This episode’s inspiring conversation is with my new Australian friend, Karen Chaston.
The story shared in this episode is so compelling because many of us lose someone significant in our lives and we grieve deeply and struggle with how to get on with life in a different and meaningful way.
Karen shares her story about finding more than one gift from the loss of her son and how she unwrapped them with love to help her move forward. The lessons she will share will inspire you, as they have inspired me. I invite you to watch …
This is another inspiring conversation in our series with women learning what it means to thrive. Don’t miss it. I invite you to watch our video conversation on RHGTV Network—the Empowered Connections Channel…
or read the transcript of our conversation below:
from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition
Karen Chaston: How Death Saved My Life
~María: Hello, and welcome to from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition. I’m María Tomás-Keegan, your host. This is my continuing series of inspiring conversations with women who are brilliant and resilient, and they have inspiring stories to tell. And they are brave enough to come here and tell them to us.
It is my pleasure to welcome Karen Chaston to the show today. All the way from Australia.
I find Karen’s story so compelling because many of us lose someone significant in our lives and we grieve and we struggle with getting on with life in a meaningful way. Karen discovered how to unwrap a gift from her loss.
We call this episode “How Death Saved My Life.” Hello, Karen.
~Karen: Hello, Maria and thank you for having me here today.
~M: Welcome! I’m so happy you’re here. I’m glad we found a time that, between Australia and Phoenix, we were able to find a good time for this to happen. So, let’s just jump right in. Would you please tell us your story?
~K: Yes. So back in July 2011, I was a CFO of a publicly listed company. And you know most people would have said, “She’s successful, you know, she’s got the career, the salary, the house, the car, the family, the overseas trips — all of that sort of thing — that a lot of us define success by.” Then on the 10th of July 2011, it was a Sunday morning, and my husband and I woke up thinking that we were going to just have a lazy day at home, which was good because I know we worked so much. And within about 15 minutes, my husband decided to take the rubbish outside.
Well he walked down the stairs and he opened the back door as I was getting breakfast ready, and he called back and he said, “Bloody Hell. Dan is asleep at our backdoor.” Now, alarm bells just went off because Dan, our 27-year-old son, worst he had a habit of drinking way too much, but he always made it home to bed. So I very quickly took the stairs and as I ran out the back door, I could see him lying there on the ground in the fetal position with saliva coming out of his mouth. And I thought, “Oh that’s good, saliva is coming out of his mouth. That was a good sign.” Well, I thought it was a good sign… So we tried to wake him and he wouldn’t wake and so we called the paramedics.
They arrived within 15 minutes, and during that time I went to wake his girlfriend up [they’d gone out separately the night before], and she came running out. And people from next door — we had a unit that overlooked their back yard — and they all came running and they all tried to help, but unfortunately, the paramedics walked in, and it seemed just like a second — they just walked in and literally just looked at him and came back and they said, “I’m sorry, he’s dead.” And I was like “No, no, no, no, no. Go back, go back, go back.” And they said his kidneys had all cooled and said “Look, he’s been dead for hours.” Which was such a huge shock. You never expect your child to pass before you.
And it just was horrific and… What’s really interesting is the way that my husband and I just took the whole information so completely differently. Obviously, the police arrived and they had to do all the checks and everything like that. And just the fact that I had to ring… Dan has a twin brother. And he also has an older brother… And the first thing I wanted to do was to ring them because they lived in a different state and they would have to catch a plane to come down. Whereas my husband was like, “Can’t we just sit and do nothing?” and I’m like… “No, I’ve gotta get the boys here.”
It’s really interesting… And the whole grieving process for my husband and I have been completely different. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just interesting to see how we’re all the same, but we’re also different at the same time.
So, what happened? We obviously didn’t know what he died from. We knew that he’d gone out with a couple of friends, and we rang one of the friends and we knew that he would’ve have had way too much to drink. But very quickly — ’cause he caught a cab from his friend’s place to home — and the police got in contact with the cab driver and the cab driver said, “Sure, he had a lot to drink, but he wasn’t abusive, he was still talkative, and he was joking with me… ” So they knew that he wasn’t completely out of it.
And at the autopsy the next day… And I have to say: The people who do those sorts of jobs are absolutely amazing. It was just over 24 hours when we went there — ’cause we found him at quarter to nine on Sunday morning — and at one o’clock the next day we went to the morgue, and they just gave us some information.
This lady who gave us the information… She had notes in front of her but she didn’t read them, and she told us everything. She told him what they had done when they looked at the body. They said “Well, this we did, this he had… ” that sort of thing. And they just went through everything so beautifully explaining everything to him.
So what they said was, he had lungs that were so bad that if he had smoked for long, which he hadn’t — say 10-12 years ’cause he was 27 — he couldn’t have done a quarter of the damage to the lungs. He had a brain shimmer which was benign… And we knew nothing about any of this… And we got an autopsy report like 9-10 months later, and I didn’t really tell us. But, I’m just going with what I’m guided to tell you, so I hope this is okay… I haven’t really said this a lot of times.
So about a year or two later… I have a friend — she actually lives in Atlanta, Georgia — and I was writing my book thing which is called “Beyond a Mother’s Worst Nightmare,” which was the story of my four-year journey after Dan passing and I asked this friend of mine to read it before I sort of completed it. And she was reading it and then she sent me a message and she said, “I’ve been told to stop reading it.”
And I said, “What do you mean you’ve been told is to reading it? By who?” And she said, “By Dan.” And I said, “Oh? So what’s he saying?” She said, “He wants us to hook up and have a three-way conversation.” And I went, “Oh, I knew you read energy, but I didn’t know that you did that.” She said, “Yeah I do it all the time.”
So we had this three-way conversation and in this conversation, Dan said, “Mom, stop telling everyone that I drank too much and that is why I passed.” And I said, “Well okay, well how did you pass?” And he says, “It was my lungs… My lungs failed me. I fell over and I went to catch my breath and I couldn’t catch my breath.” And I said, “Oh, okay.” And then I said to him, “So did you know you were dying –” because we were sleeping in the house upstairs, in the front of the house, and he was out the back downstairs — and I said, “So did you know you were dying?” And he said “Yes. But it sort of came to a bit of a peace.” And I said, “I’m so sorry that we were asleep.”
And he said — this might freak some people out, but anyway let’s go for it — He said “Don’t worry mom. You and dad astral traveled and helped me pass.” And I said, “I didn’t know he did that.” I knew we astral traveled when we slept, but I didn’t know that we did things like that.” And he said “Yeah.” So how amazing is that? That we do that, and all these little conversations and stuff is what helped me to not only come to the awareness that he’s always with me, and he’s always traveling, he was always guiding me and believe me, I am a completely different person to who I was eight years ago when he passed. But I just find it amazing that we are guided so much from the other realm, and from our own intuition and our own inner guidance that we don’t know it and we don’t value it, because we all feel so lonely, sometimes. But we’ve always got people traveling with us.
~M: Karen, this is such an interesting story to me. I’m so sorry for your loss.
~K: Thank you.
~M: What I love about your story is that you have found not just one gift. I think lots of gifts along the way, through the course of your grieving process. So you told me that you initially carried on with life as it was before. And I know that there were lots of emotions that come up with a choice like that. So I’d love for you to take a deeper dive into that part of your journey in our next segment. Would you do that?
~K: Yes, of course.
~M: Perfect, okay thank you. So I would like everyone to just stay with us as we take a breather for about 30 seconds. And while you wait, learn just a bit more about Karen. Then we’ll be back with the next part of my conversation with Karen Chaston on from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition. Stay Tuned.
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“Live Love By Design” illustrates how you can design your personalized success blueprint for all four life pillars: You, your relationships, your expertise, your world creation. For your PDF copy visit livelovebydesign.com.
~M: So, welcome back. It was just half a minute there. Today’s inspiring conversation is with Karen Chaston who joins us from Australia and has told us about the sudden loss of her 27-year-old son.
It’s a story about a mother’s grief, with a gift, and I think actually there is more than one gift here we call this episode “How Death Saved my Life.”
It has always been an honor for me to share inspiring stories like Karen’s. These women are figuring out how to move through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations, and come out on top in their own unique version of triumph. They help us to know that we are not alone when life turns our own world upside down. Karen, I so appreciate you joining us today to share your story.
~K: Thank you.
~M: We promised to take a deeper dive into your emotional journey after choosing to just carry on after Dan’s death. What happened to you emotionally, and physically, and spiritually, when you were just going through the motions of life, not really participating?
~K: Well, at the time, I was a CFO of a publicly listed company and I just went straight back to work. Even to the point, two days after… So I took the week off before Dan’s funeral, but I did go in and do some stuff that I had to do. And I thought I’m gonna go in because I want everyone just to say “I’m sorry” and then they can move on and don’t have to say it again, which is absolutely ridiculous. But you’re not thinking straight and to be quite honest, the decisions that I probably made in the first year were not ideal. And a lot of people would say to me, “Are you sure about that?” And I’m going, “Yes, that’s it,” sort of thing. Thinking that I was the person that I was before Dan passed.
One thing I’ve learned in this journey is you’re never going to be the same. Love never dies, but it transforms. And Dan and my relationship has transformed and to be quite honest, in some respects he’s the parent now. He’s guiding me more [when he was a child, I was obviously guarding him]. But looking back, the fact that I went straight back to work and I used the three things — working too much, eating too much, and drinking too much — as my coping mechanism.
My husband used to say that he didn’t like coming home in the afternoons. He would get home around 4 PM, and Dan used to get home around 4 PM, and they’d go off and they do something together or they’d just sit and chat, whereas I wouldn’t get home until like 7 PM. And his girlfriend wouldn’t get home to later either. So they had that time together and my husband said, “I don’t like coming home in the afternoons. I can smell him and I miss him,” which is totally understandable, but I probably used work as my coping mechanism. So I numbed myself, I guess, is the first feeling. I put up this barrier and I’m not sure most people may be aware that a lot of people carry weight as a barrier. It’s just to have this little bit of space between people and I know that I did that with the eating more and all of this sort of stuff. So I had more of a sort of a cushion around me, so people just left me alone.
So that was the first one, and I guess I was in a fair bit of denial because I was definitely drinking more than I had been before. And I thought I was okay, but it wouldn’t take much for me to fly off the handle. And since then, and in all of my learnings and stuff, I heard this same which I absolutely loved and it was… If you’re always angry, you need more green in your life. And when I heard it, it was probably only about three years ago, it’s sort of stopped me and I thought I was always angry, especially after the time Dan passed, and then I realized that I didn’t have enough green vegetables in my life like I green juice every morning now and some days, all drink green juice all day long.
But then I took it one step further and I thought green’s the color of the heart chakra. I need more love in my life, love for myself and love for others. And I think that’s what it was more than [undetectable]. The fact I went straight back to work, not only did I disrespect Dan, I also disrespected myself, because I may not know that when any tragic loss comes into your life, I do believe it’s a gift, but the how you unwrap that gift is through the stopping. It’s through the stopping, and the breathing, and the evaluating where you are now and where you wanna be, because you never going to be designing it.
So it’s about designing your new way of life, designing who you wanna become, that it has to be in the stopping and most people don’t allow the wash of motions to come through. We block on which then causes more disease because emotions are energy in motion, so they’ve got a flow through you and it’s flowing through you that you come for love. Did I answer your question?
~M: Yeah, Karen, that such an important piece of guidance from you. You’re so right that when major events happen the loss could be of so many different things.
~K: Well, The Grief Recovery Institute says there are 44 different loss events that can affect our lives. So when we think that every single one of us are gonna have a lot of major loss events.
~M: Right, absolutely right. And we will grieve through each one of them. I think it’s so important what you just said, the stopping part, but that’s the scary part because when we stop, we can’t hide.
~K: As well.
~M: We can’t hide from everything we’re feeling, right? So it’s such wise advice from you but it is the hardest thing for us to do because… And it’s the scariest part of it because we just… We don’t know what’s coming.
~K: Not only that, Maria. We live in a world where we have so many things that stop us from feeling our emotions.
And that’s the biggest problem that I feel that’s why we have so many issues in the world is because we don’t allow ourselves to feel them. And then when they come through, they come through in such an outrage, such a big burst of energy. And I was like, “Wow! Where did that come from?” ‘Cause we stuff them down with so many things.
I love the analogy of when you’re compulsive eating, it’s like, “What are you stuffing there? What emotion are you stuffing down with that food that you’re not saying?” It’s made to come the other way so you’re just putting food into work not because of you just too much, it’s because you’re putting your emotions away, and hiding it behind the food. It’s really interesting when you get into all of these things and understand human nature in the world that we live in. Like you go to a doctor, you’re feeling a bit upset, they give you a pill like that’s not getting to the cause of what you’re feeling. It’s just hiding it.
~M: Absolutely, that’s so true. The image that your words contoured for me, the stuffing our faces with food when we’re trying to deal with something that we really don’t know how to deal with, there’s no manual unless we’ve gone through something like this before as you have… as I have… And we’ve kind of figured out what are the coping mechanisms that are more positive than negative, right? And that’s when we can lean in on our inner wisdom and that our experience. But that image that came up for me it’s not only just stuffing ourselves with food, it could be with alcohol, as you did, and don’t get me wrong, I love my glass of wine and I’m not grieving right now.
It’s the experience of stuffing it. It’s just that whole stopping our emotions with something is not necessarily healthy for us, number one. And then the process of stuffing so that our emotions can’t reveal themselves and… they’re not meant to be stuck inside us.
~K: And if I may add, come out of disease in some form.
~M: Yeah, yeah, or as you said inappropriate behavior and… Yeah, that’s… This is such good stuff. Thank you for sure.
~K: Thank you.
~M: Alright, so I would like everyone to just hang in with us for another breather. We’re gonna talk with Karen next about what she learned from this process and she’s gonna share those with us in her next segment. My cat has come to visit, I hope you don’t mind. We’ll be right back with Tips for the Transition.
~M: As always, on this show, we save the best for last. Everyone can learn from someone else’s experience, especially through grief. And this is why we call the show, Tips to the Transition. Before we get on to those tips though, I would like to tell you a little bit more about Karen Chaston.
Before the loss of her son, Karen told you that she was a chief financial officer for a corporation, and she was on that corporate treadmill, she was also a CPA. And even before the tragic loss, she was feeling the pressures of juggling her busy career, her family, her personal obligations, big house, the cars, all of that like so many of us do.
And when her world came crashing down, she realized that it was time to after a fashion, re-evaluate, who she was now. That led her on a personal and spiritual growth journey to become her own best friend. As she left the corporate life behind, she founded her own company called “Live Love by Design.”
I love that, Live Love by Design. Karen now helps others to wrap their own gifts from grief and loss.
It’s women like Karen who are role models for the rest of us when it comes to learning to thrive.
Karen, I appreciate you sharing your story so much with us. There is so much conflicting information about grief and grieving. What did you find helped or hindered your process and what other lessons did you learn since the… Well, it’s been eight years since Dan passed?
~K: Sure, Maria. I guess the most important lesson that I learned, and it took me a long time… I was like, within a year of Dan’s passing, but I was in my 50s when it came to me that we are the only person we’re going to spend our entire life with. Now, think about that. How many times do we put ourselves last, what we wanna do, whether it’s a personal thing, an activity, an experience, or where it’s in relationship to our career, our health? But we want to go on [undetectable] and I know that I was putting myself last and my health was the lowest thing on my priority, which is absolutely ridiculous because if we don’t have health, we don’t have anything. And I like the old saying which is I spent my health to get my wealth and now I’m spending my wealth to get back my health.
And that’s something for everyone to embrace especially from our young age, is you can never get it back, so maintain it every day, do something to maintain your health. And I think that is the greatest gift that I feel that I received because I am a lot healthy, I am a lot more aware. And knowing that, we don’t know when we’re going to pass. No one has on their birth certificate an “expired at”. So we really do need to leave out a lot, not so much that today is our last day, but it may be. We may not be here in six months’ time, so are we really doing the things that we love?
Dan was 27. He was just starting to get his career in order, just starting a relationship or is two years into the relationship, he hadn’t even had any children, all those sorts of things that we want for our children and that’s one of the things that I learned about grief. It’s about reconciling the dreams and the aspirations we had for that relationship. And obviously, for a child, you have so many things that you want them to do.
So it’s about reconciling that and coming to a complete with it. And that’s what I feel with a lot of group programs, as such, is they’ll tell you is to go through the emotions and feel it and all these sorts of things, but it’s about actually completing the relationship, what it wants, and whether it’s a death, whether it’s a marriage, or whether it’s your health. It’s about actually coming to a scenario we go, “Okay. This is what’s happened and this is what isn’t going to happen and just complete everything with it. It’s through that completion process that you actually move through grief.
You come to a complete relationship because we have so many incompletes in our lives that I feel that is what stops us from doing so much. But more than anything that I’ve learned from death, and from Dan’s death is he did save my life. I, for a fact, that I was having towards ever a heart attack, a stroke, diabetes, type 2 diabetes, possibly definitely burnout. My whole body was screaming at me, “You’re not healthy.” I had five roids, I’ve had a hysterectomy. Everything that a man know about the signs of what you brought, your body is talking to you. We don’t use them. So every single thing that happened to me was because I was living in my masculine, I wasn’t being true to who I was. I was full of adrenaline, full of cortisol, all you have to do is look at me. I was a lot heavier than I am now, and my whole body was just saying adrenaline.
I can look at most women now and I can tell them whether they’re over adrenalized or where they’re at, just by looking at them, which is the sort of things we should be taught out at school, understand ourselves by a common trait. We have every single thing inside of us for us to live an abundant, healthy life but we don’t listen to ourselves or trust ourselves. We were too busy looking outside of ourselves. I am wondering why we’re not achieving the way we wanna… Whereas all you have to do is going internally.
~M: You just raised several great points. The first one is taking care of ourselves first rather than last, so many of us… It’s a big topic, I talk about all the time. It is important that we take care of ourselves first or we will have nothing left to take care of anyone else that we care about.
The other thing you said is that his death saved your life.
~M: That’s astonishing to hear. I don’t know many mothers who have lost a son and I know a few who would say that because they’re so immersed in their own grieving and they haven’t gone through the process of completion.
~K: That’s right. Yes.
~M: that as you described it. I would like to add to that completing the relationship because it is an event, right? So they’re completing for ourselves in our own hearts and in our minds, it also means that we need to recognize who we are now that that event has happened, that something this dramatic has changed in our life. So who are we now and who do we wanna be going forward?
~K: That’s exactly… That’s it. That is so right. And I just wanna make it clear, Dan and I still have a relationship.
It’s just a different relationship now, a completely different relationship.
~K: He’s always guiding me. And about looking after yourself and I know so many people go all that selfish if you put yourself first. I just like to say it’s actually you then you’re actually depriving everyone in your life of your best you, when you put yourself last because you don’t show up in your essence because you are depleted, you’re resentful, and you just cannot show up in your beautiful essence. And we all have our essence to shine, but because it’s put in the back burner, it doesn’t come forward. So you’re actually doing everyone in your life, especially yourself an injustice by not putting yourself first.
So, flip your perspective on the way that you think that it’s selfish.
~M: Oh, I love that. Flip your perspective. That’s a really good one.
~K: Thank you.
~M: Because I always talk about the teacup analogy, do know that one? It’s why my book is called from Upside Down to Right Side Up. And there are teacups on the cover because when our teacup is right side up, and we are filling it until it overflows and we give from the overflow, we are never depleted. We are always giving our best selves. And I love the flip the perspective. I think that’s so important, so important.
~K: Thank you, I like that too.
~M: I love sharing this kind of stuff. Karen, thank you so much for all of your perspectives today. We all go through so much grief in our lives. We’ve talked about that before, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or a pet, the ending of a marriage, or a career, our health, as you said.
I am certain that there are people in our audience today who will want to know more about you.
So I would like everyone to just take a moment because Karen has a special offer for each one of you today. Watch this.
~K: I’m Karen Chaston, a beyond loss life coach. How would you like to unwrap the gift of loss when we can ensure that your people, purpose, and prophets thrive? Book your gift discovery session now at LiveLovebyDesign.com.
~M: Karen, thank you so much! That is an amazing offer for our viewers who may be going through a loss of someone or something significant in their lives, and talking with you would be an amazing thing for them to do.
~K: Yes. Thank you!
~M: Thank you.
~K: Yeah, it’s time to unwrap the gift, so that they can design a life where they live and love. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all here to thrive.
~M: Yes, absolutely. I believe that, myself. And I would like to thank all of you for watching us today and for being a part of our community. This series of conversations with women is inspired by my latest book from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Turning Transition into Triumph. My books, the articles I write, and these conversations are intended to share stories from the heart and life strategies that will help others.
I invite you to share them with the women in your life. So none of us will ever again feel like we are alone.
Many of us have gone through similar experiences, and we’re here to support you.
As Karen said, I believe it’s our time to thrive. Will you join us on that ride? ‘Till next time. I’m María Tomás-Keegan.