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!”
November 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm
We can choose to honor the ones weave who have passed by how we live our life and love others.
I’ve come to understand that ‘healing grief’ is a false promise. We can soothe it. We can move through it. But we want and love what we cannot have – at least not physically. It always hues to go there.
So I look for those glorious signs and understand this as my mantra.
Every day is a day I am closer to where they are. I make them count.
Love and light.
November 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm
November 12, 2013 at 9:59 pm
Beautifully said, as always, Emily!!!!!
November 13, 2013 at 1:21 am
Hallelujah! This is wonderful news and I’m excited to read your version! Developing a new life is necessary in order to move forward, while you celebrate and appreciate the WHOLE journey. There are many “accepted and expected truths” in our culture which ultimately dampen the possibility of living a joyous, authentic life. What good is that?! We need current grief teachings to move through a paradigm shift.
As you know, grieving is greatly personal, for the letting go process is very different for everyone. This is scary stuff for us, especially in this culture of which we speak.
Write on, Emily! I love you, Sis. (Happy tears for you!)
November 13, 2013 at 9:30 am
Congratulatins…even though your search came up empty…the strength you gained from looking added much to your strength and wealth of power that allowed you to keep on keeping on. Tom and I are so proud of all that you have accomplished in two years…when I think of Julian I think of his laughter and smile…I think of Dr.Suses many books that made us all smile as we read them to our own children and now grandchildren…books are our avenues of joy and sorrow…yes, I too read long after I was susposed to be in bed…only I had a kerosene lamp because we didn’t have electricity on the farm…and some the books would make me laugh out loud (with a thump on the ceiling from below) or cry in my pillow…You will write that book one day and we will stand in line for you to sign it…it maybe in a year or two or in the golden years of your own life…you will add all of the precious days with Julian and the joy found of his ever lasting smile. We love you and pray for you and John and Oscar. Tom and Darlene Lund
Leanne (Trebilcock) Avila
November 13, 2013 at 10:31 am
So glad you found this book even now. And more excited to hear that you are writing your own book! Best wishes!
November 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm
What a wonderful discovery……and I’m sure your book will add even more thoughtful dimensions.
Tracy Stein Sherbert
December 2, 2013 at 2:34 pm
Love this idea. Imagine how helpful it will be for someone who is in your position of losing someone they loved so much to have TWO books to choose from. TWO perspectives. TWO messages of hope and new life. I know as a friend who watched her friend mourn for the loss of her husband I would have loved to have a book to help support my message that I knew in my heart…she was not going to be alone forever, she would learn to feel again without being consumed by pain and she would love again without being consumed with thoughts of betrayal to her first love.
Keep up the important work and I hope to see you at a book signing one day.
You are making people proud Emily.
February 16, 2014 at 6:50 pm
You write well so the world could use your book. Not everyone has that gift. As the comment above mentions, more than one perspective is helpful as everyone comes at things or expresses them a little differently, which can connect with others’ differently. Keep writing 🙂