Podcast Description

Who would think that cooking could provide a path to your grief healing?

In this podcast we interview widower, growth coach and author John Lewis, who found that the simple task of cooking for his youngest daughter provided a catalyst for his entire healing process. Getting uncomfortable and finding a new purpose were two ways John believes that his new hobby helped, and he has several more tips and hacks to help you in your own, personal grief journey and healing process.

Interview Highlights

  • How he met his best friend – 2:39
  • There is no coincidence in death – 7:43
  • The turning point in his life – 11:55
  • The importance of perspective and mental health – 17:33
  • Learning about grief and the brain – 21:41
  • Where the amygdala hijack comes into play – 23:58
  • You now have a super power – 29:05
  • Energy never dies. It is persistent – 34:22
  • Breaking the old patterns and habits.39:15

Tom Pisello  0:03  

My guest today is an aspiring author, and consultant. It’s John Lewis, the third. Hi, John, how are you doing? I’m good. How are you? Excellent. John’s mission is to teach people how to find the better version of themselves through his practice. John’s upcoming book, Cook Away your Grief, documents his own grief journey from the loss of his wife, Kim of 18 years. And that was seven years ago. For John, he is on a new mission and purpose now. And cooking, as you could tell from the name of his book played an important role in that, and I definitely want to explore that with John. Welcome, John Lewis.

John Lewis III  1:18  

I appreciate thanks for giving me the time, Tom. I mean, it’s been a marvelous, but crazy journey. That way. I mean, when you go through a loss, when you go through any type of grief, the first thing you do is shocking. It takes time to figure out where you are. Yeah. For me it is like I say, like you talked about your title, cooking was a big part of helping me to find who I was.

Tom  1:57  

Yeah. And you know, when we do and when we do go through that last John, we do think sometimes we’re going crazy. There were moments where I thought I was losing my mind, like, how could this be happening and then unreality to it. And then you do go through a complete identity loss, and you have to find a new identity. And it’s so cool that you found one in cooking. Now, before we get there, though, I always like to start at the beginning. And to me, our conversations. This is a love story. Right? And I want to hear about that love story and the love story. How did you and Kim meet?

John 2:36  

First off, I’m going to tell you this story. And oddly enough, you’re not going to leave a belief. That’s how crazy… It actually started back in 1978. Way before my father happened to be the best friend of Kim’s Uncle 78. My father, unfortunately, there’s some very bad things in his life. And Kim’s uncle was involved in many of those benefits. Kim and I didn’t know until 1990. We met in 90, Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. And I never wouldn’t matter if I did have a fistfight with my best friend now. He was my roommate in college, we lived on campus. And we had such a blowout that it caused me to walk on campus to look for housing. So I went up there, and I ended up getting another friend of mine who I had no idea he was going to for either. He’s from New Jersey, so we started talking. And he says to me, he goes, You know, there are so many people from New Jersey. God get in touch with him. And then he goes, You know, this is girl named Kim. She’s got a car, you know, and she lives no more than 20 minutes away from you. Got to meet her but I forgot her telephone number. And I forgot what door she said. He goes but I’m finding Yeah. Then he says I have to go to the mailroom to pick up a package from my mom. She left me some money. I said okay, I’ll go with you. With them. I’m thinking it’s gonna be crowded. We could have just two girls there.

He looks over. He says yeah, I’m gonna go Kim was talking about that’s her right there.

I looked at her. And Tom seriously. My entire world went black. But zero. I didn’t see anything else. But yeah. Then when she was talking, we were talking. All I could hear was her. Yeah. A couple of days later, we met up with each other. And we started walking around campus together. Then we found out that there were so many different clubs that we had gone to in New Jersey, and incidents that occur in these clubs, that you had to be there in order to, to know. So then, we ran track together, we ran track, and it was interesting. That’s how I met my other friend. Runner’s jersey. He happened to be cool because of the fact that he ran track in high school, and they have these dual meets together. Then there was a major meet that occurred in New Jersey, it was called the Meet champions. And I will see him all the time. And what was interesting was, I probably had seen her but never met her. So now I have this blowout. My dad and her uncle are best friends. It gets even crazier. My dad used to live next door to my wife’s father in high school. Oh, wow. It gets in with our neighbors. It gets even crazier than that. My dad used to date her in high school. You know? I mean, we found all this out. Because one day, kids mom ended up calling, saying that her uncle passed away. And she’s coming to Jersey for a funeral. When we go up there, that’s when we find I literally. And when I say literally, I come in, and my father is sick. And I have not. I haven’t seen my father in five years.

Wow. Yeah. So I’m, I’m like, what?

And then that’s when all the stories start coming out. And that’s when we find that Kim’s uncle had gone to jail. But he had gone to jail because my Dad was in jail. They were involved in the same thing. And so on life, we ended up looking at each other. First off, we thought, maybe take some blood tests just to make sure. But you know, anything? That was, but it was crazy. Because from there. We felt, you know what? This couldn’t be a coincidence. Yeah. It had to be destiny in some ways. So, you know, from that point, we had 18 years together, two beautiful kids. We lived out in West Orange, New Jersey. 

Things were awesome. You know, but it was an interesting situation. Because when I lost her I really felt like I lost my right arm. Because I met this woman when I was 18 years old. She passed away when we were 44. So, you know all that time together. I was lost for a few years after her passing. Mind you I have two kids. My oldest daughter is. She happened to go to the same university. 

Bittersweet because when I got down there all those memories …. it came like it wasn’t a flood … It was a tidal wave. It was interesting. But again, I am a firm believer that there is no coincidence. Nothing’s random in our experience. 

And my youngest daughter is now a senior at Brandeis. 

One day, not too much prior, she came up to me one day, she came for school. And I say, baby, how’s your day? And she just started crying as it happened, and she said, my boyfriend just dropped me. 

I’m sitting there. And now at this point, she’s 16. And I’m like, Oh, my, okay. So now the Father in me is ready to kill this guy. 

But then, I reverted. I thought, I’ve been a 16 year old boy for and learn as I probably should, or evergreen. I was waiting. And so now I had to tell myself, baby, you know what, it’s, it’s a horrible thing. But you’re going to walk through this, you’re gonna be okay. And I hadn’t learned how to have that conversation. 

I had to understand the mind of a six year old girl, and have a conversation that she would normally have with Mom. Absolutely. But you know what, I had to realize I was Mom AND Dad. You know? 

And like I said shortly, and shortly after that, she comes in, you know, maybe like a week later. And she was like, I’m hungry. I’m starving. Shall soccer practice school? And all I had was lasagna. That’s all I had. 

Tom 12:09  

A lot of a lot of widowers are nodding their head like, lasagna, I think you’d call that the go to kind meal.

John 12:15  

Widower’s dinner. You know, and I remember that night, she was like, I’m going to kill somebody if I have to eat lasagna again. So we settled on tacos. And once I started making these tacos, you know, we sat down and laughed more than I had seen for the six weeks since my wife passed. 

So I thought to myself, if I can keep that smile on her face, I’m a going to do it. I went online. I got every cookbook I could find. I found my wife’s old cookbooks, a couple from her mother. And then I got a coupon from Blue Apron. It was the, you know, the meal service. So I had food coming to me. And ingredients and recipes. So now I’m making food. And let me tell you, it made me look like a chef. You know? 

So I started taking pictures and putting them on Facebook. My oldest daughter, she sends me messages, Daddy, you’re making this? And I said yes. Then she goes, Me, my two friends are coming up this weekend. And I want you to make this meal. I got ingredients  and I learned how to make them. I realized that I had some talent in me. You know, I honestly think my wife would do two things. She’d be extremely proud. And she would have said “Why didn’t you do this before”!

But for me it was that point of Revelation. Because I’ll understand. During that time, I was going through so much. I was drinking. You know, one of my jokes with my client was that Hennessy was my best friend. You know, because it was. Plus I was smoking marijuana back then. Anything, anything to medicate the pain You know, the problem was when I would  sober up, it was a lot worse. Yeah. And once my daughter, once they both will Daddy, you could cook. I started telling myself, that was something I could do. 

You know, that night. I remember I was watching a YouTube video. And the guy was talking about if you want to change your life, you got to work on, you can change it outside. And then from the outside foot, and you can start changing your inside. So at that point, to challenge the listeners, the viewers, he said, you know, start by just doing 50 pushups and sit ups. Now, mind you, at this point in time, I’m still drinking. Uh huh. I can’t do 50 Pushups. And it was almost like, seriously, like, he hurt me. Yeah, he said, You know what, doing that, but you can do it. So then I did 10 Push ups and setups. So great. Yeah. And, you know, I it was that endorphin rush, and I jumped in the shower. 

I took my bottle and dumped it in the toilet. I took what was left of my marijuana, and opened up the bag and dumped it into there as well. And I said to myself, I’ve got to fix this. 

And then what was interesting, in addition to cooking, I got this workout, I’m gonna add 10 to every set of things I do, you know, and it was just putting some systems in first. But then I started having, you know, pull ups that I started adding, doing 60  and doing a plank. Then I went to the pool. By the end of the first year. I was doing 500 Pushups. And then I would go to the pool and do a good 70 laps. it was not just for the physical, but it was for mental health purposes.

Tom 17:50  

Mental. Yeah. Because even more than the physical I agree with you.

John 17:54  

I mean, I was going through it, then. Also, when that urge would come back, I would have to tell myself, I have to replace it. Yeah, that was my whole thing. And drop down and give me 20. Right. Right, right.

Because I wasn’t going to meetings and stuff like that. But that’s when I started understanding that you know what, you can really make a change when you put your mind to it. And there was something I always heard, my mom used to beat us into perspective matters. How you choose to see things matters. When, when my father went away, we were single, you know, my mother was a single mother. And she’s raising two boys. From there. She got her bachelor’s, then her master’s, and then her PhD. And all the time she kept telling me perspective, Max.She’s, she’s a minister. And what’s interesting was that thought process kept me …making sure the perspective mattered, even though the religious aspect of things started of shift as I got older, because one employee, my wife and her family were kind of what you want to call surface Christians. You know, hey, they believed there was all good. I was a church kid. You know what? I couldn’t. 

Once I got to the point of being able to get away. I wasn’t in the church like that. The way I needed to be Did you know and there was so many other aspects? I mean, I started really delving into the secular world, I really started looking at things differently, and enjoyed a lot of pleasures. And what was interesting about that was that this is personal to me. I don’t preach to anybody else. But I do believe that, that will give you enough enough rope to hang yourself. And so I was allowed to go on this crazy journey when my wife died, though I was still on this crazy journey. A few years later, I remember the day that I had dumped everything out. And the day that I had decided to make a change.

I got done on Monday. And I said, God, I know I haven’t been cool, we can fool. But you know what? Yo, if you help me out, I’ll tell you, I’m not. I promise to the rooftops I got you. And so over time, he kind of, he really did help to bring me to a new day. 

And that’s when I started learning about grief and things of that nature. We were talking. And when you and I were talking, we were talking about, you know, O’Connor’s book. And, and it was interesting, because I had literally downloaded that book two weeks earlier. And I listened to it. Because I needed to understand how the brain actually responds to grief.

Tom  22:17  

This is Mary Frances O’Connor’s book, the Brain on Grief. And like you said, if you understand kind of what your brain is doing, it’ll give you an awareness so that you can address it and shape it.

John  22:32  

Absolutely. And I knew that there were things that I should be doing. And that’s where, you know, you said to yourself, Okay, I’m reading her book, or on his book in her book, and, and I’m just I’m, like, you know, um, yeah, there were times where I said, I knew I should be doing this. But my brain was like, Hey, God, do this, you know. And once you start learning the on off mechanisms, then you can start creating a little bit better control.

Tom  23:13  

Particularly the amygdala hijack. So talk about that, John, and you just a couple of your experiences there with triggers.

John  23:21  

For me, it started with listening to different songs. You know, there were, there were songs down and listened to, and they remind me of me and my wife, by me, have typed and I would literally just start crying. It was crazy. I couldn’t control it. Then, my whole mind. My mindset was, I got turtle done. I can’t deal with this. That’s where the hijack comes in. Because the amygdala hijack will create that flight of fight or flight response. Yep. And normally, like, back in the day, in prehistoric times, in a, you needed that fight or flight. You know, there might have been a segment of time. But now, what’s interesting is, our mind still has that and our brain still has that. We don’t have the threats that we used to have. But the mind will make you think that whatever you’re going through, if it’s negative, it’s a threat. So the hijack is the fact that we are okay, I’m listening to the songs, and I feel sad. And I My mind is like, I did something wrong with this guy. I’m cool. We got to Right. And that’s where my mind went in that respect. But I had to realize that you can do two things. This you have choice, and you have obligation. You are not obliged to be in grief, pain and grief is a choice. The mental hijack will make you think you don’t have a choice. You have to run. I had to stop. As a matter of fact, here’s how I stopped. One night. I literally downloaded an album that I knew from my wife, she’s in love. And I just sat there. And I sat in it and cry. And so I felt filled with emotions. 

What was interesting was that slowly, the demon started a baby. I wasn’t standing anymore. I wasn’t running. You know, it’s very weird. I built an appreciation. Where, before my mind was turned off, I’m done. I can’t deal with it. But it gave me an understanding that you know what, you’re gonna go through these things. So yeah, again, a choice of choice versus obligation, you have a choice, you can decide to stay uncomfortable. And, and make yourself believe and comfortable in a war, you can make a choice to find the better version of you. That’s where my concept of energy comes through. I. The bottom line is, I remember I was reading in Scientific American, and they were talking about energy, send, the energy never dies. It just transfers in transforms. So now I’m reading this Psychology Today article and it is talking about emotional energy. 

And so now I’m putting two and two together, I’m saying that, okay. If, if grief is emotional energy, and energy never dies, well, then, at some point, you can figure out how to repurpose this. So as I started researching, looking at different ways, I can take that negative energy and use it to create a more positive outcome. And I realized that I was actually doing it without even knowing I was doing through learning how to cook through exercising, through learning to be a better parent. All of these things are aspects of repurposing energy.

Tom  28:44  

And the spirituality that you were able to regain, right that that element to so mind body spirit, and taking forward progress in those was a way to kind of gather that energy and repurpose it and for me, I think of grief not as my my brokenness, or my scars, I view it as my superpower at this point.

John  29:05  

And honestly, that is what it is. Once you walk through the very dark path. When we explain something, you can’t tell someone who’s just experienced a loss or grief. They have a superpower because their mind and their mind to was just falling down. And they’re gonna look at you, like, what’s wrong with

Tom 29:39  

this guy talking about Yeah, but we are think about it. We’re five six years in right. And and so we have that perspective, that someone whose a year or months a year, two years, even three years in won’t necessarily have

John 29:57  

and that I have Have to go back to my personal basement? Honestly, tell them for about two years, I was a mess at the moment. You know, I mean, so I can understand when a person, my conversation with the person is a desert, starts with you having a superpower. I know they do. But I’m not going to say, that’s what you got right now, my whole thing is, Listen, what you’re going through, is trapped. I know, but what you have to understand is that you can make a choice, I guess it again, you can make a choice. You can do what I call the Aerosmith thing and have a permanent vacation. You can figure out how to repurpose what you have. And I’d like to give examples of people who have created things like fund runs, or funds in the name of their person, you know, organizations, charities, and my friends that have a podcast called The Gift of grief. And my whole thing is about telling people, you know, what energy, negative energy is all around you find a way to use it. Yeah. Because now you can use it to get you to a better version of

Tom  31:47  

that motivation. That’s it. There’s a lot of people that are motivated by positives, I for one, maybe it’s growing up in the Northeast, and in New York, kind of like you, it seems to be that negative energy tends to be my fuel. So with the negative energy that came from all of the grief, I had a lot of fuel to power that superhero kind of element that I was able to obtain. I love a quote of yours, “There’s always a blessing in the broken pieces. Let those pieces be the fuel to power you to the better version of you”.

John  32:24  

You know what, I actually got the first part of that from a gospel song. There is a gentleman, Zach, I can’t remember his last name. But he had a song, I’m listening to one day. And he said, There is a blessing in the broken pieces. And I’m sitting there. And I’m like, there is. And the reality is when you decide to look at the negative aspect of things, you’re going to get them there will be justification. 

But then, when you choose to look for the blessing in the broken pieces, because there is a gift in our grief, the gift is not the grief itself. The gift is not the loss. The gift is the lesson that you learn through it. And that analogy of the blessing the broken pieces is very similar to the way I think, and the way I discuss with people I talk with, because one this way, that’s we this effect, we’re all going to pass this effect fiction, and the fiction is that we can prevent it. And the reason why I say that fiction is because we’ve all heard, say for instance, you got a person who was smoking impacts from lung cancer is always someone who says, Man, I wish I had just taken those secrets out of his hand. I wish I had to stop. 

And you know what? You may have been able to delay circumstances, but they’re gonna go somewhere else, and they can go away from you and they’re not going to do this habit or someone to pass in a car accident. And somebody says if I had just drifted that day, well, you know what? You may have delayed that. But again, I’m a firm believer that if something was supposed to happen, or if something has happened, it was supposed to happen. It reminds me of that old movie bet, or family destination thing. Yeah. And

Tom  35:06  

Same thing, John at that movie where you kind of escaped death, but then it still comes around us is rusting and, and wasting away everything of material nature, right? But that energy that you speak about is persistent.

John  35:25  

And you know what, that’s what I had to realize, too, that although I lost my wife, and it was easy to think about her and a casket, and being very well, you know, what her soul was going up, her body was being transformed. You know, hey, look, the bugs have to eat, the plants have to grow. And a big part of that is the decomposition. Anyone who has passed, you know, these things. That is, it goes back to that energy that never died. It simply transferred to transformers. And it’s not like I have a great appreciation for the fact that, you know, hey, that person can help the grass grow. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there is an unfortunate truth in these things. When it happens, then another thing occurs. We can choose to like us to have our Elsbeth moments, stay comfortable and be anchored. Or find a way to refuel this circumstance and take a rocketship approach. I mean, energy, like I said, and I don’t get I’m not one of those crystal type of people. That’s not my thing. I’m just simply saying, you know, the energy is there. 

And, you know, what’s there? It’s, it’s just like a, it’s like nuclear and nuclear energy, can do two things. They came to power city, or just diversity. You know, what the whole thing is, it’s all about how you choose to use it. You don’t have, you don’t have to be obligated to create APA, harmless nuclear bomb. You can find a way to utilize it to create energy to power a city again, but the choice is yours, completely.

Tom 38:10  

So John, what’s the one thing you’d like to leave our widowers, our growth warriors with today?

John 38:18  

My biggest thing is, I let people know that you know what? In order for you to get to a better version you you can learn to do so that you never done before. I mean, I’m not saying crazy, like skydiving. I’m just saying when we know hey, maybe if you didn’t listen to country music, you know what turn on country station. Listen, to listen to something new. Take a different way home. You know, eat something that you never would have eaten before. All these experiences will allow you to start understanding that you can become a new real quick, I’ll tell you this. I wish the headaches. I couldn’t stand him. 

But I eat eggs every day now. I mean, it’s amazing. I’ll need to scramble. I either hob. Hey, I’ve got a few dozen sitting in my refrigerator, you know, because the whole thing is I never want I never realized how much I actually liked them. I had told myself I did but once I started cooking to realize that need a lot of the ingredients call for using them. Then, you know, I said to myself, I’m just gonna try and make an egg And I tried it, I had an egg and potato sandwich. And with sauteed onions and peppers, and I kind of sub roll, and, you know, put some put some sauce on it. I mean, it was awesome. And then I said to myself, I can’t believe I spent all these years. But that’s the way that’s the way I tell people to experience something new. Because it will get you moving towards that better version. And that’s my whole thing.

Tom  40:40  

Yeah, I completely agree. Some of the things that I did were to break the old patterns and old habits and the stories that I would tell myself, you know, I was a pretty good drinker myself, and now six years sober as a result of the loss. The day after my wife passed away is the day I put down the bottle because I was medicating through the illness process. Not too dissimilar John, then then your path, you know, kind of two years after I hadn’t played out as a musician in ages, and I just recently played out with a group with a band and we played for a widow and widowers group. 

So we invited the widows out with my widowers group, and we had a mixer and a fundraiser and I had the biggest smile on my face. 

I wasn’t an athlete and never thought of myself as an athlete. But now I can run up a mountain. And I absolutely love it. You know, so I completely agree. And I think you’re onto something: Get uncomfortable to get comfortable with the grief and the healing process.

John 41:47  

Let me tell you just one, absolutely crazy. My wife used to love to go to comedy shows.

Tom 41:56  

And in New York, great, great ones up in up in that area.

John  42:00  

You always see somebody? Yeah. Well, one night, I went to Morristown, because they have an open mic. And I said to myself, I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna try. 

So I went to an open mic. And I had a grower. I have a role. Now, the next night when I went there, they weren’t laughing. But that first night, they will roll. I sensed that my wife would have loved this. Yeah. You know, and I was extremely uncomfortable. Because it wasn’t first off when the person that you’re with passed away, it’s something in you. withdrawals. You know, so I didn’t think that I had any extrovert ability. When I decided to do this, however, it was quick

And that’s what helped spark me to think about being a motivational speaker. And a podcaster. You know, because I said to myself, if I can do that I can do this. Yeah. And also, honestly, as I started looking at it, what I used to do, which was, you know, insurance sales for seniors, I suppose thinking to myself, that I was good at that. But I wasn’t happy. And so I wanted to find something that he can make me happy again. And B that I could use to help others. So, you know, I think that’s where I was able to go with it.

Tom 44:03  

Yeah. I love that. John, thank you so much for sharing all the stories and your advice. It really is powerful. Thank you. Again, we’ll include a link to your book when it’s published, hopefully, soon. We’d love to get cooking. I think you’re gonna have recipes in there and stories. And so love that I don’t. I don’t think there’s been a book published by a widower that does anything close to what you’re doing. So very unique. 

And I think everyone’s going to love it. We’ll post a link to your consulting site and podcast as well so people can find you and look you up and reach out to John. He’s got great advice, and I know he’d love to talk to you. Thank you again.

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About The Host

Grow Through Grief Founder

Thomas Pisello

Growth Evangelist / Growth through Grief Founder

Tom Pisello is a widower and the father of two daughters. Tom lost his wife Judy in 2017 after her ten year battle with cancer.

Tom founded the Growth through Grief site, resources and ministry to help share his personal experiences to grow through the grieving process, and to share with others to help in his own and other’s healing process. Through this process, Tom gained his sobriety, lost 60 pounds, gained a growth mindset and rekindled lost faith, now sharing these hard-earned lessons and the lessons of other widowers and experts with you.

Prior to creating Growth through Grief, Tom was a successful serial-entrepreneur, analyst, speaker, and author of the business books Evolved Selling and The Frugalnomics Survival Guide. He was well known as “The ROI Guy”, founder of Alinean and Interpose, a Managing VP of analyst firm Gartner, Chief Evangelist for Mediafly and founder of the Evolved Selling Institute and host to the popular sales and marketing podcast – Evolved Selling