I’ve always loved to read. When I was young, I’d read with a flashlight long after I was supposed to go to bed. Books — both fiction and non — have always been my go-to source of information, entertainment, and escape. So when my son Julian died, I instinctually gravitated toward books to help me take those first steps on my grief journey. Books had always helped me in the past, and I expected them to help me again. So I spent hours searching for, skimming, and attempting to read countless grief books… but ultimately they made me feel worse instead of better.
Books written by bereaved people typically followed the same formula: “I had a beautiful life, and then my child/spouse died, and then life was horrible, and then I wrote a book.” Books written by therapists were even more discouraging, because their work was based on chronic grievers who, by definition, were less resilient than the average person.
Eventually, I found a science-based book (which I wrote about in a previous blog post) that gave me hope — but at the time I was most desperate for help from books, the memoirs and self-help books that monopolized the “grief” category on Amazon were depressing and disappointing. My intuition told me that I could find joy again, but no one was talking about joy after loss.
That was over two years ago. And thankfully, I’ve been able to find other ways to learn, grow, and move through my grief. In fact, I’ve started to write a book about my process and my own journey. In other words, I’m writing the book I wish I found when Julian died.
Because I’m writing a book about life after loss, I like to keep tabs on what’s happening in the publishing world. So a few weeks ago, I read a newsletter from the publisher Hay House, and I learned about Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen. When I read the description of this new book, my first reaction was embarrassingly selfish. “That’s the book *I* was going to write!” shouted my ego. This new book, to my simultaneous dismay and excitement, was described exactly as the book I was just beginning to write — the book I was so desperately seeking two years ago. This book teaches people how to “live, laugh, and love again” after loss.
Thankfully, my ego-based first reaction was quickly replaced by my heart’s appreciation for the message that Ms. Rasmussen (whose husband died of cancer at the age of 35) brings to the world via this book. FINALLY, someone has given a voice to those of us who instinctually choose happiness despite tragedy in our lives. And, better yet, offers actionable advice to those of us who continue to struggle.
There are many things I love about this book, and several of her themes are consistent with things I’ve written about on this blog. For example:
She, too, was less-than-satisfied by the grief memoirs:
“I read many memoirs written by people who had gone through a tragedy, and these authors placed so much emphasis on their losses that the idea of truly living life after loss, while in the midst of grieving, was never really addressed” (pg 16)
She encourages her readers to not just “heal” but create a new life (a “new normal”):
“…healing from grief isn’t just about putting your life back together; it’s about creating a new life that makes you happy…. We can even create a life that is more amazing than the one we were previously living.” (pg 24)
She motivates her readers to discover who we are, despite our grief:
“Above all, you have to be adventurous despite your grief, if you want to find out who you truly are and what you are made of.” (pg 32)
- OTHERS’ EXPECTATIONS
She acknowledges the challenge of attempting to move forward in a culture that has certain expectations of grief:
“Keep in mind that it’s natural to want to dismiss the return journey from the world of grief. It goes against what we’re being told by the environment around us, which is that we are injured and need to stop, hide, and rest until the pain goes away.” (pg 67)
- PARTNERSHIP OF LIFE + GRIEF
She encourages us not to assume that joy and grief are mutually exclusive, and she reminds us of the consequences of not finding a way for life and grief to coexist:
“The longer we have been grieving a loss, the harder it is to start living again. This is one of the reasons why I wholeheartedly believe we must invite life and grief to walk hand in hand. If life doesn’t escort grief back to joy, then it takes us much longer to get there, if we ever do.” (pg 69)
- BRAIN SCIENCE
She studied brain science, and learned how the brain is the key to a joyful new life:
“There is a different identity waiting to be revealed. A real evolution takes place in the brain during the days, months, or years following a loss — and it holds exciting possibilities. It can lead to an extraordinarily happy, productive, and fulfilling new life.” (pg 98)
- THE CHOICE OF HAPPINESS
She confirms that happiness is a choice that is available to all of us, no matter what we may have endured in the past:
“This discovery that happiness is a choice we must repeatedly make, day in and day out, rather than an event-based experience, set me free from my attachment to loss and enabled me to shift my focus toward living my life. Once I saw this truth, I chose to be happy again.” (pg 100)
The book Second Firsts was meaningful to me because not only does it provide helpful insights into what I’ve experienced in the past, it also makes me very excited for the “grief industry” as a whole. The first printing of the book sold out in record time and was recently re-published, and currently has an average rating of 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. This shows me that the world is hungry for this message. People are tired of living in the past, and for perhaps the first time, there is evidence that we can thrive after loss.
I’m still working on my own version of the book I was seeking two years ago. But in the meantime, the world is a better place because Christina Rasmussen’s book is in it. And with any luck, someday Amazon will tell you, “If you liked Second Firsts, you might like Emily Eaton’s book!”