How I Surrendered to the Grief of Losing My Husband

On February 4, 2009, I woke up to find that my husband had died in his sleep from an undetected heart condition. He was forty-nine years old. I was thirty-nine. It was the biggest shock of my life. The first two hours were a blur of emotion, pain, fear, shock, and denial. The next two and a half years have been a lesson in living life much more openly, deeply, and presently.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, I discovered I had two choices. I could either surrender to what had happened, or instead, choose to fight the reality of it all.

Initially, I fought the reality and life was hard. I felt alone, afraid, hurt, angry and even guilty. With Mark gone, I was instantly and solely in charge of our home, cars, finances, and children. I thought ‘Til death do us part?’ Well, what if I wasn’t ready? I felt abandoned, and could not overcome the thought that Mark was supposed to be there with me to help me take care of everything. Deep down I knew he couldn’t be there, but accepting that meant accepting the fact that he really was gone. And I wasn’t ready for that, so the battle continued.

A few weeks after Mark died a close friend said something to me that changed my perception at the core. She said, “Jennifer, no matter what happens in the future, you will always have lost your husband. There is nothing you can do about that. For the rest of your life it will be a part of who you are. You don’t have to ever ‘get over it.’”

I realized with those words that I didn’t have to act any certain way. I didn’t have to get rid of my grief. I didn’t have to be anything I wasn’t. I was a widow and nothing would ever change that. Not even my deepest thought that it wasn’t true. It gave me the long-term view I needed in order to let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to be ‘fixed.’

After I heard those words I began to surrender to all of my emotions, including grief. In these moments of surrender, there were glimmers of hope, love and life. For lack of a better way to explain it, angels took over and miracles began happening. Almost mysteriously, life began taking care of itself. The right person walked in the room at the right time, needed items appeared without even asking. It was as if the universe was saying, “Yes, this happened, and yes, it will all be OK. Because no matter how hard it seems, there is something right about this.”

Upon surrendering, I was able to acknowledge all of the people who appeared who wanted to help me with my kids, my home, my work…everything. And, more importantly, I learned how to let them help. I’d always thrived on handling everything on my own, but because of my new life I had to let go of that independence.

It was impossible for me to handle everything Mark and I had handled before. I HAD to let people help me. I even had to ASK for help. It was an entirely new concept. Like no other time before I saw that there were lots of people in my life who wanted to help, who even felt helpless if I didn’t let them help. So, I started to let them; and in the process I became closer to them. I really felt their love and energy in my life.

After my world started to smooth out a bit from the huge turbulent waves of the first few months, I knew there was another step. I had to rely entirely on myself for one thing—taking care of me. Nobody else could do that in the long run. So, each day I began to do something for me.

I quickly realized that it didn’t have to be anything big. I could make a cup of tea and breathe in the steam for a few minutes. Or, take a short walk around the block with my dog. Or, listen to music that made me happy. Or, go to a funny movie. These little ‘me’ moments kept my spirit afloat at times when the alternative was to drown.

Even now, after years have gone by and times still sneak up on me and grip my heart and gut like nothing else can, I breathe and remember to surrender and feel everything I’m feeling. Because one thing I know for sure is that Mark is still a part of my life. Sometimes it’s just a glimpse of something that could have been, which leads to sadness in missing him. But I know that the sadness is simply a reminder that I’m human, alive and can love. And that reminder is a blessing that I will always cherish.

Jennifer Hawkins 2012

Jennifer Hawkins

More Articles Written by Jennifer

Jennifer’s diverse background includes swimming for the University of California at Santa Barbara, competing in the Olympic Trials in 1988, owning a residential real estate company for fifteen years and authoring five books. She has spoken in front of audiences up to 700 people, traveled to over forty different locations, and is raising two boys who are five and seven years old. She currently lives in Texas and is an active real estate investor, mom and author working on her sixth book.


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  • Jennifer- your words are compelling and beautiful. I will be sure and share this with a dear friend who lost her (33 yr old) husband recently.
    I believe many will be encouraged by your story.

    God’s peace, Beth Marshall

  • Deb says:

    Jennifer, what strength you have. Maybe you can help me. My dad died two years ago aged 77. He knew he had prostate cancer and that it had spread to his bones. He was told he may have 5 years, he survived for four of those years and in pain most of that time. My mum was a tower of strength when he died and for the first 3 months organising the funeral, bills etc. Over the last year she has started to give up her bowls club and other activities. She wont shop in the local town, go on a bus anything. My daughter and I tried back in October taking her places, pushing her to go here and there,having her for dinner which seemed to work but after xmas when i suggested she walk to her church or shops she just said she couldnt. I ask her to come shopping of visit a friend or church and she wont come. Of late she isnt washing her hair and her baths are once every couple of weeks. Ive arranged for her to see another cousillor this week (she has already seen two and on antidepressants)at her home which she knows nothing about as she will worry and not see her. I feel that i havent grieved for my dad as i am worrying about mum so much but it is beginning to take its toll on me as i now feel i am going to crumble if something isnt done to help mum. I will pass on what you have done but she can only see how she feels and nothing else matters Thank you – Good luck to you and your family

  • Deondrea Williams says:

    Thank you for writing this because for the next couple of days I will surrender to grief. I lost my husband on Jan. 27,2012. I feel all these strange emotions. Im so sad and depressed and Im trying to hide it from my family and friends. I am meeting with a grief counselor, but nothing helps. I just feel constant pain and guilt. Its been 6 weeks now, and I feel a little relief, thanks again for the insite on how to cope. The 1st couple of weeks I wanted to run from the pain and supress it, but just like you wrote Surrendering to the Grief helps.

  • Jennifer says:

    Like you I lost mine due to a sudden Massive heart attack and I am feeliiing lost. He was only 35 years old. I am only 30 and have a two year old son. I just keep wondering why and where were the warning signs. Everytime I close my eyes all I see is him gasping for AIR AND then collapsing as his breathing stopped and why they could not save him. He was the only man I ever loved and I was with him for 10 years. Its not fair forr him to leave me and his children like this.

  • Kelly Annette Voelz says:

    I lost my precious husband April 12, 2012 @ 9:26pm….Tom and I met in traffic on a busy road in Houston,Tx July1, 2011 Riding along I noticed this Jeep and this Guy looking over at me…So..for 13 miles of bumper to bumper traffic we smiled and glanced over at one another. Finally I rolled down my window and said “Dude why dont you just pull over”. Tom pulled over 4 lanes of NO traffic and I pulled in behind him, I stepped out of my car and Tom said “I love your grey hair”…O God I said I met Miss Clariol She didnot like Me….we laughed and Tom asked me to lunch and we never left each others side…November 1, 2011 we were married…Tom and I had an amazing Love Affair. Two people just wanting to Love and Be Loved….Tom was to retire in December 2012 and we were to Sail off in the sunset on the Coast of Somewhere Beautiful in Texas…April 12, 2012 Things changed. Tom came home early and said Lets go buy those motorcycles Today…we bought his/hers motorcycles..we had looked at them 3 times in the past week…we parked our Jeep and jumped on our bikes and headed home, we dropped mine off and I got on back of Tom and we headed back to get the Jeep…Tom 6’5 leggs and elbows and gorgeous and gorgeous grey hair and I said Babe how you feel…O Darling Tom said,,,,I feel like a King and your my Queen…we rode to a little diner and had dinner and we picked up the jeep…As I was behind Tom, Tom on his new Bike and me in our Jeep…I said Lord I praise you for that man, I thank you Lord for the love and friendship and respect you have given us both for one another and the Love Affair we both dreamed of that has come true through your love and tenderness for us…Thank you Lord for loving Tom and I and for this gift of Love we share…As Tom turned onto a four lane to a two lane Tom was driving along and I saw Tom take his eyes off the road as I saw his head look over to his left at the handle bars to low beam/high beam his lights…then I saw the car and Tom slam into each other and Toms body flip in mid air and snap in half right in front of my eyes….Im sharing this detail only as it helps me…and I know that in all things I serve a Loving, Living God that loves and comforts his children…I slammed on the brakes and turned around the jeep and ran over to my precious handsome husband to find his beautiful body broken. I survived that…How by grace and grace alone…I wish that on no one ever…Tom and I have a amazingly beautiful Love story everyone saw us together and said they gave up on Love til seeing us together…We had a Glow and we had IT…I beg of you that have Lost,,,you Lived too…always remember the Lived part of your life together…remember the IT factor and the special moments..when you cant…do it anyway…ask God to restore your favor and ask God for the strength to endure the days to come…Also, Go get Jesus Calling by Sarah Young…an amazing devotional and helpful outlet to express our hurts…Ive cried all morning I look at our life in pictures and I want IT all back, I want to hear Tom call me Precious…Tom never called me by my name…ever…I miss his touch, his giggle and I miss Tom holding my hand at night while we laid side by side as he prayed us to sleep…So thats my story….I pray that each and every one of you who has lost and lived with your partner…trust God to restore you again, trust Gods promise to never leave our side and trust God that he will Never give us more than we can bare without HIM….may tender mercies and the softens of Gods voice give you peace that passes all understanding all the days of your life…KellyAnnetteVoelz, Kingwood, Texas 2012

  • Wendy says:

    It is early days so I am still feeling very lonely, confused, vulnerable, isolated, alienated, dismissed etc. etc. My husband suffered for many years with arterial vasular disease and his first amputation was some 9 years ago and from then his other leg was not good for a few years so he suffered with extreme pain and it was very difficult to witness his pain. On the 27th Nov 2011 his prosthetic leg which had just been resprung and redone was too heavy and he had a struggle lifting his right stump (fortunately below the knee) with this heavy artificial leg; resulting in him breaking the femur and his hip. They tried to operate but he could not undertake the anaesthetics and he was sent to a rehabilitation hospital to build up his upper body and to have the stump put into manual traction. Whilst he was immobile his ‘good’ leg went gangerous and he had to have his remaining leg amputated. During the time in this hospital because of the drugs for pain he suffered dementia and it was so very difficult for us as his family to witness. With all the medication he was on and through the operation to remove his leg, he went through total dementia where he was in ICU without being aware of what had happened to him and living in decades prior to this terrible ordeal.
    He would just not understand that he now had no legs and in his mind he was still working for a computer company which he was with for over 25 years. He made it out of ICU and was in a ward with other people but went through such anguish and paranoia – when he finally knew and understood what had happened to him, he failed to eat and a drip was inserted but only saline and antibiotics. I felt towards the end that the doctors should give him morphine or something for pain but morphine was given once – on the Saturday – on the Sunday when I spoke to the new doctor on duty he said ‘He does not believe in euthanasia (sp) and if I did not abide by the rules of their hospital I must please take him home. I never asked for an overdose of any sort all – All I asked that his pain be controlled because all they were giving him were antibotics. Anyhow on the Wednesday before my husband spoke his last words to me. He said ‘ I have had enough …Promise to be kind to yourself.’ That was before the weekend when they gave him morphine once and then the altercation/misunderstanding with the doctor on duty who I never did have the ‘pleasure’ of meeting. My husband then proceed to go into septic shock with both stumps really unattended and not properly treated and pnemonia set in and we had to witness his demise until he died. So from the Wednesday, his last words to me until he died on the Monday…………on the Monday morning when I was there at the hospital early – I was told that he was being transferred back to the rehabilitation hospital. He died an hour later……………………….!! He was in a first class hospital and surrounded with all that was required to make his transition peaceful. It was not afforded to him We, his family knew that this was his final moment and yet that hospital denied him a peaceful death. It upsets me. My husband suffered and I am not asking for his life back – however the way he was treated has upset us all. We have had to release it all and continue life as my husband would expect – no regrets, happiness, joy and meaning and to embrace life completely. I dont think I will send this – it has been a healing exercise but I have left it behind and moving on. It has been over 6 months since his ‘accident’ and 4 months since his death. When does it get easier. I have released the above; but moving on is difficult and people who were so concerned and supportive during his time in hospital and at his funeral; who have promised support and comfort have never come to the fore. Only a few people have made contact but for the rest there is silence. One wonders…..about people who promise to make contact after the funeral – I do understand that life goes on and one thing I have learnt is to have no expectations and never ever promise anything that you cannot fulfill.. When people reassure you and you have expectations; they only lead to disappointments. We can only rely on ourselves and the God that lives inside of us all. We are stronger than we ever thought!! I release the doctors, staff who were unsympathetic, friends and family who have not shown any compassion – I release them in love and understanding. What happened, happened. My husband was not a well man for many years but somehow I feel the situation could have been handled differently; with more love and compassion. I just know that I am very blessed when I look around; my life, my family, my grandchildren, my work, my friends and my enthusiasm to live life fully and in total gratitude and appreciation. I thank my Tony for everything. Love, Wendy xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Wendy says:

    Thank you for once again sharing my heartache. I feel better today and I am sure the tomorrows will be more accepting and calm. I have a book called ‘Meditations to heal your life’ and I open it every day and wherever it opens is meant to be for me. I find those messages so relevant ,so perfect for me for the day ahead. It just makes one think more creatively and to provide another way to approach our experiences in life.
    On death she writes ‘ I live and die every day’. We all come in during the middle of the movie, and we leave in the middle of the movie. There is no right time or wrong time. Death is not a failure Everyone goes. It is a normal and natural process. As the door to this life closes, the door to the next life opens. The love we take with us greets us in our next experience. Death is a releasing method of being born into the next phase of everlasting, eternal life. I know that no matter where I am, I am always safe, and loved and totally supported by life.’ However those of us left alone or being separated from our children and loved ones find it very difficult to move forward. Time does help and heal; but we have to use the time constructively and make efforts to continue no matter how difficult circumstances are. We are blessed, we are loved and we may not understand fully the reasons for the things that life brings but in the fuller picture; at a later stage we will get full understanding. Life is a wonderful gift – only – some souls only live enough time for them to bring lessons into our lives – for us to learn and to show compassion to one another. In 2002 I lost my grandchild when Rebecca was 9 months old and that is a huge story and many lessons learnt – she showed us many spiritual truths and I honestly feel deep inside, that was her role; to be with us for a little time and to teach us unconditional love and gratitude. God Bless. I believe there are reasons for everything in life – we are interconnected and part of the Universal Spirit of Love and whatever we experience and whoever comes into our lives does so for a reason. We have so many lessons to learn from one another. Lots of Love, Wendy

  • Shannon says:

    I just lost my Husband . He was 49 and died in the night following our anniversary. I feel like my heart is being torn away from me. I see and feel him everywhere. I miss him so much. we were together for 30 years, I was only 16. I am now afraid, he was my protector, my soul mate, my friend, my lover and I held him while his kids and I watched him die in our home, sudden ruptured aortic aneurysm. People tell me it will get better, I hope so. This is who I am now. I will never be whole again. Thank you for sharing. Im sad and cried for us all.

  • alisa says:

    My name is alisa i am from Dubai, i want to thank Dr.Uadiale for the spell he did for me after i lost my husband to another lady at his working place, Dr.Uadiale cast a spell for me and in 3 days my husband return home to my kids with so much love,if you need his help!! contact [email protected]

  • Kamran says:

    I lost my beloved wife two month back due to a sudden cardiac arrest. She was only 32 yr old and died a month after giving birth to my second son. I was always known for my courage to face difficult situations but I have lost everything now. I can’t live without her. I feel the responsibility of raising up my 2 children but this grief is killing me. I want to be with her as soon as possible.

    • Tara Lucas says:

      My husband died after Spinal Surgery. He was 56 I am 46 all I feel is absolute pain. I grieve and want to be with him again. Why is it I’m here , when most of the people I love are gone?

  • Fabienne says:

    I understand how you feel.
    I lost my husband suddenly due to a brainstroke.
    It happenned 3 years ago …
    I still miss him..
    Still can’t understand why…
    We were married for 25 years .
    Life is not the same since then..
    Will always miss him..

  • ann Morris says:

    Good morning Jennifer your words are a breath of fresh air to me I could of not said it better . I too lost my husband shortly after you and to read your words that mirrow my pain and sorrow remind me that I am not alone. Thanks for sharing as I wipe back my years I pray some one else day is lifted and comforted a reading such a sincere narrative. I hope the best for you n your family.

  • candy says:

    Thank you much for sharing I recently lost jy husband from a heart attack he wss 49 and I’m 40 it was very unexpected and we have two girls 11 n 15..I feel the beginning of this is me however I’m not at the end.

  • Shary Moore says:

    Very moving

  • cecilia says:

    I lost my 44 year old husband suddenly 10 days ago. The grief is overwhelming and I identify with everything you have written. Thank you. This has offered me some comfort in my time of horrific loneliness and lost x

  • Melissa Daugherty says:

    Thank you. My husband passed away July 3rd. He was 47. We have 2 daughter’s 18 & 23. We would have celebrated our 25 wedding anniversary this September. He was my best friend and the love of my life. A piece of me died that day. We did everything together. We loved being together Every day. I don’t know how to do this without him him. I have an amazing mother that is also a widow. She is staying with us for a while. Thank the Lord for her. I feel lost and it physically hurts missing him so much.

    • Nuris Fanning says:

      Just read your post
      I too lost my husband 29 years of marriage
      I’m 52 he was 67 .
      Perhaps we can help one another

  • Marie H says:

    Simply – thank you.

  • Sharon Ferguson says:

    It’s good to read other people’s sad stories as you’re not alone. I lost my dear hard working husband on 10 December 2017. He’d been treated for breathlessness in the form of inhalers but there were times he’d just say to me I just don’t feel well. He’d been to the docs on the Friday and by Saturday night had slight chest pain, went to bed and at 3.30am I awoke to a terrible noise beside me thinking he’s snoring funny. Anyway I soon panicked realising he wasn’t breathing properly. In the next few minutes my daughter and I were giving him cpr under instruction! The paramedics tried so hard but it was too late. I’m left with guilt for not calling someone when he felt unwell the previous day, I hate the doctors for not checking his heart as the coroner said it was a heart attack due to a furred up artery. So many ifs buts and maybes are driving me crazy to the point I can’t concentrate and everything’s taking me so much slower than before. I keep seeing him walking from the station with his heavy rucksack and getting in the car to come home. How I miss his evening call to say he’s on the train and will be half an hour. He made such a fuss of milo our puppy, nothing he did would annoy him! I’ve taken a little comfort in these early days from a balloon! Yes an orange Halloween balloon that has found its way into our garden over the past few days. His birthday was 31 October 1955 and my son first noticed it at the gate. He knew I believed in ‘signs’ as I would always mention my dads ‘signs’ from the other side. That balloon has not flown away in the strong winds but meandered its way to the lounge door and hovers as if to come in! The dog stares at it and sometimes growls but who knows! It’s still there and I’ve begun to talk to it too just like I often talk to Keith about things. I would suggest people talk to their loved ones that have passed as I do believe they can hear you. I just hope that one day I may be able to talk about him without breaking down. He was my first real love, my best friend and soulmate. My provider, so now I’m having to sell up and seek help in any way I can. We have 2 beautiful grown up children who will always be part of him and also have great support from my Family. Anyway, I just hope I get through the funeral without collapsing, maybe I will find an inner strength. Love you Keith now and forever

  • Christine says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My husband of 23 years also died in his sleep of a heart attack on August 2016. Your words gave me hope.
    I’m entering the second year and mostly feel scared and I miss him horribly.
    I have 3 kids ages 22, 19 and 18. Taking care of them and being with them has helped me tremendously.
    Your story made me realize I cannot hurry my grief, I just need to let it come in.
    Sometimes I feel after 16 months I should be “back to normal”, not feeling so sad, so lonely.
    You reminded me this will be an ongoing feeling for the rest of my life.

  • Merle Millar says:

    So beautifully written. I have a young friend who had only been married for a few years and had a baby girl of under a year, when she suddenly lost her husband in a helicopter crash. That was in November. She is devastated and battling and I don’t always have the right words to say, but your words have the loss of a spouse in perspective and I can now pass on some valuable advice to her. Bless you and thank you.



  • MaryAnne says:

    I am so very happy I searched for help and found your site. Not only can I relate to what I think your going through, but was able to grasp more of the feelings that my sister is going through. I have 2 older sisters, a few weeks ago my oldest sister died at the age of 69 from a lung disease. While she was in the hospital, her husband died 2 days prior to her death, which left my niece and nephew (in their 30’s) with no parents at the same time. It was heartwrenching dealing with the grief of my sister and the worry of my niece and nephew. Recently (about 3 weeks later) my other sister arrived home to find her husband who must have had a cardiac arrest and was passed away. He had been in good health, no signs of anything. And an absolute wonderful human being!! There are no words to describe the pain and sadness that my family has had to endure losing 3 family members within 3 weeks…there are no words. In any event, being that this was so sudden and unexpected, my sister (married for 30 something years) is feeling what I can’t really explain, but can only imagine because I feel so much pain and I’m not her! She also has a learning disabled daughter of 35 years. I know time is a healing thing, but in the meantime is there anything more she can do to speed up the healing process? Its very upsetting for me not to be able to help her feel better. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless when you are used to being the fixer upper most of the time. If you or anyone can enlighten her with words of wisdom, that would be so appreciated. I am Joanne her sister with thanks to you and anyone that can reach out. <3

  • Joan English says:

    Your story is truly inspiring story. My husband died of cancer aged 65, I am 54.we had been together nearly twenty years. He’s only been dead a few weeks, I can’t image my life without him. I’ve tried to “pull” myself together and at times I do. This time I have spent two days in my nightwear, curtains shut, not answering the phone. I’ve text family and told them I am having a rough couple of days and I’ll call them soon. I can’t live without him ,I love him and miss him so much. I can’t see life ever being the same again. What is there to get up for……. nothing.

  • Dilshaad Shaik says:

    Dear Jen
    Thank you for the article.its 6 months since I have lost my soulmate my better half for the last 20 years.i coped through the hospital week and his death but I understand now that I do not have to be fixed or get strong for others.I take each day with a beautiful smile a heartfelt thankfulness to God and appreciate each day and its offerings to the best of my abilities whilst I raise my 5 year old daughter. All the very best and I pray that we all reunite together in the hereafter in gardens of bliss with our beloved.

  • Laura Podzina says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I lost my husband one week ago. He also died in his sleep. He was 32 years old. I am 24. And we have 9 months old baby boy. I still don’t know how to feel and live. But between all the emotions of grief, I have the feeling that everything is going to be fine.