Christina’s story of loss and rebirth..


by Christina Rasmussen

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

—Marcel Proust

When my terminally ill, 35-year-old beloved husband lay dying on a small hospital bed, with two oxygen masks over his mouth, I knew the kind of terror that was coming next. I knew that grief was about to overtake me. I felt that heavy dread, but, at the same time, as I lay next to him, listening to his final breaths, I also felt present and grounded.

To my astonishment, during his final hours, some kind of knowing or power had come over me that had enabled me to bear the pain of losing him. I remember every second of those hours as if I were an observant as well as a participant. Being present and also having a broader view helped me carry out my duties during his last day.

When he died that night, his pain and torture ended, while mine was just beginning.

When I walked away from his hospital bed, I suddenly felt like the weakest, most beaten-up person alive. It was as though the powers that had carried me through his last breath evaporated. The chains of grief were heavy and unbearable. I felt like a prisoner who knows her sentence and doesn’t even attempt an escape.

I carried the leaden weight of my body home to share the news with my two daughters. Again, I held a dual perspective. I was fully aware that their identity would change forever. And, I had a glimpse of who I was becoming—a mother who would not let her daughters define themselves predominantly by the loss of their father.

Helping Children through Grief

I was determined to teach them that they have the power to choose the vantage point through which to view their life and life in general. Their loss would be a teacher, not a prison that defined everything else. I knew, even then, that that perspective was the only way they would get through the death of their father intact.

As I headed toward home, I knew that I had a job to do. I had to find that magical balance where the girls felt that it was okay to break down but also knew that life would go on.

As I stepped into the house, my six-year-old daughter raced toward me and leapt jubilantly into my arms. “Mommy, Mommy, you’re home!” she shouted.

And then, suddenly, the reason for my being home seemed to dawn on her. Her face went from bliss to darkness, as she must have remembered what I had told her 10 days before.

Before I had left for the hospital to spend the last days of my husband’s life with him, she kept asking me when I would be coming home. I kneeled down, looked her in the eye and said, “Love, when I come home from the hospital it will be when Daddy dies.”

She had gone quiet and said, “Okay, Mommy, I will see you then.” And then she went off to play with her sister.

Children like to know about things; they want to be part of the big picture. My husband and I had always brought our girls into the harsh reality of life with cancer, so why stop now when it mattered the most? My daughter had to experience the grief from within the story and not as though she had no part in it. It was important that she have the memory of the intense sorrow she was feeling. Sugar-coating her feelings would be taking away the magnitude of her loss.

In my arms, she was crying huge silent sobs. I carried her to her room, sat on the bed, held her and said, “Yes, Daddy died.” Her arms were wrapped so tightly around my neck it was hard for me to breathe. She was holding on as tightly as she could.

They say that children are resilient and can overcome anything, but my daughter needed to rely upon my strength. I wished for time to stop. I wanted her to have this memory of us together so that she would know that she was part of her dad’s last chapter and that I had been there for her. That she had not lost me as well.

She aged years during those moments, and her heart ached with the knowledge of something so unbearable.

I trusted my daughter by not trying to take away her grief. I knew by doing so that I’d be instilling in her the ability to trust herself. I also trusted myself with the decision to treat my daughter with respect and allow her to hold her grief so that she could feel her strength and also her weakness. She needed both experiences to start her journey to recovery. She would one day know how far she had traveled and how much stronger she had become.

My instincts proved to be accurate. Today my daughter is a very healthy, mature 11 year old, who accepts life as it is and doesn’t dwell on how it could have been. She still misses her dad and always will, but she also enjoys her life fully. Her teachers are always commenting about her great attitude and sunny disposition.

The journey I took with my daughters was separate from my own journey of grief. They ran parallel to each other but in a very distinct manner. My children knew Mommy was grieving but it never overshadowed their own grief.

This is my tip for the newly bereaved with kids: Share your journey with your children not just by telling them how you feel but also by showing them how you live. For instance, I shared some of my tears with my children, which showed them my vulnerability and sadness, while my strength was evident everywhere around them. Kids copy adults like a mirror sometimes, so it was important for them to know that crying is not a weakness and that it was part of the journey. But they also got to see how strong I was by working and making sure our home was fully functioning.

Growing through Grief

I come from a family who stands by you when something grave happens. Actually they don’t only stand by you but they take on your pain, your everyday chores, your motherly duties and your life. I knew this and understood it, but I didn’t want it and I also knew it would not be good for my long-term recovery.

While I lived at the hospital, my parents had stayed with the children. After my husband’s death, I sent them home, telling them, “I have to do this on my own, otherwise my grief will last longer.”

I must have looked quite determined as they knew to trust me with this decision, and they listened to me and left.

My plan was to figure out things by myself. I passionately wanted to stand on my own two feet. This meant going back to school, getting a job within one year and raising my kids on my own.

There were many days when I surrendered to grief, when I was subsumed by the excruciating absence of the one who was forever gone.

Other times it felt as though grief and I were fighting each other every minute of the day. I didn’t know it then, but I was not willing to grieve lying down.

Honestly, I was not standing up straight either.

But I was not supposed to dance my way through grief. I wanted to survive it by acquiring new skills, a new attitude and a new life. And I did.

Gradually, over time, I was able to transform the chains of sorrow into an unlimited power that transported me to a life of passion and creation.

It didn’t happen over night, and, in fact, the first glimpse of a life without those chains occurred in a very funny way.

My Shift

First, I want you to imagine that my life at the time was like the movie, Groundhog’s Day.

I would wake up, drop the kids off at school, go to work, pick up the kids at night, do homework, have food, go to bed, and then it would start all over again. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. When you are in the tunnel, you can’t see the light. The tunnel is relentless and it feels as though there is no way out.

During the week leading up to Christmas, and my second Christmas without my husband, the mail carrier kept driving past my house, without delivering my mail, including all of my precious Christmas cards.

I realized this was because there was snow and not much space to park his mail truck, so I woke up on a sunny Saturday morning and shoveled the snow away from the mailbox and created enough space. I was so looking forward to all those cards. To my surprise, he still did not stop.

You can imagine the disappointment I felt after shoveling for two hours! So I put on my boots and started running as fast as I could to catch up with him. Eventually, I did, and, completely out of breath, asked him, “Can I please have my mail?”

He handed it to me and then mumbled, “Why don’t you ask your husband to shovel a little better.”

With a straight face, holding back my tears and showing as much strength as I could muster, I said to him, “He would if he could, but he’s dead.”

I walked away with my mail, feeling victorious.

That day I decided I was no longer going to allow grief to keep me passive and just accept what was happening to me. Not accepting the mail carrier passing my house brought me closer to not accepting my life as it had become: sad, sorrowful and pitiful, spending Christmas, alone, thousands of miles away from family.

Yes, my husband was dead, but I was here, and that day I decided that I would show up in life fully alive. And from that point on, I never let my grief get in the way of getting what I wanted, what I deserved and needed.

I started to see the light more and more often. I began to have the strength to proudly go for what’s mine. My grief was starting to be transformed into that source of unlimited power I mentioned before, where I was finally able to move myself, and my life in a new direction. I went back to work with a changed attitude. I went back to my routine with a hopeful point of view of my future.

Three weeks after that Christmas I applied for a much bigger job within my company and I got it. Glimpses of what life could be again were materializing before my eyes. People started behaving differently towards me; it was as if they saw Christina again. I started asking for things and felt that I deserved to receive them. I saw myself as someone with magnificent strength and a fearless attitude. After all, I had been to hell and back. What was there to lose? Not much!

I planned a party for all of my friends who were with me during the previous two years when I had become absent. I wanted to thank them and invite them back into my life and our friendship.

A couple of months after that Christmas day, I met my future husband, and my heart started beating a little faster again. If I hadn’t taken the steps of rebuilding my own life, reclaiming what was always mine and getting to know the stronger me, I would not have been in a position to receive his love.

I earned my results. I earned personal and professional growth. I showed up and finally managed to stand up straight, and show to the world the person I had become.

You Can Shift Too

Everyone who has gone through such a loss also has the ability to shift their life into a place where new things are possible.

There is so much power in loss and it can be used as unlimited fuel to get into action and start the process of rebuilding.

Unfortunately, however, strong grief can end up freezing the bereaved in time, and most of the cultures in the world allow for the freezing to take place. The freezing is not grief; it is like a secondary infection that actually stops the grieving process from progressing.

When a big loss takes place, what is really happening is a dramatic shift, a shift that is not utilized when you stay frozen. Especially when you are trying to go back to how things used to be. While some will argue that we don’t allow enough time for grief anymore, and most books and research point towards the stages of grief as a journey, I would argue that while it is very important to have time to mourn, it’s equally important to be able to know when it’s time to take action and shift from the life you once had.

There has to be a change of focus in the grieving culture, where we are encouraged to see that time does not have to stand still and grief does not have to take forever. We need to remove the shame of moving on and replace it with acknowledgement, strength and hope.

– Christina Rasmussen

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Comments

  1. Dear Christina,

    Beautiful story…..I’m so very proud of you for taking your life back, being a power of example and allowing grief to happen (in a positive way).
    When I lost my dad (he was 49 & i was 24) – i thought my world was over. I too took my life back and gained a new kind of stregnth to get out of a destructive relationship.
    I decided to be grateful for having the most wonderful, loving and caring father that I did for the 24 years i had him. There are alot of kids out there with no dads, horrific dads or just down right not there dads. So, I guess you can say gratitude shifted me.
    Always has. 🙂
    As you will see in my website (if you visit), this attitude helped me when I lost my sister (our souls were connected) to a most horrific way. There is a story of hell (beyond hell) that goes with it. I am okay today and incredible things are happening in my life now. Synchronicities, signs, powerful experiences beyond comprehension. Her children are her legacies and we are 2000 miles away but closer than any family member around. I am their power of example, their pilar and unconditional love of their life.
    Sorry for writing so much ~ i guess I identified so much i had to share.

    Thank you Christina….. I will be following your light!
    xo,
    jeni

    • Jeni,

      I am so sorry for all your losses. Your father sounded like a wonderful man.

      Thank you for living your life beyond your grief.
      Your story is inspiring!
      Christina

  2. Thanks for sharing that story. I lost my husband to murder on April 26, 2008. It has been nearly 3 years and I am still waiting for Justice for his murder and all that my son and I have been through since. We had added traumatic events following my husband’s murder. It is the kind of trauma you never get over or forget. If my husband had died some other way and my son and I hadn’t been through the added traumatic events, it would have been much easier to deal with the grieving process, get through it and move on. I will have to relive it all when the trials are finally scheduled. I will have to relive it three times to go through two murder trials and a civil court case. Sometimes I wish I could be someone else in someone else’s life. My son was only 14 months old when my husband was murdered and he is now 4 years old. One before his second Birthday he was diagnosed as mild to moderate Autism. He has made so much progress, but we still have a long way to go. My son is the light in my life. He keeps me smiling and laughing. There have been so many days that it was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other and the only reason I did that was to take care of my son. I have parents who live close by and they have really been there for my son and I. My mother was already fighting kidney cancer when my husband was murdered. The cancer drugs she is taking continues to keep the cancer from growing and spreading and continues to prolong her life. With the 3 year anniversary of my husband’s murder soon approaching, I find myself again on that downward spiral of the roller coaster of grief. April 26th until after May 15th is a difficult time. My husband didn’t come home on April 26, 2008. Three days later his body was found in a shallow grave. The state medical examiner’s office kept his body for 2 weeks and released his body on Mother’s Day, of all days. His funeral and burrial took place on May 15th. He was burried next to his parents. The only close family my son and I have are my parents. I have heard people say there is a light at the end of the tunnel, right now I just can’t see it. Everyday I pray for Justice and to some day be able to find a way to make some sort of peace with all of this. I know what I would like for my life to be like, but I know I can’t have that life. I am learning to accept and live with the way my life is now. Thank you for sharing your story and positive insight into dealing with grief. It gives me a glimmer of hope that may’be someday I can reach the end of my dark tunnel. As for dating and remarriage, I will always love my husband and he will always be my son’s father. He was my second husband. I divorced my first husband and moved on to remarry and have my first and only child. I don’t think any man will ever measure up to what my son and I deserve, need and want. The end of my tunnel is too far ahead for me. I am focusing on my son and his needs. Thanks for the inspiration and hope.

  3. Hello,I just wanted to say: I to feel your pain. As I have lost my loving mom/to cancer & yes she was my only/bestfriend.then 2005 my only born age 26 @ time of death he was murdered no justic as of yet,Then 18 months later my 1st & last true love was stabbed in the heart walked a block & 1/2 to die in my arms.I just made it trough his fourth angel date 4/2/2011.angeldate meaning the day u get your wings.sence my mans stabbing I lossed my baby sister whom because she was challenged speacial child w/mental disabilies i raised her almost every day for her whole 42yrs on earth.I also lossed my dog which was my daughter the one in which God never allowed me to have i had my dog for 12yrs!so other then mom & dad I lost my son,man,sis,&dog in less then 4 yrs time.Not to mention all.where people whom MADE me ME! On a daily basis.I hurt each minute I’m awake.with out them I remain with a shatterd heart& A shredded soul.I’m forced daily to move on,as my one attempt of.suicide failed&taught me a great lesson.

  4. I agree, mourners are not encouraged to move on, while ironically also pushed to “stop grieving” and it is a confounding message. It took me 15 years after my parents died to even confront the fact that I was grieving, and by then my adult life was in tattered shreds.

    I really love the message of your website, it is something like I was hoping to encourage at my own blog, the idea that renewal is not only possible but necessary. Very positive and encouraging atmosphere!

  5. My husband had been in my life 35 plus years..He died suddenly and that was the beginning of my journey. As that was not the only surprise. He was not the man I thought he was. It has only been 19 months since he passed away…There is more anger now then there was…UGH

    • I had to leave you a comment and tell you, you are not alone. Although my husband left me in divorce ( we were married 25 years) I had learned he was not the person he was. I mourned losing the man I loved and losing the life, and future I had expected. I’m learning that life is ever changing. I have to accept it, although I don’t have to like it.
      In the process of a very ugly divorce. I lost my mother to lung cancer. I watched a very active woman, who walked five miles everyday, garden, work at a job she loved, cook, nuture everyone around leave me. She was my confident, my best friend. She left me with a very ill dad ( he was on chemo as of 10/10) I’ve had other losses that added to my house of cards. Please know you are not alone in grief. Lynn~

  6. Christina:
    Thank-You so much for starting this website, In 2005 my 30 yr. old son died of a drug overdose, exactly 30 days later I went on a womens’ retreat with my church friends to recieve healing for my sons death, I came home feeling so much better, but unfortunately I came home to find that my husband had also died of a drug overdose, the following year I lost my job, my home. In a span of 5 years, I lost 5 loved ones. Life is different It’s not better it’s not worse, It’s just different there is a hole in my heart I’ll never get over any of this I’ll only get through it. I work at a psychiatrict facility, and so I meet a lot of suicidal people, I feel that God has placed me here for a reason, and I do My best to try and help others, I too am still trying to find the light at the end of this tunnel, but I do believe that to honor my loved ones , my self, and God I need to find the good in every day, so I’m truly glad that I have found this website, thank-You so much and God Bless!

  7. @Sharon My sentiments exactly. Thanks for sharing your experience, Christina ~ my son (age 20) braved the final stages of a brain tumor with his siblings watching on and feeling powerless to help him. He was at home with us in the last moments, and although it was the most difficult thing any of us has ever been through, I’m still grateful that we were together to the end.

    I never really thought about how I would help my kids deal with something like this before it happened, but as it turns out, their needs were met by just being an integral part of the gradual unfolding of Mark’s journey (and they all played a role in his care and just being present with him to show affection, etc.) Life goes on… {{{Big Hugs}}} all around <3

  8. Oh Christina,I pray that everyone who has have stopped living because of grief holding ,I pray they read this it touched my heart so deep,you are so beautiful and I’am so thankful I found you ,You have not only helped me to move forward with the losses of loved ones but to deal with losses in general of things that meant something special to me.Soooo many thanks when I see you my heart (FEELS)love,have a beautiful blessed day may you aways feel the warmth of the love you share:)

  9. thank you so very much for sharing your story. on feb. 12 2010 i lost my husband of 43 years. i didn’t think i would make it thru, but i have. i choose every day to be happy and get on with life. every day gets a little better. thank you!!!

  10. Reading your essays bring me comfort. To know there are others who learned to work with their grief. That it can be done. The night my father died I leaned over to kiss him (he was in hospital and my mother was setting up her chair where she spent the nights), my father’s eyes fluttered and I felt something go thru me, not scary or sad, it was something like the cool breeze you feel that is refreshing, I think at that moment my father’s spirit left his body. The feeling brought me peace and clarity of mind that I much needed, as tho my father wanted to give me one last gift. Less than an hour later my mother called me and my sisters back to the hospital, our father had died. 3 years later one of my sisters died, 4 months to the day later our mother passed away. I had lived with my parents and my sister managing the bills, doctor appts, insurances, legal matters, physical labor around the house. My father died from complications of a stroke. My mother and sister had been diagnosed one year apart with Stage 4 cancers. Thru it all my entire family stayed positive and our love and devotion to one another guided us thru some scary times. In 3 years time I lost half of my family and now I found myself alone in the home I shared with them, sorting thru lifetimes of memories and become a caregiver who now just had myself to care for. Terrified, angry, frustrated, devastated. The grief at times feels like it has mired me in mud and I can not move. At the worse of times I talk to my family who has gone and I feel that cool breeze I felt on the night of my father’s death and I hold onto that feeling like I am holding onto the end of a rope that is dangling over a bottomless chasm. At times I want to let go and just fall but I can feel that I am at a turning point and I take a deep breath and go on.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story Christina. It’s been 10 years since losing my husband. I’ve earned 3 degrees in that time & have managed to stay afloat. How I wish I had someone to share my life with. It’s very difficult being alone. m.

  12. Amazing story, Christina. It makes sense that a physical challenge–shoveling the snow and running for the mailman–may have helped release your new energy.

    Grief and sadness tend to be very low-energy emotions. Anger, like you felt for the inconsiderate mailman, seems to have woken up some of your fire. Both types of emotions can be helpful when balanced. Great story!

  13. Christina,
    What a joy to meet you in Maui and hear your story. I also just read more of your story above and it deeply moved me. I look forward to working together and serving you in any way I can. The Divine in me Bows to the Divine in You, be well!!!

  14. I am very late! I have been frozen for so very long! I am so grateful to the powers that be that pushed me toward you Christina as I wait for your book, I have been reading from your sources on the web, watching youtube videos and I am so ready to defrost and find my way back from what I feel is my own death as well, I lost my significant other the love of my life, Gayle, to ovarian cancer two years after losing my father who without a doubt was my first most significant loss from death I experienced. I had Gayle’s support for the first year after losing my dad, then we received her diagnosis and my dad was now left in a shadow in my heart as I struggled through the treatments and surgeries and hospital stays with my beloved , my other half , my life had been spiraling into the depths of pre grieving the loss of Gayle, for a year we fought the demon together and when she died was the day I died, I never came back to life as I need to, I am tired of pretending. I lost my life the day she died and that was 13 years ago! I thank God I have found you!

  15. i lost my wife of 41 years last september. a friend of mine sent me “second firsts,” i finished the book in 3 days. “second firsts” has transformed my life,i fell like i have a new life right in front of me. my guilt and grief have all but disappeared,i feel validated after reading this book. i want to thank you Christina for making this possible.

  16. I find that generally there is intolerance to the showing of emotions in general. So when it comes to grieving this becomes especially so. There can be no time limit for grieving, especially when we are pushed to move forward without having actually grieved. Years later we hit a brick wall and it all comes back. The people who have pushed us to move on, intolerant to expression of any real depth of emotion, are then very upset that we actually haven’t. And the reason why we haven’t moved on is because there is no one to actually listen and feel our pain with us. The people who have been pushing us have themselves not properly grieved whatever it might be in their past, and instead of listening and being supportive, they are pushing us to move on, too fast, without the cathartic effect of expressing our anger and tears. We are left in fear and always running from ourselves and others. So we have a sequence of people over time who are terrified of emotions and have not grieved loss, pushing those who are grieving now, who then end up pushing others who will grieve in the future, and so on and so on and so on, ad infinitum, the blocked and pent up emotions we feel when we experience loss never expressed to others so that we do no feel alone. The feelings of abandonment over loss, the loneliness we feel can only be replaced with the presence of other people. When we finally realize that we are fooling ourselves, have never been allowed to grieve, have never allowed ourselves the strength to grieve in the face of adversity, when we realize that there is more to life than being numb, when we realize by watching others we are not enjoying life, we then have to fight the people closest to us, who have been protecting us from experiencing our own emotions, in order to do it, since our anger and tears are not allowed. There is no pathology in being angry for feeling of loss and abandonment. There is no pathology in crying. Every time we cry, it means we need it. Every time we break down in tears it does not mean we need a pill, only that we need someone to empathize. No empathy, no new connections of love and acceptance to replace that which has been lost, no healing.

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Christina Rasmussen

Welcome to the Message in a Bottle page, here you will find wisdom, truth and tools for you to start over. Make sure you sign up at the top to be sure to receive it in your inbox every Friday.