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Cycling Through Grief: A Young Widow Shares Her Journey

Anjali Pinto
Anjali Pinto and Jacob Johnson

Anjali Pinto became a widow on New Year’s Eve of 2016 when her young, strong, 30-year-old husband, Jacob Johnson, died suddenly of an aortic dissection.

Credit Anjali Pinto
Jacob Johnson

They had been planning to ride RAGBRAI together as a way to honor Jacob’s late grandmother, but instead, Pinto ended up riding across the state with Jacob’s family to honor both Jacob and his grandmother.

“I just needed to try everything in my power to honor him. I would basically come up with a list of things like, would he be proud of me if I did this? Would he love me more if I did this? And I tried them all,” she says. “RAGBRAI seemed like such an amalgamation of all of his interests, and I knew that he wanted the opportunity to do it; and if he couldn’t be here to do it, then I was going to try.”

Pinto is now preparing to ride RAGBRAI again. She is also a photographer and shares her journey with grief openly and poignantly through Instagram, posting her own selfies and some of the tens of thousands of pictures that she and Johnson took together.

“I wanted people to remember him for who he was, and not the way he died,” Pinto says. “I didn’t want people to think of him as a sad thought; I wanted it to be bright and light like the way he was."

Writing publicly about her more intimate moments of mourning has been both empowering and difficult.

"I feel like I know myself a lot better than I ever have. Other times it's daunting to go out in the world and know that people I meet on the street might know the most intimate parts of my life that I've chosen to share," she says. "Generally, I feel like I've given my friends and family a toolkit to be supportive for me by giving them feedback on what I need, and that has allowed me to be closer to happiness than I probably would have been if I stayed quiet."

This program originally aired in July 2018.

Credit Anjali Pinto
Jacob and his grandma, mom, stepdad, and brother


Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River