Thank you for joining us on our Virtual Book Tour.
Today we welcome Jennifer Hawkins, author of The Gift Giver. Jennifer’s interview offers many insights and practical suggestions on how to support a grieving widow.
Please feel free to comment or share your own experiences on how your friends and family have assisted you in restoring balance in your life after the loss of a loved one in the comment section below.
The Gift Giver is featured on our Helpful Books page under our Virtual Book Tour.
1. What inspired you to write the book The Gift Giver?
My best friend works in an emergency room as a physical therapist. I’d told her my story about what happened after Mark died. About three months later she called me and said I had to write a book. She had been telling my story to people who were about to die, who were about to lose a loved one, and to those who had just lost a loved one; and she couldn’t believe all of their positive responses. She said she watched their shoulders dropped and many of them told her that they felt so much better. She not only told me to write a book, she said, “And hurry up! I can’t tell the story to everyone.”
So, while I was terrified to put the whole story out there, she really inspired me by proving that what I’d been through could help others. And that is my intention.
2. How did losing your husband change your life?
First, we had two boys who were three and five years old. Becoming a single parent in an instant was an overwhelming shock of responsibility. Even three years later it seems I’m still adjusting to handling everything on my own. I was forced to rely on other people to help me take care of them. I was always an independent person, even when Mark was around, so having no choice but to depend on others was difficult…and still is, sometimes.
Even though single parenting has been a challenge, the biggest change in my life since losing Mark is that I now look at everything very differently. Before, I was extremely future focused and could be somewhat judgmental towards those who didn’t seem to have the same drive that I did. Now I find myself looking at a tree for several minutes and tears come to my eyes because I appreciate life; it is magical! I’ve learned to ‘live in the moment’ and am not always consumed with finding out what is going to happen next. More importantly, the knee jerk reaction to judge others just isn’t there anymore. After experiencing loss like I did, I learned that you can never imagine what is going on in someone else’s world.
3. How did receiving a message from your husband after he had passed away assist you in rebuilding your life and working through your grief?
I’d had a near death experience when I was 28 and I felt like I was given the choice to live or die. Since that experience, I have always believed that we choose when we die. So when my husband died suddenly I was in complete shock and denial; I could not fathom why he chose to die then. Our marriage was better than it had ever been, he was happy at work and was a wonderful father to our boys—life was good. His death shook me because my belief that we choose when we die was proved wrong. Not only was I dealing with his death but I was battling myself internally.
When he spoke to me and told me why he left, I could not deny that it was him. His reason for leaving was something I never in a million years would have considered and because of that, I knew it had to be true. At that moment, it made perfect sense why he chose to leave.
Since his first words I have not once been angry that he died. That is normally a big part of loosing someone. Instead, I look at my children like they are the luckiest boys in the world and I feel lucky. I’m not saying it’s not hard and that I don’t miss him because it is, and I do. But knowing there was a reason for his death released all of the anger and denial. That has made all of the difference in my transition, and in my parenting.
4. How did your friends and family react when you told them you had received messages from your husband after he had passed away?
The first person I told was my Mom. I was scared and thought, “She can’t leave me if she thinks I’m crazy.” But I was also scared because we were not a ‘spiritual’ family. We’d never talked about things like that before. However, I knew I had to tell someone because I’d felt so much relief and I felt guilty not sharing that relief with people who loved Mark.
That said, she reacted differently than I expected. She instantly started shaking and crying (which I’d NEVER seen her do) and said, “That sounds just like Mark.”
Most people, friends, family and even strangers have told me they get chills on their arms and neck and they believe me. For the most part people have been comforted by my story.
5. Many people may feel like their loved one is communicating with them after they have passed away but may have a hard time accepting that it is really happening. Often I see people discounting messages from their loved one as wishful thinking or their mind playing tricks on them. How did you come to accept that your husband was truly connecting with you from the other side?
In my world there was no other choice. He told me things that were so out of my reality that I knew it had to be coming from something other than me. I didn’t know for sure it wasn’t just the universe or God. I still don’t. The reason I assumed it was him was that the communication became conversational and was in first person as if it was him. We even argued. As I look back at it now, the arguing part seems very funny.
His presence feels warm, comforting, loving. I have never been afraid of it or questioned it. It made sense that he would speak to me, even though it was initially very shocking. He loved me and cared for me dearly. He tried to take care of me when he was here, more than I would even let him. He’s done an amazing job after he left, too.
6. Our website focuses on providing tips to friends and family members on how to support a loved one through the grieving process. What would be your suggestions on how friends and family can support a loved one that has lost a spouse?
Things that helped me the most were when people made me take care of myself. A friend scheduled a massage therapist to come to my house because I was too busy to deal with even making the reservation. Neighbors made us food three nights a week for months. This was invaluable. Adding on cooking to everything else I had to take care of might just have pushed me over the edge.
It was comforting to know there were people there who were willing to just listen. Some friends made a call list for me and they said I could pick up the phone twenty four hours a day and someone would either just listen or would come over to be with me. This gave the delicate balance of giving me space but being there when I needed someone. I think I only called a couple of times but when I did it was really necessary and appreciated.
My biggest piece of advice for supporting someone who is handling the loss of a spouse is to allow them to surrender to their grief. Let the person feel exactly what they’re feeling. Don’t try to fix them; don’t try to help them ‘get over’ anything. They are now a widow/widower and that fact will not change, ever. It is a part of them. Be with them when they need you there; and give them space when they don’t. The process is greatly achieved when they are alone. Don’t take it personally if they need to be alone.
7. What do you wish your family or friends had done differently after you lost your husband?
As you can tell from my last answer my friends and family are exceptional. If I had to think of anything it would be that after six or eight weeks the cards and calls slowed or stopped completely. When that happened I thought, “God, he was here for forty-nine years, and everyone has forgotten him after only two months.”
I understood that people had their own lives. And that made it okay but I’d have liked it if people called or wrote a small note randomly months and even years after, saying they are thinking of him or me and the boys. He is in our lives every day still. We talk about him and it would be nice to know others still have him in their hearts. It is hard with children to find time to reach out to people for that kind of support. I’ve just been trying to keep everything above water. Those little unsolicited reminders mean a lot.
8. What are your top three suggestions to help people move forward in the grieving process after the loss of a spouse? What helped you pick up the pieces and move forward?
Realize that this is something that is now a part of you forever and that you don’t have to change how you feel. Go into your heart and feel everything you are feeling rather than dismiss or deny the emotions. When I’ve done this the emotions seem to flow through me, rather than get stuck with me, and then I can move forward.
Look up and really see those who love you. They are wanting to help and it is important that you let them. They can provide a lot of relief; not only from your new responsibilities but also by showing you that other humans are just that—human, loving, and feeling.
Take care of yourself. Nobody can do it for you. Ultimately you have to pick up the pieces and move on. As soon as you can, do something small for yourself every single day. I don’t care if it is taking a long bath, going to a funny movie or just walking in nature. Make taking care of yourself a habit. Be very gentle with yourself; everything in life is perfect, no matter how much you think it isn’t.
9. What is one thing you would like your readers to take away from your book?
That life can be filled with joy, laughter, peace and love, whether or not you have ever experienced the loss of a close loved one.
10. What would you like our readers to know about you and your book?
That I feel like an angel kissed me on the forehead for getting to go through this experience, but I don’t feel like I’m different than anyone else. This could have all happened to anyone. We are all so alike, that truth frequently gets lost in our day to day lives.
11. Have you written any other books? Do you plan to write any other books in the future?
Yes, I have written five other books. Four were before Mark passed away, two since.
The first is called “Find Paradise Now – Seven Simple Steps to an Extraordinary Life.” It is based on my competitive swimming career and what I took from those years and use in my life.
Then I wrote a book called, “Liberation – Will You Survive or Thrive” with a friend Mike Watson. It is an inspirational, motivational book that explores forty words such as Dreams, Passion, Leadership, Love, Power, and Jealousy.
I also wrote two real estate investing books with Mike Watson. One is called “The Highest and Best Real Estate Investment” and the other is “How to Buy and Sell Real Estate Without Using a Bank.”
And finally I’ve written a follow up to “The Gift Giver”. However I’m not sure if I will ever publish it.
ABOUT JENNIFER HAWKINS
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.