Kristine Carlson has a message of hope for anyone who has ever lost a loved one.
It is five years since Kristine Carlson, wife of the acclaimed author of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series of self-help books, psychotherapist Richard Carlson, received the phone call that would change her life, telling her that her husband of 25 years had died of a pulmonary embolism on a cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York. The ensuing grief and mourning have fuelled Kris’s creativity: she has written five books and her latest one Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms, offers what she describes as “a depth of knowledge that comes from 22 years of parenting in what is tried and true within the Don't Sweat philosophy”.
Are you continuing Richard’s work or making your own contribution? I am continuing Richard's legacy by expanding the Don't Sweat series. These books came out of the chapters of our lives, and embody a philosophy that we lived and I continue to live in my spiritual, mental health and wellbeing practice. The wisdom that began this body of work is all about taking personal responsibility for your own happiness and being gentler, kinder, and more compassionate.
What is your greatest life lesson? My greatest lesson has come through loss. As a culture we are in denial of death and ill-prepared for it when it reaches our doorstep. I have learned how to grieve and therefore to heal. By using the mantra ‘surrender, trust, and accept’ as a pathway through suffering, I have received the gift of greater life. I’ve also learned that to hold our mortality close means we live more fully alive and awake. Life is a classroom and a playground. It all serves us – even if the lessons are hard and games are messy. Joy and sorrow are all part of the journey.
Reading your book Heartbroken Open, it is obvious you are a good friend. Friendship is a gift that you receive through giving of yourself and your love, and so it is returned to you. It is a figure eight that moves constantly, back and forth and around with reciprocation. Your friends carry you at times, and you will have your turn to carry them. True friendship is about the things any great relationship offers: non-judgmental listening, advice (when asked for), and the love and joy of belonging.
What is the best gift you ever gave yourself? What comes to me is kind of silly, but as a woman, the best thing I ever gave myself was getting off the scale and not worrying about my weight. I am healthy, fit and strong because I let go of being thin. I live in my body in a way I never did in my youth. I eat well and do everything, including exercise, in balanced moderation. I realise that when my body feels good, I feel good too. I am a happier woman accepting my natural curves and even loving them. I recovered from an eating disorder over 27 years ago, and I feel very blessed that I live with such health now.
Do you see yourself as a role model? I think we are all role models. If you have children, then your children are watching you, and this makes us all role models. I do my best to model the right behaviour, but I am not a perfectionist and I believe in authenticity and full expression. My actions have always been moral and I have an attitude of excellence. What I mean by this is that I always do my best, no matter what I do. I came from parents like this, and I married a man with the same values.
How valuable is positive thinking when faced with chaos and injustice? We are living in a time where people must be resilient to change and make small and large scale adjustments in their expectations about all of life, especially the material stuff. An optimist will always make lemonade from lemons whereas the pessimist will have a more difficult time. Positive thinking is always better than negative self-talk.
What have you learned about being a woman through Richard’s death? Big question. Smiling, I say, I have learned that being a woman does not mean you need a man to take care of you, although having a partner like Richard was the greatest blessing to my life. There is not a day that goes by where I don't miss him, but the pain of that longing has softened. As my oldest daughter says, “I don't miss Daddy less, I am just accustomed to the feeling of missing him more.” Women are the strongest survivors. We can stand on our own two feet in sovereignty and live on, not only surviving but thriving.
What is the greatest gift that has come in your life? I have been blessed with the greatest love in my relationship with Richard that extends to and through our family. My daughters, Jasmine and Kenna, and my grandsons, Caden and Kayson are the greatest physical gifts of my life. On a spiritual level, I have been blessed by transformation and a deep awakening that came through the heart-breaking loss of my soulmate and life partner. He gave me many wonderful gifts by sharing his magnificence with me, and he also gave me the gift of growing into the woman I am today. I was broken open to the deepest wisdom I've ever known that has come through the corridor of suffering.
Was there a moment of profound realisation in your life? For me, it was realising we are not victims unless we choose to be. I am an empowered woman because of this. I will not sit in pity for any circumstances. I will do what I can to make changes, but I can surrender, trust and accept life as it happens.
When are you most happy? When I wake each morning to a new beginning. Every day is an adventure to be lived and I love my morning coffee and meditation. I am also happiest hanging out with my grandson Caden: he feels very much like he carries Richard back to me.