Recovering From My Daughter’s Sudden and Tragic Death

Grieving is hard work.  It is really hard for me because I am grieving for three loved ones at once — my daughter, who was killed in a car crash, my father-in-law, who succumbed to pneumonia, and my brother who died of cancer.  All of these deaths were painful, but my daughter’s death was the worst of all.

Relatives and friends rallied to help me.  Their support lasted for weeks and then it began to fade.  Psychotherapist Judy Tatelbaum writes about this response in “The Courage to Grieve.” People start to pull back, she explains, “as if the time for grieving were over and we were expected to resume our normal lives . . . ”

But my life is not normal.  Recovering from my daughter’s sudden death is the greatest challenge of my life.

Therese A. Rando, PhD writes about sudden death in her book, “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies.”  With sudden death there is no chance to say goodbye, notes Rando.  “We wish that we could have known in order to say and do what we wanted to, we wish we were there for one brief moment with out loved one to tell him we loved him . . .”

The last time I saw my daughter she was laughing in the sunshine.  I wish I had told her I loved her.  Life goes on, however, and I am working on recovery.  How am I doing it?

I cry a lot.  Sometimes I know when I am going to cry and sometimes I don’t.  “Today was a day of tears,” I told my husband.  His reply:  “Good.”

I cut myself some slack.  If dinner is lousy, so be it.  If the laundry isn’t done, so be it.  If I miss a meeting, so be it.  This is my life and my grief.

I talk about my daughter.  When I’m speaking with relatives and friends I include stories about her.  Telling these stories keeps my daughter alive in my mind.  Her children love hearing the stories, too.

I write about grief.  In the last three months I have written a dozen articles about post-death grief.  Writing the articles helps me and I hope their content helps others.

I recheck constantly.  Are the car keys in my purse?  Did I lock the door?  Do I have enough money?  Rechecks like these help me to avoid mix-ups.

I walk for health.  Before my daughter died I walked at least 10,000 steps a day.  After she died I stopped walking.  But I have to take care of myself, so I am back on my walking program.  It feels good.

I laugh all I can.  My whacky New York humor may be the thing that gets me through grief. Jokes and one-liners are creeping back into my conversation.  Laughing with my husband brings me joy.
Laughing with my friends makes me feel whole again.

Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years.  She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon.  You will find more reviews on the American Hospice Foundation Web site (School Corner heading) and the Health Ministries Association Web site.


Harriet Hodgson

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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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  • kAROLINE says:

    Dear Harriet, I also lost my daughter 3 yeas ago. A telephone call at 2:30 in the morning telling me she was dead and had been dead for some time. I had to live the next 3 months waiting for an autopsy report to tell me what she died of. She was 47 years old. Apparently she got up in the morning, turned on the shower and light and dropped dead. She layed on the bathroom floor for two days before we found her. The last time I talked to her, her last words to me were “goodnight mom and sweet dreams” I never spoke to her again. No preparation for death, no fond goodbyes. Only traveling to get her body (what was left of it after the autopy) and finally putting her to rest. There is not a day that passes that I do not say “I should of, I could of, Why didn’t I” I am 80 years old and I feel it should have been me not her, but I also know she is gone and there is nothing that can be done about anythng now. I get up each day, have lunch with friends, make dinner for my son and everyone says “You are so strong”. Little do they no, I cry everyday. Perhaps if I had not lost a son when he was 5 days old, or lost my husband 2 years before my daughter I might really be strong, but at this stage of my grief I can only get up each day and go to bed each night and thus time goes on