Sunday Book Review – Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen – Grief, Loss and a Path to Healing

Welcome to my Sunday book review. Today I’m reviewing one of the most important books I’ve read yet on grief and loss and a path to healing by Christina Rasmussen – Second Firsts. She received her masters in bereavement in 1998, and as she claims, when she had to live in her own words in 2006 when she lost her own husband at age 35, nothing she learned had prepared her for such loss. She knew her husband’s fate, yet when she lay with him in his final moments of life listening to his last heartbeats, she felt like she had died with him. This is my life! She explains how she came to write this book, questioning herself how she could tell people their hearts would someday mend when she felt her own would never. “Grief takes us into the Waiting Room but our Survivor fear of losing it all again is what keeps us there.” Below, I’d like to share her message to the reader in the beginning of this book:

“I have lived in the shadow of loss-the kind of loss that can paralyze you forever.

I have grieved like a professional mourner-in every waking moment, draining every ounce of my life force.

I died-without leaving my body.

But I came back, and now it’s your turn.

I have learned to remember my past-without living in it.

I am strong, electric, and alive, because I chose to dance, to laugh, to love, and to live again.

I have learned that you can’t re-create the life you once had – you have to reinvent a life for yourself.

And that reinvention is a gift, not a curse.

I believe your future self is a work of art and that science can help you create it.

If you’re lost . . . if you’re gone . . . if you can barely absorb the words on this page . . . I want you to hold this truth in your heart: when it’s your time to go, you won’t wish you had spent more time grieving; you’ll wish you had spent more time living.

That’s why I’m here. And why you are, too. Let’s live like our lives depend on it.”

Blurb:

A widow and therapist explores grief, loss, and our innate resilience in this updated guide, drawing on neuroscience and personal experience to lead the bereaved through the five stages of healing

After studying to become a therapist and crisis intervention counselor—even doing her master’s thesis on the stages of bereavement—Christina Rasmussen thought she understood grief. But it wasn’t until losing her husband to cancer in her early 30s that she truly grasped the depths of sorrow and pain that accompany loss. Using the knowledge she gained while wading through her own grief and reading hundreds of neuroscience books, Rasmussen began to look at experiences in a new way. She realized that grief plunges you into a gap between worlds—the world before loss and the world after loss. She also realized how easy it is to become lost in this gap.

In Second Firsts, Rasmussen walks you through her Life Reentry process to help you break grief’s spiral of pain, so you can stop simply surviving and begin to live again. She shows you that loss can actually be a powerful catalyst to creating a life that is in alignment with your true passions and values. The resilience, strength, and determination that have gotten you through this difficult time are the same characteristics that will help you craft your wonderful new life. Her method, which she has used successfully with thousands of clients, is based on the science of neuroplasticity and focuses on consciously releasing pain in ways that both honor suffering and rewire the brain to change your perception of the world and yourself.

Using practical exercises and stories drawn from her own life and those of her clients, Rasmussen guides you through five stages of healing that help you open up to new possibilities. From acknowledging your fear, to recognizing where you stand now, to taking active steps toward a new life, Rasmussen helps you move past the pain and shows that it’s never too late to step out of the gap and experience life again—as if for the first time.

My 5 Star Review:

This book should be on every griever’s reading list. A raw, compassionate telling begins this book of Rasmussen’s own experience with a great loss precedes the premise of this book, a path to healing through her 5 Stages ‘Reentry Model’ – how to enter back into the world of the living from an abyss of grief and loss and a feeling of loss of our own identity. The author will tell us about ‘the Waiting Room’, a space where us sufferers are stuck between the inseparable past and the unfathomable future, and our ‘invisible losses’. As she states in the beginning of her book, she got her masters degree on bereavement in 1998 and had to live her own words in 2006 when her own husband died, claiming, nothing she’d been taught prepared her for her own grief and loss.

The author tells us that grief makes us question our reality, our safety, and our abilities. “You are more than your loss; you are a whole human being waiting to come back to life.” Rasmussen explains she wrote this book to help us see the light and build a bridge from our past to where we are now. When our identities have been ripped from us through grief and uncertainty and despite our wanting to move forward, we get stuck, and this book will reignite parts of us that have been shattered by loss.

This book is about the five stages of self-guided discovery and reentry process. It teaches us how to use the brain’s ability to rewire itself to help move past fear and sadness that looms over us. “You can live as you grieve.” Teaching us that we can meld our two worlds of grief and living. “Starting over isn’t only about the life you leave behind. It’s about the life that lies ahead of you.”

She speaks at first of the three stages to recover from loss by creating new habits to rewire our brains instead of staying stuck in grief and making it our default mode. Focus on new things to move forward. Loss forces us to leave behind the life we knew and we can’t just push out the old life, so we’re stuck in a gap between two lives – the ‘waiting room’, where we reside while afraid to take steps forward in our new present life because we’re safe in that grief. “It’s not the grief that stops us from starting life over, but fear of losing that life all over again.” Fear keeps us stuck in grief. She teaches us to create a ‘launchpad’, not staying in survival mode for distraction, but to move forward. “Loss can be a launchpad into a new dimension of living.”

Five stages of Reentry 1. Get real – losses are real, grieve and acknowledge and validate your loss and feelings to begin getting real about our new life. Explore and confront our grief, write out our invisible losses. The more we understand our invisible losses (loss of security, support, identity, etc.), the better we leave ‘the waiting room’. Instead of reflecting on our futures, the grieving brain stays locked in the past – the ‘infinite loop of loss’. 2. Plug in – learn to replace fear induced procrastination with action. Reconnecting with life in small steps, ie: going out, making plans, inviting life back into grief. And letting go of what no longer serves us – including relationships. 3. Shift – “When the dream that was, no longer can be, you have to dream a different dream.” She explains how switching ‘Survivor’ thoughts back to the living by getting ready to join back into life, using positive thoughts to overcome the voice of loss. “The goal is to end the habit of repeating thoughts of loss by instead repeating thoughts of life.” How to face the fears that block our happiness. How to shift our thoughts using affirmation and visualization because “Grief creates habits and beliefs in our minds that don’t serve us.” She demonstrates methods to learn to love ourselves again by focusing on people who lift us and our positive attributes and offers us to take ten minutes to visualize us in a brighter future. “Evolution does not take place when our hearts break but when they mend.” Advising us to create a new relationship with ourselves and find a supportive tribe. 4. Discover – she reminds that our ‘Survivor’ self needs to get out of the ‘Waiting Room’ with our false sense of feeling wanting to remain comfortable there and get back into a mindset of connecting with the ‘Thriver’ self that remains within us buried. Relearn how we overcame and triumphed over losses of the past to create a happy future. 5. Reenter Life – Finding your new life, dreaming big, and setting goals. The author instructs us to write out goals we want from our new life, and affirm those aspirations daily, as we get what we focus on. She speaks about the certainty that we will have moments of guilt and betrayal as we venture on to a new life, and possibly a new relationship, reminding that ‘Survivor’ mode will occasionally surface – “Because of your sadness, you have more depths in you to feel joy.” And adds, we also gain the compassion to help mend other’s broken hearts. We are told to create a separate place for the grief and guilt that will occasionally push through and to envision a separate housing unit for those feelings to dwell in. It’s okay to visit there when we need, but we know the way back, and not to stay there. Once we’ve processed our grief, “Reentry doesn’t mean we forget those we once loved or forget our pain. It means we remember how to live.”

Rasmussen concludes by saying some pieces of our old life are now scattered in the universe, never needing to be found again, but tells us our hearts will give birth to new pieces. The new ‘me’ is born from loss, every cell changed in us when our hearts broke.

This book is a most helpful guide to help grievers learn to separate grief from getting on with living, in stages.

Poignant Quotes:

“The heart remembers the past by loving in the present.”

“There are no words to describe the experience of losing someone you love more than life itself. You cannot know the feeling unless you have experienced it.”

“Loss is not something that keeps happening to you; it’s an event.”

“In the midst of his death, I lost my life too…we were both in a place between two worlds.”

“He died on July 21, 2006 at 2:00am. I died with him at 2:01 am.”

“The silence of grief attacks your body.”

“Everything about me changed, and everything about the world around me was altered forever.”

“Why hadn’t the world prepared me for this agony?”

“Mending is the ability to reenter life with a broken heart, while it’s getting fixed.”

©DGKaye2022

61 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen – Grief, Loss and a Path to Healing

  1. Everybody is bound to need a book like this at some point in life (if they haven’t yet), so thank you, Debby, for sharing this review and recommending it to us. Big hugs.

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    1. Thank you Olga. You are so right. Anyone who hasn’t experienced horrific grief cannot imagine until it strikes – just like Rasmussen who spent her career in bereavement, until it happened to her she even didn’t know the depths of grief. This book offers so much information that I would recommend people to learn from it for anyone they know in their life who is grieving too. I can speak from experience, my own (ex) family could learn a lot from this book. ❤ Hugs my friend xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a powerful book, Debby. It seems to be filled with sage advice. I love that the focus of re-entry is on remembering how to live. I have not yet experienced that depth of loss, but I’m sure it can’t be easy to dream new dreams and make plans for a new and vastly different future from what had been imagined. Sending hugs. 💖

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    1. Hi Norah. You hit the nail on the head. This is what grief is – staying lost in loss and trying to move forward. Rasmussen put together a wonderful roadmap to the path of learning to live again. Although, I will say, following this method is still work every day. ❤

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      1. I’m sure it is, Debby. I hope knowing that the future you will create awaits is of some benefit. Be gentle on yourself, which I know you are. Hugs.

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  3. This sounds like a very powerful book, Debby. I love the quotes you shared, and the author is absolutely right about reinvention. It’s the only thing to do and it isn’t easy. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Thank you for bringing this beautiful book to our attention, Debby. We’re never prepared for the devastation we feel after a loved one passes but having a book like this one would certainly help.

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  5. Great review, Debby. Having endured some hard losses along the way, I like Christina’s five-step process. I think it’s important to realize that we all grieve differently at our own speed.

    I hope as time passes, the pain of losing your husband will lessen. How wonderful that he continues to connect with you in various ways.

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  6. Oh, Deb, this is such a weighty topic from which so many never heal. If grief is laced with guilt, healing is even a bigger challenge. ‘Waiting room’ is the perfect designation for the holding pattern we feel thrust into by an external invisible power. I’ve spent decades healing from grief and have yet to peel away all the layers. Rasmussen’s description of being stuck “in a place between two worlds” is both poignant and promising, for it implies the possibility of getting unstuck, of learning to live with a foot in two worlds instead of being trapped between them. This is where I find myself now, and I’m certain you will reach it as well. Excellent review, my friend. There isn’t a human alive who wouldn’t find it relatable and of enormous service.

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    1. Thank you so much T. You know this journey well. You also said it well. When grief is laced with guilt it becomes so much heavier. Nobody or no book will ever have the optimal solution because there is absolutely no way around grief but to live through it and find the place and peace within that allows us to push through. This book is an excellent guide for this, but don’t be fooled, the mental work is still work. ❤ ❤

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      1. You’re right, Deb. There is no optimal way to resolve grief, no way to escape the mental and emotional processing that grief demands. Others can act as beacons to help guide us, but we each must set our own course to navigate. It is what it is. Fighting or denying it only deepens the trap. Entering the pain without judgment, open to receiving and exploring raw emotions, and letting go all attachment to outcome is the only definitive path to acceptance. Sending light and love, sister ❤️❤️

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  7. Debby, someone in the universe placed this powerful and positive book in your hands. A great path to follow but certainly not an easy one.
    “Because of your sadness, you have more depths in you to feel joy.” This is very interesting because of the hope attached to the words. ❤

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    1. Thank you Carol for reading and understanding. And yes, many times the universe sends us what we ultimately need. I find many of the books I read and review by happenstance while searching for something else. And yes, you said it, a helpful path still, with much mental work to be done. Hugs ❤

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  8. Hi Debby, this sounds like a powerful book, one that offers good advice from first-hand experience. I have just finished reading The Second Mrs. Astor. It is partially fictional, but having read up on Madeleine Astor’s life post the death of her husband aboard the Titanic, I don’t think she ever recovered from her grief and loss. As a result, her life was basically ruined. She was only 19 when he died. So sad.

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    1. Hi Robbie. Yes it is a powerful book. But let us not be fooled, the process is a lot of mental work, which is still tough while the heart grieves and stubbornly resists, wanting to stay in that ‘survivor’ mode. And funny you should mention that book – The Second Mrs. Astor, I just added it to my TBR a few days ago! Also, you can’t put an age on love – the more we loved, the more we will grieve. I know I will grieve the loss of my husband for the rest of my days. My maternal grandfather lost his wife in his 40s. He never married again, in fact never even had a relationship again until his late 60s, still without committment. He always talked about the love of his life the rest of his days. He lived with us in the last year of his life when he got sick and I will always remember one day he woke up with love in his eyes and told me he dreamed of his wife as though he was really with her. He died a few months later. Love never dies. ❤

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      1. Hi Debby, I think that true love never dies. Not everyone experiences true love, those that do are the fortunate ones. The Second Mrs Astor does explore this in some detail. I think you will like it although the Titanic parts are hard. It is beautifully written.

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      2. Thanks Robbie. Yes, I was so lucky to find my soulmate, which of course turns out to be a double-edged sword when it comes to losing them. That book sounds so up my reading alley that I pushed it up in my reader. Thank you. ❤

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  9. Wow, Debby, her introduction brought tears to my eyes. What a message of devastating loss and affirmation of the gift of life. This book sounds wonderful, touching, emotional, and affirming. I don’t think anything can really prepare us for the devastating experience of loss, but books such as these can lead us through the process of grieving and embracing life again. Thanks so much for the powerful share and the review.

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    1. Thank you so much Diana. No doubts it sparked tears. I cried through a lot of the book. Yes, nobody can prepare – even if you know it’s coming. When I learned my husband was going to die I lived in denial, I would not even let myself think about it or I couldn’t go on looking after him. I lived like a zombie on autopilot just doing and loving and not thinking. I had no idea how hard I would crash after. This book is a great course in learning to step forward with living without living in survivor mode, but it’s hard work. Still. ❤

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      1. It’s life long work, but it does seem to get easier as life moves toward increased balance. You’re so wonderful to share your experience and the books that have helped you to understand the process of grief, to know that you’re not alone, and that you’re not going crazy!

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  10. What a great review, Debby, for a powerful book. First-hand experience gifts deeper insight, as with yours into a narcissistic soul. I re-read your review several times and the words make sense, but there must be a dance with the practice. Some moments are easier than others and it must be tiring, so very tiring, as you try to re-enter and re-invent. This is in no way a linear path. We hold you in our hearts, always. ❤ xXx ❤ ❤

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  11. Debby, you have accumulated quite a gallery of “grief” literature here. I’m amazed that the author got a masters degree bereavement. I did not know such a degree existed. Thanks too for the list to quotes, so poignant. ((( )))

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    1. Thanks Marian. Yes, I’ve amassed quite the library of books on grief. I feel as though I’ve already earned my own masters on bereavement. And even the author couldn’t prepare for what was to come. Nobody can. Hugs ❤

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  12. I carefully read all of your posts on bereavement because I know, at some point, I will need them. This book has some wonderful lines I won’t forget.

    I’m always happy this Tuesday reminder of Sunday’s post comes into my email because I never know when the Sunday one won’t. I don’t get it. Sigh.

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    1. Thanks so much Jacqui. I’m glad to hear your thoughts about this. Yes, nobody likes to think of such things, but inevitably, everyone will have their day. I’m happy if I can help. The good thing about needing info is that you can always come here and type ‘grief’ in the search box and you will have a mountain of info to read. Thanks for subscribing. My weekly posts go out every Tuesday morning for those who miss them on the reader. I know I don’t go through the reader either. Every blog I read I have signed up for email notifications.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Powerful book, powerful review. As soon as I noticed the subject you were reviewing, I prayed you would find strength and wisdom through it. What an incredible writer she must be! She used her narrative to calm one’s inner storm and her prose I’m sure, touched your very soul. Love you, sweet lady, remain strong, ❤

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    1. Thank you so much Ellie for your love and prayers and you generous heart. Definitely not a subject everyone wishes to acknowledge, but for those who need it, an important book. Hugs and love your way Ellie ❤ xx

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