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Sal Gentile has always been a spiritual person but doesn’t consider himself a particularly religious one. Often people confuse the two. He isn’t really a church goer but has been a seeker on a spiritual journey since his 20’s, his bookshelves filled with the work of thought provoking authors. So it’s no surprise when Lisa Wright, author of Why Go On: Connecticut Residents Bring Dark Days to Light, decided to include him in her book about 20 people who give new meaning to the words, “overcoming adversity.”
“I was drawn to the sense of hope in Sal’s story. He employed a mix of fearlessness, gratitude and perseverance to survive the worst of times,” said Lisa. “Throughout his journey he dug deep into the caverns of his grief and reemerged lighter, wiser, and capable of living fully again. He’s truly an amazing person.”
Dealing with my grief was a curiosity to me,” says Sal. “I knew I had to face it head on, and try to make sense of the loss I was feeling. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to explore this.”
Sal married Ket in 2004 when they were both 40 years old. She was very gregarious and he was a quiet type. She was a successful graphic designer and he worked for a commodities trading firm. Ket was devastated when they couldn’t have children despite trying the newest medical procedures. But it was during a routine colonoscopy that a “small cancer” was found. She went through chemotherapy as a precaution and during a re-test, the cancer had spread to her ovaries. While dealing with the sadness of not having children, and back to back surgeries, they learned that the cancer had spread further to her liver. During the last five weeks of her life she couldn’t eat and Sal stayed by her side. They were together 12 years and married about half that time. In June 2011 Ket lost her life at the age of 46.
“I used all my spiritual power, affirmative prayers and invited people at church to pray for her. I know I did everything I could,” says Sal. “We did everything possible to help her heal.” But after Ket died, he stayed home alone for three weeks, finding that experience of isolation “unbearable.” He says, “I was in a fog, not even thinking...in shock. I was in a really rough state.”
He finally surfaced, finding hospice support groups helpful with the first chance to talk about how he was feeling. He recalls he was the only man there and the youngest of the group. Someone at his church suggested he see a spiritual medium and he did, reaching out to Catherine Crowley at Mystics by the Sea in Milford, CT. His spiritual nature left him wide open to possibilities that he thought might help his grief journey. He thought a spiritual intuitive might help him connect with his lost love.
“Ket’s spiritual nature was there before I got out of my car,” said Sal about his first visit. “The medium said things no one else could have known. The things I needed to hear. It made me certain it was her (Ket).”
The medium suggested he had been there to provide Ket with something missing in her life. She came from a large Vietnamese family that he says did not have enough love to go around. Sal gave her unconditional love for the first time in her life. “She wanted to know I was okay. This lifted the guilt and heavy emotions I was feeling. I knew she was a difficult person to live with, but I loved her no matter what. This is when I really started to deal with what was going on.”
He began journaling and even went to an acupuncturist who said he was holding the grief in his chest and was feeling unbearable pain. He needed to let that go.
A month after Ket passed he discovered her diary, that she started writing a year and a half before she died. He had encouraged her to write about her cancer, but never knew she had been doing it. Wanting to know and at the same time afraid to read it, he forged on and read her words. “It was unbelievable. It destroyed me to read about the pain she was going through. She was conversing with her inner spirit about her wounded soul.”
He realized he needed to turn it into a book, which Ket confirmed through the medium, to receive some recognition she had never received in her earthly life. “That diary came from her soul,” said Sal. “So I ended up pouring out my grief working with this diary and writing. That’s what helped me deal with my grief, reading her diary, going to the medium, doing my own journaling. But I just didn’t want to move away from the grief. Sometimes I found myself facing it head on, and other times I ignored it, until one moment it sneaks up on you. I went back and forth between those two extremes. I would just go home and cry forever. And I wrote and wrote.”
To add to his situation, he had lost his job after she died. One night after New Year’s Eve, he was in bed talking with Ket and asked her for help.
“I need a job. I need to move forward. I need to meet someone. And what about this book you wanted me to write? I want answers and I want them now!”
Two days later he found a letter from Ket’s best friend from high school in his mailbox. Gladys hadn’t seen Ket in 10 years and Sal had never heard Ket mention her. She had letters from their college years and offered to get together with him. He called Gladys and they became friends and he got to understand his wife in a new way through those letters.
The letters, his own grief journey, Ket’s story, and music inspired him to finish writing the book. He discovered Ket’s family was upset by some things he wrote and he decided not to publish it at that time. He didn’t want to hurt her family. He settled for getting his story out through being a part of Lisa Wright’s book.
Six months after Ket died he decided he needed to Tango, the dance that had brought him and Ket together so many years ago. Meeting at a New York City Milonga, (a gathering to dance the Tango), they danced several nights a week and romance blossomed over two years.
“It was a beautiful way to meet. People see Tango as a sexy dance but the important thing about it is the embrace, moving as one, moving in rhythm...a beautiful spiritual thing. I felt like I needed a human touch to heal,” said Sal. “I started taking classes again, not with the intention of meeting someone, but I needed that touch, that connection. The Tango was one of the most healing aspects of my journey. It was powerful for me.”
He decided to try dating again and a year and a half after Ket passed. He met Daniella. They dated and he pushed her away...Twice...He had been out of work a year and a half and in a really bad place, having blown through his severance pay and was in jeopardy of losing his home.
Sal went back to reading his spiritual books voraciously. “I needed to get myself spiritually right. I started reading, Joel Goldsmith. I wanted to go deep into these books. I started meditating again.” He would absorb and reflect on some of the reading, meditate on it and listen for guidance. “I did that every day until I felt my consciousness turning around. I felt deeply connected to my source within me. I knew I had to change the inside for anything good to happen outside.”
He and Daniella maintained a friendship as he continued working on his book. He just wasn’t ready to move on. She helped him deal with his grief. He revisited the journals and letters but it didn’t affect him the same way a year later. Time had changed that. In 2014 he told her he wanted more than friendship and was ready to move forward.
“I knew I needed to be all in, or nothing. I had a moment one day, where I just knew my life was changing.” He received a job offer, and earlier this year, he realized Daniella was just perfect for him and he proposed. A wedding date has not yet been set.
“Gratitude propelled me forward while I was meditating, reading and getting myself together. I gave thanks for everything, the house I lived in, the shoes on my feet, my family, the life I had with Ket and Daniella. I know what got me through and it had nothing to do with effort, but going inside and connecting and feeling a presence, intuition and guidance, and that’s ultimately how I got out of that place. Ultimately, it’s spirituality that gets us through whatever challenge we are facing.
“I feel good about the fact that I faced my grief in every possible way and didn’t sweep it under the rug.”
That spiritual medium once told him, “Time does not heal. Love heals, when you are able to open up and love somebody again.”