Things I Learned From Choosing Gratitude Over Grief

5 years ago by

On September 12, 2015, I did something no human should ever have to do. I saw things no wife should ever have to see. In an instant and without warning, I changed from a wife to a widow.

I was never someone who was afraid of change. In fact, Scott and I embraced it, making it our mission in life to help people live intentionally through Live Your Legend, the business and global mission-driven organization we started. We had spent our lives letting our decisions be guided by feelings, rather than “safe” or “logical” choices. That is what led us, at age 32 and 33, to travel around the world while running a six-figure business, the mission of which was (and still is) to change the world by living a more meaningful life. We believed that when you spend your days living your truth, you show up as your best and most authentic self, and that is a gift to every single person you meet. Doing so creates a positive energy and a ripple effect that, while perhaps immeasurable, is also unstoppable.

This phenomenon was apparent in the popularity of Scott’s TEDx talk, “How to Find and Do Work You Love,” which had been viewed by more than 3.5 million people at the time of his passing and has been seen by more than 10 million people today.

Now, on a year long trip around the world, we were living a life we once spoke of as a dream, and had to pinch ourselves at having actually created it. And because we were big believers in using physical challenges to prove that we are capable of far more than what the mind allows us to imagine, we decided that climbing one of the seven tallest mountains on Earth would challenge us more mentally and physically than we had ever been challenged before. In doing so, we would then physically be on top of the world as well.

Scott and I were climbing the final 2,000 feet to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the triumphant conclusion of a trip that we had talked and dreamed about for so long when I heard a shout from the climbing group ahead. It wasn’t even an alarming shout, just a noise in a space where there had been only stillness. That stillness was shattered as boulders began to fall down the mountainside at speeds that seemed to defy gravity. I had a split second to dive out of their line of fire. As the rockslide ended and the stillness returned, I turned to check on Scott, who had been just inches behind me. He was no longer there.

I scrambled down the face of the mountain and arrived by his side. I screamed when I saw him— his legs were twisted, and his injuries severe. I took off my jacket and wrapped it around his waist to try to stop a huge gash from bleeding.

My world dissolved right in front of me as Scott’s breath slowed, then stopped. I found myself sitting on the top of a mountain in the middle of Africa, holding my lifeless husband in my arms.

Making plans to get his body back to America, calling relatives, booking the 36-hour flight home—it all felt like an out-of-body experience. It wasn’t until I was on the plane, high up in the clouds, that reality set in: Scott was gone. I was a 32 year-old widow. Now what? Well, here are some things I learned on this journey…

Loss left me grappling with a tremendous amount of fear, hopelessness, and uncertainty as I was forced to accept a new reality, battle with an old identity, and let go of an imagined future. How could I swallow the reality that I no longer had my best friend and partner? We’d been together since I was 19, what did life look like without him? I wasn’t sure, nor did I have any idea of how to figure it out or where to even begin.

All the advice I received from books, family and friends told me that I must simply endure, and “get through the first year.” But how could I accept that counsel when I knew how precious and fragile time was? For me, being passive wasn’t a possibility.

It’s a choice: do you look at what you have, or do you fixate on what you don’t? Scott was missing, but there was still so much beauty, so much abundance of love around me. Yes, I had lost my main source of love, but that did not mean that all love was lost. I always had the option to choose gratitude over grief.

My mind was stuck in a story about what it meant for me to “be okay.” It was scared because I never imagined being able to rebound from a loss like this. I didn’t want to live happily ever after without the person I loved most, so what did that mean about me, my character and my identity if I could? My mind was resistant. It was in a fight between its reality and its past, but my heart was saying something very different. It was quietly (but not so quietly) asking: “What would you do if it was okay to be okay?”

My heart replied: “I would soar.”

If I had the opportunity to give myself permission in that moment, I could choose to give myself permission in many other moments as well…

After witnessing death in another country, I couldn’t help but notice that the Western world has a different view of death than other cultures. We talk about going to a “better place,” yet we don’t act as if that is the case when death knocks on our door, especially if it happens prematurely. I was curious, and I let that curiosity guide me. I began turning grief books away and leaning on the more spiritual side of death. Having been a science geek in college, I was more interested in the ideas that had some semblance of science-backed spiritual theories. I traded in my grief counselor for a physicist to understand how energies and vibrations exist in the Universe. I studied the law of attraction, quantum physics, and the psychology and physiology behind human behavior. I am by no means an expert in any of these areas, but I became fascinated with understanding viewpoints outside of “God has a plan. Everything happens for a reason.”

I once heard religion described as an explanation of the unknown, and spirituality as an exploration of it, and I choose to explore. I have explored theories about our souls or spirits coming to earth time and time again on a mission to evolve all of human consciousness; meaning that we aren’t separate from the universe, rather we are all collectively creating the grander plan. I can’t help but find some peace in that theory. There were too many “weird” things after Scott died that felt like signs, signals, guides, even angels leading me down this path. I know it sounds a bit out there, but when you think of it that way, it does make the loss less severe. If souls are together for eternity and choose to come back for lifetimes to learn lessons, evolve, and share gifts, then this is truly a blink of the eye, so I may as well enjoy every moment of it.

I became connected with a young woman about 10 months after Scott passed away. Her husband also died while climbing Kili. We remained in touch for advice, support and to share things that no one else in the world could possibly understand. We talked about the idea of re-climbing the mountain together. So when I got a message from her declaring that she was in fact going to climb on the anniversary of her husband’s passing, suddenly my decision came with a time frame. I couldn’t imagine doing this heart-wrenching task with anyone else. When she asked me, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess the time is now.” But then I took a deep breath and paused before acting. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not I could do it. Rather, I asked myself: “Why do you want to do this?”

My main motive was my desire to love and honor Scott. He dreamed for years of being on the top of that mountain. I could see myself proudly holding the LYL flag that never made it to the top last time. Snapping an epic picture. Spreading some of his ashes on the summit, his journey finally complete. Catharsis.

But, was this the only way to love and honor Scott? Was there another way?

I had moments where I was certain I was going to do it. But then I found myself questioning my intentions. I would think to myself, “Gosh, do I really have to climb 19,000+ feet to get that outcome? To honor my husband, to prove to myself and others that we are limitless?”

While my fellow warrior woman’s experience is different, my reality is that I never actually really cared about going up that mountain. I did it to support Scott and his dream. I wasn’t forced to go. I agreed to it fully and wholeheartedly to support his dreams. And while I clearly would have preferred another outcome, I truly have no regret. I am glad I chose to be by his side as he was living out one of his biggest dreams. But this time, I was not being pulled to climb the mountain. I have a feeling that Kilimanjaro isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So, I simply said to myself, I am not climbing… right now.

Choosing not to re-climb Kilimanjaro actually felt like a deeper, more pure act of love for my husband, because that statement says, “because I love you, I choose to shine the light that is me. Because I love you, I am going to let go of what should have been or what could be, so that I can fully embrace what is.” The purest form of love you can express for someone is not to just give it, but to actually live it. When you own your truth and fully embrace and express what you love, you can’t help but effortlessly share that love with others.

I once believed that my mind could dream big, but I have since come to see that nothing is as expansive as the heart. Logic will limit you, but you have to learn to trust those things you cannot explain: the feelings that you cannot weigh or measure, but know to be true. The mind is limited to five simple senses, but the heart knows no bounds. I believe that love is the language of the human spirit. As my story shows, it has no limits, and it shows itself in many forms, existing despite any external conditions. We all have the capacity to love before our mind is even evolved. We are born to love and be loved. And when we strip away all that inhibits this from being our primary language, we, by nature, become limitless.


Chelsea Dinsmore is the owner and Chief Inspiration Officer of Live Your Legend, a community whose mission is to change the world by helping people discover and live more meaningful lives. Live Your Legend provides inspiration and education to over 65,000 subscribers worldwide through articles, in-person events and courses such as The Passionate Work Program.

Chelsea is a lover of food, adventure, the ocean and wine country. When she’s not helping others live their legend, you’ll find her teaching barre based fitness classes, chasing sunsets and exploring the world.


Add yours
  • saglara June, 21 2019, 10:23 / Reply

    beautifully written and, I needed to hear this today, thank you <3

  • Diane Shultz June, 21 2019, 2:37 / Reply

    Bravo!! & yes, Gratitude over Grief..I too needed to hear this today! Sending love & joy??

  • This is beautifully written and poignant . Thank you for sharing your story.

  • This article is pure wisdom, so full of emotion and inspiration. Death is a part of life, losing the ones we love that way is something we all can relate to and we should talk about it more. Everyone grieves in their own way. After the loss of our loved ones, we all need to find a different path for ourselves. I can’t even image how much it hurts to lose your spouse like that, but we can all relate to losing the ones we love and it’s always a struggle. In grieving for person we lost we should also remember that the best way to show our appreciation for them is by choosing gratitude over grief. Chelsea is such an inspiring and brave individual!

  • What a positive way to look at life and a beautiful soul. I’m checking out her website. XO

  • I lost my son August 2017 and I’m struggling still. I hope to feel like this someday but right now I just can’t get past the starting line

  • My heart goes out to you. I wish I could give you a tight hug and sit in silence with you. What is it that you need to get through today? I will pray for that provision.

  • Florence June, 23 2019, 1:38 / Reply

    Ce texte me touche profondément. Merci. Je voudrais lire plus de textes comme celui-ci, porteur de sens.

  • WOW! This completely resonated with me and reading it brought a tear to my eye. Not only are you a strong and beautiful person but I do truly believe that one’s perception and viewpoint on how we approach life is what makes it possible to achieve and appreciate what we are capable of. Bravo and thanks for the inspiration!

  • Naydeline June, 23 2019, 11:06 / Reply

    I needed to hear this today and everyday. So much wisdom, emotion, and power in this piece. Chelsea, thank you for sharing. My heart is with you!

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira June, 24 2019, 2:44 / Reply

    Um Forte Abraço de Lisboa, Chelsea !!!

  • Ayse Betul Tekeli June, 24 2019, 7:02 / Reply

    Thank you, I watched Scott’s TED Talk and that inspires me a lot. RIP Scott…love.

  • Therese June, 24 2019, 4:03 / Reply

    This is exactly how I have come to look at death. Lat year, when my 99 year old dad was leaving our world, he asked me about death and what happens to us. I was inspired to say that we become energy and that we surround our loved ones. I look for him and those close to me that have passed. It didn’t take away the pain but I feel much more accepting and not alone.

    I wish Chelsea much love and peace in her life. It is great to share the wisdom that she has learned in dealing with Soctt’s death.

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