Authors Between the Covers

January28episode

Inside Kristine Carlson's "Heartbroken Open"


Kristine Carlson is the author of the moving memoir, Heartbroken Open.

Written after the loss six years ago of her husband and business partner, Richard Carlson — who is known for his bestselling Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series — the couple had a romantic marriage, two beautiful daughters, and all the comforts of the American Dream.

But on Dec. 13, 2006, on a typical flight to New York, a pulmonary embolism took Richard’s life.

“It catapulted me into heartbreak and uncertainty,” Carlson writes. “It was the end of life as I knew it, and the beginning of a journey through the depths of grief and mourning.”

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Carlson about “Heartbroken Open,” how she coped with the death of her husband, and how others can learn from her experience.

In this podcast interview we discuss:

  • What happened the day Kristine learned that Richard had died.
  • How she coped that first year.
  • Why she wrote “Heart-broken Open,” and the four tenants that she hopes readers will learn from her experience.
  • Whether she’s dating! And more …

Download our podcast interview with Kristine Carlson, at right.

Want a sneak peak? Scroll down for more.


Be Inkandescent: We appreciate you talking about this incredible experience in your life, one we’re sure is still painful.

Kristine Carlson: Yes, but talking about it actually does help. And as you know from reading the book, December 13, 2006, was a day that started out like any other day. Richard had stayed at the airport hotel the night before because he was taking a 6 a.m. flight to New York. He did that so that he could get in a whole day of work once he got to New York. He always called to talk before he got on a flight, but this time I missed his phone call by five minutes. I had overslept, which was unusual for me.

After I got up, I did the breakfast dishes and got my kids to school—both were teenagers in high school, a freshman and a senior. I pulled into a mall parking space and my phone rang and I saw the New York area code, 212 at the time. I looked down and thought, “Well that’s an odd number. Richard must be calling from his hotel. Maybe his cell battery is out.” I answered the call expecting it would be Richard calling to tell me that he had arrived safely. Instead, two strangers were on the phone.

A nurse and a doctor began firing questions at me: “Are you related to Richard Carlson?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m his wife. Who are you?” They said, “We are calling from the Jamaica Memorial Hospital in Queens, New York.” I started to get very confused, and they told me that they had Richard with them. I started questioning them, saying, “What do you mean? How is Richard with you? He was on the plane.” They said we are really sorry to inform you Mrs. Carlson, but Richard Carlson has expired.”

Be Inkandescent: Breathtaking.

Kristine Carlson: Just that word alone, “expired,” completely threw me. Here we were living our life in full midlife—I was 43, Richard was 45. He didn’t have any health problems that we knew of, aside from suffering from back pain. Just take any day of your life and all of a sudden insert that phone call and that word, “expired,” and it just doesn’t make sense to your brain. You can’t even grasp what somebody is telling you in that moment.

I went slightly insane actually. I really left my body. I got angry and started yelling at these people as if they were playing a joke on me, and then I realized they weren’t when they started talking about his flight. I asked, “When?” They said an hour and a half ago, and in my mind I couldn’t even … I knew it was over. I just knew there was no turning back. It was absolutely devastating, and to this day, when I recall hearing the news, the feeling in my body comes back to me. It was just devastating.

I realized I had to tell our daughters and tell his family and all of his friends and all of his colleagues, and that was mind-blowing, too. But what really shocked me was that I didn’t really know until then that I had been kind of asleep in my life. When I was in the throes of raising kids and being the wife that I was to Richard, I just didn’t realize that I wasn’t fully awake to my life. Ironically, Richard’s death changed that. As I allowed grief to come into my world and my life, I was deeply rocked. I thought, “Wow, I’m really feeling my life at such a different level now.”

Be Inkandescent: Was that shocking to you?

Kristine Carlson: It was because the contrast was so dramatic for me. I would walk outside and all of a sudden see the trees and the sky. The wind would blow and I would just feel it all at a much deeper level than what I had felt before.

I started to realize these things amidst the horrible pain, the horrible pain, of healing. I came to understand that this awakening was a gift of this terrible experience. Richard and I had lived our whole life by the “don’t sweat the small stuff” philosophy—about how to be happy in life. I started to realize that all of those tools I had for being happy and living life well were going to be put to the test. But I knew in my heart I had the wisdom and the strength to go through this experience.

I kept praying the whole time I was grief-stricken that I would come through on the other side better for it—wiser, deeper, more in my heart. I hoped that one day I could return to joy. Looking back, I can honestly say that after about three years of an up-and-down, roller-coaster kind of living through grief and loss, I finally did. Now my life is about deepening my own life’s purpose. In gaining that perspective, I feel I am in a sacred contract with Richard. Losing him was an unfortunate, but necessary, part of my growth.

Be Inkandescent: When was it that you realized you would be okay?

Kristine Carlson: You know, I honestly think I knew right from the beginning—or at least within 48 hours of his death—that I was going to live through this, even though I didn’t know what my life was going to be like.

I remember sitting by myself and having a very strong talk with myself that kind of went like this: “I can’t believe this happened to your life. This is really f’ed up. This sucks. Never anticipated this in a million years, couldn’t have seen this coming.” Then I remember saying, “You know what, you have had every amazing blessing that life has ever given anyone. Your life has been beyond charmed.” I remember feeling that, really noticing that, and realizing what an incredible life Richard and I had together for 25 years. I also remember feeling the horrible loss of that, and the worry about how to go on, but also knowing that loss is just part of life.

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