Trekking The Wilderness of Loss

In memory and love of the man who showed me…

that the greatest joys are most often found beneath the commonplace stone. Yet it was a bright shiny object that captured my heart. John Alongé hung the moon for me.

I’m Dawn Murphy

and this is the story of my journey through grief. My twisted path led me to understand that grief isn’t something to get over, rather it’s about learning how to live more wholly with it—and finding our way to a place called Good Grief. It’s a really, really, really hard place to find, but we can do it!


This book is dedicated to you.  To all of you who wander the wilderness of loss.  Your grief is singular.  It is yours to do.  But please know that you are not alone.  You walk among kindred souls.  We loved big and we devoted ourselves to that love—to a partner, a spouse, a parent, a child, a job, a dream.  Now, with quiet courage, we put one hopeful foot in front of the reluctant other as we walk through grief.  We lean into the joy in our memories and the truth in our hearts.  These are what keep us from becoming hopelessly lost.  They are our true guides in the wilderness.  From them, we learn how to sing our song again.  And we find our way home.

Read the Foreword

There is a framed photograph in our vineyard home near the Snake River in southern Idaho that I pass many times each day. In it, two men sit side by side on a leather couch in front of the fireplace at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch. The one in the red cap, my husband, is bent over an ukulele while a handsome man looks on with a smile. Bob has become captivated by the ukulele and is intent upon showing his dear friend, John Alongé, what he can do. A bottle of Ridge Zinfandel sits on the table in front of them. The gentle and encouraging smile on John’s face is a perfect reflection of the generous and kind spirit within.  

Read More

As I pass the photo, I smile thinking of the gift of John in our lives. So many wonderful memories—never enough, of course—that we shared with John and Dawn. Memories filled with laughter and wine, food and music. John was a master at all of these things; an expert in anything that he was passionate about. Whether putting us all into hysterics as he described the bibimbap we were about to be introduced to at a Korean restaurant in San Diego, or gathered over braciola for a celebratory dinner in a cabin rented at Fisher Creek in the Sawtooth Valley of Idaho, John freely and joyfully shared his knowledge and passion. It all started with wine. More than a decade ago, John gave a talk about wine at the Rocky Mountain Ranch. Our dear friend Sandra, who managed the Ranch for many years, kindly extended an invitation to “Bob of Wine” to participate. Bob, as the name implies, is in the wine business and knows quite a bit about the subject. He probably would not like it said, but I believe it is true that he was quite in awe of John’s knowledge. John was The Wine Heretic. His entertaining book by the same title is an expression of his insightful and unusual way of looking at wine. His presentations included tasting, savoring, and learning about each wine. John just naturally created a feeling of welcome. No one felt like a beginner and everyone joined in, laughter and smiles all around. His big personality was infectious. The evening at the ranch sparked a lasting friendship. It also sparked a competition between John and Bob that endured throughout the years. They played a game to see who could produce the finest and most obscure wine for our many festive dinners together. Dawn and I were always the winners! And then there was music. I was so grateful to John when he went ukulele hunting with Bob one afternoon, thereby sparing me the agonies of a discussion of the minutiae of each and every instrument. He absolutely needed to find the perfect one. When John died just before Christmas of 2015, it seemed impossible that such a virile, vibrant, energetic, living-large John was gone. I had not known Dawn without him. They were a pair and I could not imagine one without the other; so intertwined were they, it was often hard to see where he left off and she began. As you will read in “Good Grief”, his death broke her heart. Every one of us who loved John and Dawn ached for her. The amount of pain his loss created for her was unimaginable to most of us, and there was nothing anyone could say or do to lessen it. Not only was she grieving but feeling an aloneness, a void, that no one on earth could fill..

More of Dawn's story

Dawn is blessed in so many ways though. Her wonderful loving family and all their many friends gathered around, each wanting to comfort where there can be no comfort. No one can take that burden, we could only stand by with kindness and encouragement, remind her of our love, and keep watch for a chance to be helpful. And stand by we did. From Idaho, I kept in touch with Dawn and did what I could with words and love, and encouraged her as much as possible. Somewhere I read that a true friend is not the one who is proud of you for winning an award, but the one who is proud of you for getting out of bed in the morning. I wanted to be that kind of friend. And, via email and a visit with Dawn in Sun Valley, our friendship deepened and helped me to understand that even when we don’t know what to say, sending love and prayers is what we need to do. It was so very difficult to watch her making her way without him. As you will see, Dawn had some impossibly bad days. But she marched ahead, stumbling at times, finding her way with each small step. We who loved her, cheered her on from the sidelines. Anyone who has been through that land of darkness knows well how difficult it is to not simply give up and wallow in sadness. Dawn, however, did not surrender. She fought to do what she had to do, and somehow got through the days. And the gifts that had made John love her so much came to her rescue, her effervescence and humor helped her to survive. One of Dawn’s special gifts is her ability to laugh at herself. She also possesses a wicked sense of humor and determination—and she began to write. We are all a bit broken in some way. There really are cracks in all of us. Experiencing the darkness tends to make us more compassionate—toward ourselves and to the rest of the world. And we, in turn, bring our light to others. Even as I was doing my best to support Dawn, her unlimited light and kindness inspired me to search for that in myself. We began sharing our writing, and her nurturing and encouragement are two of the reasons I am able to write this poor but heartfelt foreword to her beautiful book. Without Dawn’s journey through darkness, this deeply honest and beautifully written book would not be in your hands. She turned her pain into a life-affirming love story that is an important one for all of us to hear. Open your heart as you read and walk along with Dawn on your own journey in search of the light.

Christine Gertschen Hagerman, Idaho October 2018


Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?,” asked Alice. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where⎯⎯” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “⎯⎯so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”
                               —Lewis Carroll

Hi. My name is Dawn

I’ll be your guide. I’m sorry that you’ve found yourself on this trail of grief. But I’m glad you decided to get out and stretch your legs and explore a little. First, I’m a terrible guide. I am no longer The Happy Wanderer that I used to be.

Second, you’re actually guiding yourself out of this nightmare as we speak—even though you may not feel that way right now. I’m just here to help.

Good Grief

Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.”
                                —Anne Lamott

Okay, off we go. One of the first things you’ll notice is that you’ve received a lot of presents from your family, friends and coworkers. Among these gifts, you will find letters, notecards, flowers, books, a poem or two, and maybe some crystals.

Ready to Write Your Own Story? We'd love to hear it.

 CLICK HERE to share your own journey.
And if you’re here because you’ve actually read this book and
want to share anything you’ve written in your Trail Notes, thank you.
It’s good to meet up with you again.  Please click there, too.