the quote. 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 one? Do I want to be sad, mad, and 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, my kids, my friends, and all the people around me. That used to be up on my mirror, but it’s the quote that I live by.

The responsibility that I have is to myself first, but because of that responsibility to myself first to make sure I’m going to be okay that day, it can reflect on everybody else. What I found is that I wake up during the day and I have got in a great routine of working out. I have the body along with the mind. I’m finding purpose by writing a lot. My fifth published book is coming out soon. I’m very excited about that. If you told me years ago that I was going to have this many books coming out and being published, I would have said, “That’s crazy.” The reality of it is it’s happening. That’s given me a purpose.

The responsibility that I have is to myself first. Share on X

What I found is so much enjoyment of that. By writing A Journey without a Map, the enjoyment is to help. People are grieving and are going through a very difficult challenge in their lives. The other book that I’m writing is the happiness with kids and it gets me back to my wheelhouse. I also find that coaching with kids and being able to still teach kids the game of lacrosse is very special.

Doing everything at my pace and at my time, I love that. I love waking up at my time and being able to go grab a cup of coffee. I relax and go through the beginning of my day casually, quietly, and normally without the feeling of, “I have to go here,” or the pressure of having to answer to a boss at a job to be able to say, “Okay,” and get all stressed out over that.

I’m not a stressed-out person. I’m also in Florida. This day was 80 degrees and sunny. I was out on the lacrosse field coaching lacrosse. I played golf in shorts and a golf shirt. It was wonderful with three great friends. We laughed for eighteen holes. I then coached lacrosse with a group of girls in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I taught and it was wonderful. I then came home and had dinner with my daughter, and I’m here talking with you.

You are here talking with me and with all of our readers.

How special is that? I love it.

It’s a great windup to your day. Before I ask you how Margaret’s been memorialized and about legacies, I want to hear about this new book. I have got three grandsons. Tell us about your new book for kids titled Quick Stick Harry and the Legend of Lax Bro Johnny. What age group is it intended for? Tell us about it. Is it something I want to get my grandsons?

Absolutely. That’s all I have to say.

Tell me why.

What happened is I wrote a children’s alphabet book back in 2000. I also had a whole file of ideas that were put into a bucket that sat there for twenty years. After I wrote A Journey without a Map, I went back into the bucket. I was cleaning out my basement a little bit because I was planning on selling my house, but the pandemic happened. This was the house up in Syracuse.

There were all these ideas with Quick Stick Harry Plays Lacrosse, Quick Stick Harry Plays Midfield, and so on and so forth. I started sitting down going, “I can get more creative than that.” I decided to do a book series. The character is based on my son, Harry. It is Quick Stick Harry. The first book is called Quick Stick Harry and the Ball Hog. It takes you through the story of this child playing lacrosse. You have that selfish player who doesn’t want to pass the ball. You have the parents that say, “It’s okay. It’s fine.” He becomes an unselfish player and they win the championship. It’s an exciting book. It’s geared toward kids who are 2 to 10 years old, so it’s more of your primary-aged kids.

GAR 97 | Going Through Loss

Quick Stick Harry and the Ball Hog: A Quick Stick Harry Series

The response has been wonderful. I have been involved in lacrosse for 50 years. That’s my wheelhouse. That’s my platform. What I love about it is that it’s getting out there in the lacrosse world. People are responding to it favorably. There’s nothing like it in the lacrosse world. What I did was I already had three books planned.

The next book that should be coming out is called Quick Stick Harry and the Legend of Lax Bro Johnny. It takes a child who is a nerdy child that goes to school and loves mathematics and academics. His buddy is Quick Stick Harry. He’s looking at the clock and is like, “I can’t wait to go out and play lacrosse at recess.” Jonathan is his name at the time. He has a transformation. He goes from being this nerdy character to, all of a sudden, this lax bro with flowing hair. He is learning about the game of lacrosse and falling in love with it. I won’t give too many details beyond that.

It sounds like a kid who doesn’t know what lacrosse is also going to learn about the game.

It’s a learning tool for the kids. It gives history. There’s history in Lax Bro Johnny. A Native American spirit comes back and tells him about the game. He has an understanding that it is a game that came from our Native American heritage and that it’s a special game for the creator. The other game was about the ball hog and how to be a better teammate. The next book is going to be Quick Stick Harry Meets Ground Ball Gabby. I introduce a female character. Harry falls in love with her and everything. She is the best female lacrosse player in the town. With every ground ball she gets, she wins a game. It is a teaching tool for kids in the game of lacrosse.

That sounds great. I’m going to have to find out when you are coming out with that because I have a couple of kids whom I would love to read to.

Quick Stick Harry and the Ball Hog is already out. It’s on Amazon.

That’s great. This book is on Amazon. People will want to get it. Tell us how Margaret’s been memorialized. Why is leaving a legacy important and what do you feel will be your legacy?

I appreciate you asking that question because I don’t always get asked about legacy. I think it’s very important. How we memorialize Margaret, there are two lacrosse scholarships in honor of Margaret. She was very involved, not only as a mother but as a booster parent. She watched all the kids play lacrosse. She watched hundreds of games that I have coached. She’s been there for all of it. We thought because my kids all played lacrosse at our school, Liverpool Central School District in Liverpool Lacrosse, we ended up making a scholarship in her memory for a graduating senior in the girls’ program and a graduating senior in the boys’ program.

We are up to thirteen scholarships. Along with those thirteen scholarships, there’s been a number of those huge scholarship receivers who had her as a teacher, so it was very special. In addition, we raised some money and created a reading corner for her in the corner of the school library where she taught. It’s called the Mrs. Sardella Reading Corner.

It’s yellow and orange. It’s a beautiful reading corner. There’s a picture of it in the book. Kids go there. They have to fill out a form or a little ticket to get over there and read. It’s quiet. The librarian said that she never has any issues with anybody going over there. It must be because Margaret’s spirit’s over there and saying, “You are going to be a good boy or a good girl.”

I am letting this evolve. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I’d love to do something with the yellow sneaker fund. Whether it’s to help somebody who is going through a difficult time. I don’t know, but it’s something that’s always been on my mind to be able to try to create. The only thing I would ask the people to do is to wear a pair of yellow sneakers to honor that in the money they receive and maybe take a picture and get it on a website or something like that.

One of the things that we did was we went on a cruise a year after Margaret passed. It was me and the three kids. It was to try to forget about it during Christmas at the time. I was thinking, “Could I have people go away for a weekend to get away and try to get their minds off of the difficulties that they are having or they have gone through?” maybe it’s for the remaining family members or something like that. It is to give them an outlet for a day or two to be able to say, “I needed this.” It can bring a smile to their faces.

Why do you feel having a legacy is so important? Why is leaving a legacy very important?

A simple explanation to me of the legacy is a legacy isn’t my purpose. My purpose is to live. If a legacy that is impactful for others comes out of that, that’s all I need. That’s something special. I do believe that people should try to find a purpose in their life. If they find a purpose in their life, I happen to find a purpose as an educator, as a coach, as an author, or as a speaker. You name it. There are a lot of things. Most importantly, my legacy is being a good dad, being a wonderful husband to Margaret, and trying to be a good friend to others. If I can do that, I hope when I do pass away, people can say, “That was a good guy. He made a difference.”

You made a difference in people’s lives. You are a tremendous role model for people. Everyone who’s reading this wants to connect with you, so give them all your contact information.

They can contact me at JohnSardella.com. They can go to the website. All my contact information is there. I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. People could reach out to me on any of those platforms. It’s John Sardella.

You of all people, what would you say your tip is for finding joy in life?

It’s all in mind and perspective. Waking up in the day and saying, “Everything is going to be okay today.” If you can say, “Everything is going to be okay today,” even if you had a bump in the road, it’s how you handle it and how you manage it. You are going to be fine. If you can be in good mind and spirit, it’s amazing how reflective that is to others. As it’s out to others, people can feed off that positive energy and become better. It is a ripple effect.

Everything is going to be okay today. Share on X

Thank you. Your book, A Journey without a Map: Stories of Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward, inspires those who are facing adversity to find ways to help others and keep progressing. Its messages are meaningful and empowering. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt and helpful book. Thank you for this poignant interview. Make sure to follow us and like us on social @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. As I like to say, to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now.

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