Marie Alessi, the 399th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, received a phone call that changed her life – the coroner was calling to inform her that her beloved husband, Rob, had died unexpectedly on a work trip.

Immediately, Marie thought of a conversation she’d had with Rob three years earlier, when they’d discussed what would happen if one of them passed. Rob had told Marie that he’d want her to create the happiest life possible for herself and their two young children.

In the aftermath of Rob’s death, Marie was putting all her focus on holding it together, so she went to see a positive psychologist. The woman asked: “What does grief mean to you?”, and to Marie’s surprise, she answered: “Empowerment.”

At the time, Marie couldn’t explain her answer. But with the benefit of hindsight, Marie believes she’d intuitively understood that she’d never be able to heal if she cast herself as a victim – because how could you build a happy new life if your identity was centred around being a grieving widow?

Newly empowered, Marie wrote Loving Life after Loss, a book that ended up making the top 100 bestseller list. That marked the start of a new chapter in Marie’s life. Now, she’s a keynote speaker who educates audiences about the power of grief; she also conducts family bereavement sessions and delivers ‘celebrations of life’.

My fascinating lunch with Marie reminded me of the importance of mindset. All of us experience regular setbacks and occasional moments of deep grief. In those moments, we need to resist the temptation to feel sorry for ourselves – because then we surrender our agency – and instead do the hard work required to improve our situation. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.

In the years since Rob’s passing, Marie has worked hard to make herself a better person and build a happier life for her children. Losing Rob was a chapter in Marie’s life, but she didn’t let it be the end of her book.