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.”
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.
“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.”