The grief hit her like a mallet when she finally tossed out the jar of jelly that Richard bought from Safeway right before he died. It hit her again when she was asked to take his name off their checking account and credit cards in the dark months after the funeral.
In "Heartbroken Open" (Harper Studio, 176 pages, $19.99), Kristine Carlson writes poignantly about her grief after her husband, author of the "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" series, died of a pulmonary embolism on a flight to New York City in 2006.
The clearly observed details are moving, grief lurking in small moments -- like finding Richard's swim trunks and goggles hanging on a hook by the pool, or, out of habit, taking two cups from the cupboard for morning coffee.
The chapters and sections are thematic, instead of tightly chronological, and follow Carlson's struggle with a shifting identity -- from wife to widow.
She saturates her writing with references to spirituality -- often referring to Spirit, intuition or energy -- that are distinctly New Age, although she calls her approach "broader and more Unitarian."
Carlson sometimes tilts toward being too self-congratulatory, writing about how "our marriage and family had been a source of envy" and "two people could not have done a better job loving each other every day than we." And at times she seems to render Richard as a saint -- his "vibration was so high" -- instead of a human being with imperfections and vulnerabilities.
But that's exactly what Carlson does so well: exposing the roots of her preoccupation with a "perfect life" and her "tight suburban circle" to highlight her own imperfections and vulnerabilities so that her story might help someone else.
There are nice touches of levity and humor, too, as when the mortuary director brought out a box with Richard's ashes and asked if she would like to "make sure it's him." Or when Carlson hung a baseball cap that said "Number 1 Dad!" at a "slightly roguish tilt" off the box of ashes, which she stored in her closet.
You cheer for Carlson and enjoy marinating in the book's main, hopeful message: "Learn to accept life as it is, not as what you thought it should be, expected it would be, or want it to be. For that is the true secret for living a happy contented life."
Elaine Gale is an assistant professor of communication studies and journalism at California State University, Sacramento, and a former staff writer at the Star Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.