Always Counting: Anniversary of a Daughter’s Death

Today is the fourth anniversary of my daughter’s death.  I’ve been dreading this day for several weeks because it reminds me, yet again, of the finality of loss.  It also brings back memories of surgeons operating on my daughter for 20 hours in a desperate attempt to save her life.

Heroic as the surgeons’ efforts were, their efforts failed.  The lead surgeon came out of the operating room to tell us our daughter was brain dead.  Lost in a web of shock and confusion and grief, my husband and I signed the organ donor documents.

Two days after my daughter died, my father-in-law died.  Then my brother died.  Then my former son-in-law died and my husband and I became legal guardians of our twin grandchildren.  “I still have times when I can’t believe it all happened,” I told my husband.

“Me too,” he replied.

But it did happen and today, as with the first day of my daughter’s death, I make the same promise: Helen, we will not fail you.  If our daughter were still alive, I think she would be proud of her twins and proud of us.

Both of them graduated from high school with honors.  Our grandson is attending a state university and had a straight A report card for the first semester.  He received a letter congratulating him for being on the Dean’s List.  Our granddaughter is attending a small private college and she has an A average as well.  She has won prizes for her photography and honorable mention for her writing.

When the twins are home for the weekend, they are happy, pleased with their college choices, and excited about life.

We are the only grandparents the twins have and they have identified with us.  Like my husband, my grandson wants to be a physician.  I’m a professional writer and have a graduate degree in art.   My granddaughter is taking art and writing courses.  Their career choices may change and that’s fine with us.

Still, my husband and I will always be counting.  Five years since our daughter died.  Six.  Seven.  Ten and more.  “It’s so sad,” my husband said.

But we are blessed.  Becoming GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren, is our new life mission and it is a sacred one.  Our mission is joyful, too.  When the twins are home our quiet house comes to life with laughter, friends, loud music, and Internet conversations.  Though we will always be counting, as the years pass, the counting becomes easier.  Our promise remains steadfast: Helen, we will not fail you.  We have also promised each other that we will enjoy the miracle of our lives.

Harriet Hodgson 2011


Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit


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  • Beth says:

    How wonderful for the twins to have you and your husband to be there for them. In your sorrow you are making a difference for them!

  • Denise says:

    my husband and I are also GRGs…….our son passed away in 2003 age only 20……..but the grandchild we are raising is not his child, he is my sons nephew (his sisters child). My son would have been so proud to be an uncle and would have been a loving one. Our little grandchild is almost 3 now so sadly never met his uncle in person . Your Helen would be so proud of what you have done for her children. Best wishes

  • Maureen Hunter says:

    Harriet – my heart goes out to you on the 4th anniversary of your daughter, Helen. I too am 4 years and I too cant believe its happened.
    I love your ‘mantra’ Helen, we will not fail you’ and your self commitment to step through grief and live fully – alongside the hurt.
    You and your husband have done something amazing with your grandchildren, Helen would be shining praises on you from her light

  • Harriet Hodgson says:

    Dear Beth,
    Thank you for reading my article and for your encouragement. I think every mourner can make a difference in her or his own way.

  • Harriet Hodgson says:

    Dear Denise,
    I think your situation is far harder than ours and you have many more years of grandparenting ahead of you. Your grandchildren is in a safe and loving place and you can be proud of that.

  • Harriet Hodgson says:

    Dear Maureen,
    I thought I would have gotten over the disbelief by now, but have not, and think it is connected to multiple losses. It was comforting to read your comment and discover someone with feelings like mine. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

  • Janet Omlansky says:

    Dear Harriet, Thank you for your writing. Monday, 2/21 was the one year anniversary of my 19 year old daughter’s (Amy) death. She was our only child, and we continue to be devastated. I still think that it is all a horrible nightmare, and I will awake soon. I like your mantra “We will not fail you.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words of wisdom.

  • Harriet Hodgson says:

    Dear Janet,
    I am truly sorry for your loss. Though my husband and I will always be bereaved parents, we have found that love does not die. Our memorial to our daughter is to love and protect her children. I’ve spoken to our local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a national organization for those who have lost a child. You may wish to join this group.

  • Lori says:

    I am reading on the anniversary of my daughter’s unexpected death. She was 20-years old, and died almost exactly one year after her dad’s death.

    I was touched by your words about multiple losses and counting anniversaries, and I admire your grace.