NOTE: This is a guest essay by Christina Rasmussen
Imagine living a beautiful life with your husband and two baby daughters. You have just moved to a new state and city, loving every moment of it.
I was 30 years old and he was 31.
Change happened fast, as if in a scary movie. The ground we walked on shifted and we had to learn to fly without wings.
It was a snowy afternoon in Boston when the doctor said these words to my husband.You have stage IV colon cancer and it is untreatable.
I lost time in that moment. The air from the room vanished and I couldn’t breathe. I turned to look at him and he was white as a ghost.
Everything was redirected in that moment.
My husband died three and a half years later. I died with him.
I remained dead for four years after, trying to get my life back together in a conventional way. It didn’t work. One day I resigned from my corporate job where I spent those years after his death and walked into the path of finding out what it takes to truly come back to life after loss.
The journey I went on took my breath away. It shook me. It shaped me. It redefined everything I have ever known. Everything I was ever taught didn’t stand anymore. I had to let it all go to find myself and my new life.
My book Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again talks about finding a way back to living again. Change has to be a simple experience after loss. Anything too overwhelming and the mind would shut it down.
Here are 10 steps I learned to initiate new life after loss:
1. Start listening to your grief and write down everything she tells you. Every day for 7 days, just write it, reflect on it. And explore it as a witness, a watcher and observer, not an experiencer. At the end of the day, what did you learn about your grief that you didn’t know before? Find out what lives inside of you so the fog can lift. We have to understand our fears and pain so we can heal them.3. Take one very small step a day.
2. Choose a room in your house and look at it from the present moment. Does it reflect your life today? Is it a part of who you are becoming? Or has it stayed in the past? Does your house look like a ghost? If the answer is yes, even partially, start changing the pictures in your frames on the wall. Move your furniture around. Change your living space to reflect your present life and not the one you left behind.
Go to work a new way. Stop calling back someone you no longer want in your life. Change your hair. Your toothpaste. Just think small changes at first. Remember, do not add an overwhelming goal to this experience. It is too soon.
4. Spend 5 minutes with yourself every day and listen in.
What you find in there is the key to rewriting your life’s story. Witness yourself. Put all the findings in a diary. Read it to yourself.
5. Find a good friend you trust and share your story of loss with her or him and ask them to reflect back what they are hearing.
Ask them to see you in this experience and validate it. This is one of the most important steps in healing. Our pain needs to be witnessed before we can start the healing process.
6. Go to a physical place in your life that has been a source of strength and inspiration.
That place could be inside your house, it can be in your garden or at the beach. Where is that place that creates the need inside you to think bigger, where you daydream, where you are able to get in touch with the part of you that has been sitting outside of the fog? Where do you get a break from the intense sorrow of the loss? Get yourself physically there as frequently as possible.
7. You have the power to change your life in a spectacular way simply by changing your thought patterns.
The best way to control your thoughts is to control your words. Words create a pattern of belief within the brain that each of us goes over, again and again, every single day. For instance, how often do you use words such as angry, overwhelmed, sad, unlucky, or failure to describe yourself? And when you do, how does it make you feel? These quick fixes numb the mind and distract us, but they don’t lead to authentic happiness and success in life.
8. The truth about starting over is that it doesn’t just happen on its own.
Your next chapter in life, your second firsts, won’t just show up at your door with a big smile. The truth is: It’s all on you. Happiness lives inside of us. It is not dictated by circumstances. 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. The further away we move from being the person we were when a loss occurred, the less pain we experience. This type of shift of identity can only happen when the brain is experiencing new habits and routines.
9. Grieving and living go hand in hand.
It is human to survive by adapting and evolving. Grieving is a natural part of how we evolve as individuals to respond to the challenges we face. It’s amazing the way we can be catapulted toward life even in the midst of loss. Loss creates an unbelievable amount of space for life to enter in. What you feel as emptiness is life’s new home, and what you feel as loneliness is the urge to hold life’s hand again. Don’t wait for time to heal you. Time does not heal all wounds; only action can do that so make sure that you cry and laugh all in one day.
10. Get your brain ready to build a new life.
Imagine that it is possible to build a brand new life from the inside out. The secret I want to share with you is that your brain is so adaptive and so powerful that your own thoughts during a painful period can lead you to experience a remarkable, bright future. Even though you are confused and scared, there is a way out of this temporary cloud and onto a powerful bridge. But you must say new words, have new thoughts, make new friends and add new experiences if you want to discover your new identity. Staying in the past and just going over the events of your loss will not help you rebuild your new life and discover your new identity. This won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
My life today is truly remarkable in ways I never thought possible. It has been 8 years since the day my husband died and nearly 12 years since that day at the doctor’s office. What has taken place since then I could have never imagined or thought possible. I want this for you, too, an amazing, breathtaking life. All you need to do is take one small step at a time.
Christina Rasmussen is on a crusade to change the way we live after loss. As the founder of Second Firsts, an organization to help people create a pathway back to life after loss, Christina spends her time speaking, coaching, and helping thousands of people rebuild, reclaim, and relaunch their lives using the most powerful tool for personal reinvention: the human mind. Her personal story and fresh approach to life after loss has garnered international attention. She writes for the Huffington Post, she’s been featured as a Woman Working to Do Good in the White House Blog, and she was named the Leading Mom in Business by StartupNation. Her first book, Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again, has achieved bestseller status on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also sign up to receive her weekly newsletter, the “Message in a Bottle,” by visiting ABOUT THE AUTHOR:www.secondfirsts.com.