Kent Hansen kindly agreed to talk to us about the most painful episode of his life, the loss of his wife. Beyond the sadness, it is a discussion rich in emotion and lessons for us all. 

You have faced death, grief and pain before. Some people close to you have died prematurely.

Yes. When I was a junior in college, I got engaged to a girl I had been friends with since childhood. Unfortunately, someone stole a car and, while speeding down the highway, caused an accident in which my fiancée was killed. That was hard. I remember I couldn’t even imagine how I could breathe after that. I myself was injured in the accident; I recovered but it was very hard on my heart.

One night I was sitting in my dorm room at university praying to God. I had been brought up to believe in a loving God, so I didn’t think He was punishing me through this experience, but I wanted to know why this had happened. I prayed and that was the first time I understood that God could speak to me personally, that He was speaking directly to my heart and I understood His message for me: “Your life will not be easy, nor without great effort on your part. You will not find out the reason for these events because you have to live with faith in Me and My Love.” This was the answer and I accepted it as an early encouragement for me.

What I learnt from that early painful experience was that life is linear, that you have to go forward, that it is not good to go around in circles, to stop and go back to the past, but to go forward with God. There are stages of suffering that I went through. After a while, I fell in love with another woman who was my classmate at university. We got married and our marriage lasted 42 years.

During that time I lost both my parents, who were in their 90s. I also lost a sister I loved very much to pancreatic cancer.

My wife had had type I juvenile diabetes since childhood, an autoimmune disease that makes you dependent on insulin. As a child, she was told she would not live more than 45 years. She made it to 55 and was in good health for most of her life. But this is a long-term illness that wears you down and she started to feel worse and worse in the last ten years of her life. We were very close emotionally, spiritually, and it was a true partnership for 42 years.

Let’s go back to the early stages of your relationship with your wife Patty. When you got engaged, ready to be married, you already knew about her illness. You’re not a doctor, but you knew it was debilitating and incurable. How did you decide to share your life with someone who had a permanent condition?

I accepted the situation. She was very healthy at the time and had remarkable strength, but I knew about her illness. My friends said, “Kent, if you marry her, you may never have biological children.” And so it was: we adopted one, and that’s how we got to have a child. I told them, “I’m not marrying her just so we can have children, but because I love her.” I also really wanted to marry a very intelligent person, because I believe that communication is essential in marriage. I didn’t want to spend my life with someone I couldn’t talk to; I wanted us to be able to share ideas, which we did. I married a very intelligent woman, interested in many things such as spirituality, public relations, and the world about her. She had a very strong intellectual curiosity. That was a big part of our marriage. I loved that person and, as the marriage vows say, people marry to be together in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, until death do them part. I believe in marriages that last a lifetime, as Patricia did.

We say in our marriage vows that we’ll stay together in sickness or in health or in poverty or in other difficulties, but we probably don’t think that the worst will happen to us. But when you and your wife made that promise, you knew it was already a real situation.


Strangely, people seem to accept serious moral failings in the person they marry more readily than physical ailments.

That’s true. We look at the outward appearance, and a lot of things are done for appearances, but it’s really what’s in the heart that counts. Patty was beautiful, but more than that, she had a good heart, which I knew, so I was able to share experiences with her. I don’t think you ever get married to change a person or for them to change you; you want someone to grow with and Patty and I did that.

A few years later, one day we were in the car taking our little boy to the zoo. On the way home, Patty began to tell me about a profound depression she had.

She was going through a lot of things at the time—her health, some things that were stressing her out, things related to her job. At that time, because of her health problems, she would take our son to daycare and then come home and sit on the couch and argue with God. She was very depressed and said, “I always thought you were my friend, but a friend wouldn’t treat me like this. I’m going through all these problems and Kent has this exciting life and relationship with You, but I don’t necessarily feel the same way. Why is this happening?”

She would listen to religious music and one day, after this long struggle she was telling me about, she heard this prayer in a song: “I worship You, great God, there’s no one like You. I worship You, Prince of Peace, that’s what I want to do. I worship You, for You are my righteousness. I worship You, great God, for there is none like You.”

In the car, on the way back, she told me that in that moment God made her understand His message: “I am not only your friend but also your God; worship Me, accept Me as your God in all aspects of your life!” She told me that was when the change in her life began.

I listened to her account, the woman I loved, and I said, “I didn’t know anything about that.” She said, “It wasn’t about you, but I’ll tell you something.” And it was the greatest compliment she ever paid to our marriage. She said, “If I hadn’t worked this out with God, we couldn’t have stayed married because I knew that you were totally devoted to Him, that you were totally surrendered to Him, that you had a relationship with Him. If I didn’t have a similar relationship with Him, I couldn’t continue the marriage.”

I replied, “You know I love you, I would never leave you.” She said, “I explained it wasn’t about you; it was a problem between me and God, so if I didn’t resolve it, we couldn’t continue the marriage.” Then I said, “Two years ago I wouldn’t have understood that, but now I do. Thank you for putting God in such an important place in your heart, mind, soul and in our relationship.” Because, in a true marriage, everything comes from God bringing the two together. This experience changed both of us a lot.

It sounds strange because you want your partner to put you first, and that’s a situation I’ve had in my experience. Someone would say to me, “Kent, could you talk to my husband? I’d like him to be faithful.” But it can happen that after the husband accepts Christ, the wife thinks, “I didn’t really want that. I just wanted him to obey my wishes, and I thought spirituality was a convenient way to achieve that goal.”

But no, the point is that both partners must first surrender to God and trust that He unites them. Marriage is two hands joined in a prayerful gesture. Wife and husband stand side by side, pointing to God, communicating with each other. It is not an attitude of human “cannibalism”: you must be mine, I must change you, and you must do what I want. No, you stand next to each other, with mutual respect, knowing that you are pointing to God. That’s what marriage is about, and that’s what I’ve understood and learned with my wife, Patty.

You were surprised to find that she had gone through such deep spiritual turmoil without you knowing. Let me ask you, when you were going through your own period of inner emptiness and spiritual despair, did she know your situation?

She knew that I was very busy, very active, and that this distanced us. At the same time, she had some health problems with her eyes, which I was kind of indifferent to because I was concentrating on something else, not paying attention to her. But in the evenings, when I was driving home, there was a certain place where I would stop. I would feel a pain in my soul, I would cry, there were things that I didn’t necessarily share with my wife at the time. I was also trying to resolve some conflicts in my church, but I couldn’t do it alone.

I realised that I needed to go and talk to my wife and share this with her. I went into the living room and said, “I know I’ve been indifferent, distant. Any ability God has given me for leadership and organisation I have squandered. I have done all sorts of activities that have kept me away from you and Andrew, our son. God has made me realise that pride and busyness have kept me out of my life. I’m sorry, I’m hurting all over. Things have to change and I know it would be good if you were there for me.”

She looked at me for a long time, sitting on the couch across the room, and said, “We have gone from a wonderful marriage to an ordinary, emotionally poor one. I wondered when this would end. And I want this, too.”

We prayed together and from that day on things got better. But each of us needs a personal relationship with God, which you can’t get from a partner, parent, brother or sister. They can help and support you, but in the end it’s all about you and God.

That’s one thing to remember. If someone has a problem with God, we shouldn’t step in and say, “I’ll make you feel better.” No, we have to let the situation work itself out. As long as the person keeps trying, God is faithful and will sort it out. Before the prayer, I tell people something that sounds extreme and that I have to explain, but I tell them: “If you’re angry with God, if you hate Him, for example, you’re saying something. First of all, that there is a God. Because why would you hate someone who does not exist? The thing to keep in mind when you pray is honesty. Otherwise, what are you going to do? So if you hate God, say: ‘I hate You, I want to tell You this honestly, from my heart’. He can deal with that, He can deal with you. And He will deal with that. And He won’t strike you dead with lightning, but He will show His love in ways you never thought possible. He will come in and fill that void. But say what you feel! Don’t let your feelings simmer inside you! Confront God and He will confront you; it’s something that is clearly shown in the Scriptures, in all Christian and spiritual experience since the creation of the world. Speak directly to God and He will answer you directly and change the situation!”

Some people say: “I don’t believe in God; I hate Him.” You may hate the sad experiences you have had with people who have a wrong view of God, but give Him a chance, appeal directly to Him, and I guarantee God will level with you. There are many atheists and agnostics in the world who do not believe in God, but yet they fight so hard against Him. Does God exist or not? Give God a chance!

There have been times when you have had real, very deep interactions with your wife about your connection with God. Now that she is no longer with you, separated by death, what do these experiences mean to you?

I’m a health care attorney, which means I deal a lot with people at the end of life, and over the years, almost without fail, I’ve found something. I think you should tell your loved ones that you love them every day. People who don’t, who hold back because of anger or pride or resentment, face a big problem when their loved ones reach the end of life: they may be kept alive artificially, but they are unconscious, and their loved ones can’t make the decision to pull the plug because they say, “Oh, if only I could talk to them one last time!” It’s too late, it’s not going to happen and it’s heartbreaking. I tell people, “Take care of your relationships every day and you won’t have this problem!”

Patty and I talked every day, prayed, shared ideas, and read the Bible. I wasn’t at home when she died, but I was there that morning, an hour and a half before she died, and I read a passage from Matthew and I said to her, “My dear, I am so grateful that you understand theology more deeply than I do, that you read more, that you think more deeply, that you have helped me to understand many things! I’m so grateful to have you!” And she said, “I feel the same way about you. We support each other.”

We had this wonderful conversation based on Scripture, prayer, and love, communicating with each other and with the Lord. We prayed, I left and I think an hour and a half later she died. If we could have written the script for our last conversation, it couldn’t have been better.

God knew and it was that conversation with your loved one that you can be at peace with at the end of that person’s life.

A God who loves me brought someone who loved me my way. That was a great comfort to me. But it was all part of the fact that every night we didn’t go to bed without a declaration of our love for each other, even when we had disagreements. Yes, people have disagreements; there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage because it’s two different people, but you have to put an end to the conflict. God says that we should not let the sun set on our anger because anger is like lava: it builds up and if you let it build up it gets harder and harder and harder to get rid of. You have to say, “I love you, let’s make up.” We always managed to do that, so in the two years since her death, although it is very painful, I have great sorrow, but also a strong hope and the memory of a great love.

She loved flowers, as I do, and she had planted many flowers, shrubs and flowering trees in our yard, which still bloom in spring and summer. Every time they bloom, blossom or produce fruit, it’s like receiving a love note from her; it’s a kind of legacy that continues. I’m so grateful for that, but it’s the result of a life lived in love, communicating with each other and working out our differences.

Patty said something to me one day that surprised me: “I know you would never divorce me.” I replied, “That’s true. But why do you say that?” She said, “Because it’s not like you.” I said, “Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say that.” She said, “You’d never say our marriage is over, but you’d like to talk about it, to work things out.”

Forgiveness is the element that makes the frictions of life disappear. We get hurt because of them, we get soiled because of the thoughts, actions, and things we have to do in life. Forgiveness cleanses these things. Jesus talked a lot about cleansing, which He linked to forgiveness. And you have to cleanse the things that can hurt you.

There are husbands who say to me, “My wife must obey me.” And I say to them, “I see that you insist on that, but I’m going to tell you something. It’s also written in the Bible that you should cherish your wife. That’s not just loving her.” They say, “Of course she knows I love her. Don’t I buy her things?” No, appreciation means paying attention to her, holding her face in your hands, looking into her eyes and being tender. Why should she be submissive to you if you’re not tender?

Marriage is mutual. Everyone has their role to play, but you have to honour and cherish your partner, and respect, love and tenderness mean a lot. A few days ago, I was talking to someone who had spent a lifetime in a very difficult, harsh marriage. They were husband and wife, but they lived on different floors of the house. They stayed married, but they didn’t communicate, they didn’t help each other grow, they didn’t support each other. But life is about so much more than that. If it’s worth it to be married, it’s worth trying to make things right.

About suffering

You asked me about grief. This is the way that I am able to cope with it. I have a God who has promised me and I believe with all my heart that I will see Patty again. After she died, a little stone appeared in the garden and it is still there two years later. It has the words “Faith brings peace” on it. I still don’t know who put it there. Maybe it was the Christian wife of the landscape contractor who worked on our garden. But I do know one thing: if you do have faith in a mighty God of love who holds all things in His hands, a God of the living and the dead, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as Jesus said, then you can go on living in peace.

In 1 Corinthians 15:19, the apostle Paul said something that I often remember: “If only for this life you have hope in Christ, you’re gonna be miserable!” And that’s because this world is a fallen world, where bad things happen, people get sick, die, have accidents, horrible things happen, and all are the effects of sin. That was never God’s plan. He has a plan to work it all out in the end, but we have to go through it all.

That’s how Patty looked at life. We have to live in the knowledge that His desire for us is eternal life. Being married to a woman who believed this and taught me this, even as she struggled daily with health issues, has been a great encouragement to me and helps me to live now because these things have been instilled in my heart. When trouble came, Patty would say: “No one should read a book about suffering when they are suffering. In that moment you are with God, you don’t want to hear theoretical things about what to feel, what to think, what to do.”

I know that she lived every day with a chronic illness that affected her eyesight and caused her terrible pain, and at one point she had a cyst on her spine that increased her pain, and she had other problems besides that illness, and yet she kept looking to God and pointing me in that direction too and because of that I am able to live. There’s a gospel song that says: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone.” That is true. And you don’t know it until it happens to you.

You have a unique treasure! Do you have opportunities to share it?

I once had an atheist client who was a professor at California State University. One evening I was chatting with him before preparing for the next day’s hearing. He was a very learned man with many published books, but he didn’t believe in God. I said, “I pray for you.” He said, “How can you take so much comfort from a myth?” I replied, “It’s not a myth.”

The next day he was accused of some terrible things that I don’t think were true. During the hearing I noticed that he was standing next to me, crying uncontrollably. I called for a break, went outside and he was shaking very badly. I put my arm around him and when he calmed down we went back into the room and continued. We got through the hearing, which went smoothly. Then I got a letter from him: “I am so grateful that everything went so well. That night at dinner I looked at my family and prayed…for the first time in my life. The prayer was: “‘Lord, I thank You for my family, for this meal, for Your blessings, and for my lawyer.'”

That moved me because I don’t think attorneys get a lot of thanksgiving prayers. But a real connection with God had been made. When his heart was broken, when his life was shattered, when his career was threatened, that was when he learned that God was more than a myth, that He was his God. Over time he grew in faith, then the event of 9/11 happened and all dreams of a better world were shattered. He gave his life to the Lord and became a Christian.

Coming back to your wife: her health deteriorated seriously in the last part of her life. Was her death something that could be foreseen or did you know it could happen but there was no warning? 

Sure, she had health problems. We talked about it getting worse, but two days before she died we were working in the garden, renovating.

And she was personally involved in it.

Yes, she chose every plant, where to put them. She went to the landscape contractor and said “I want you to build a tool shed at the end of the garage.” Every time I go in and see the tools I use hanging there, I think: “This is a woman who didn’t think she was going to die, she thought she was going to live on.” I didn’t expect her to die then either.

We were prepared, we loved God, we loved each other, and that helped me and my son, who is a devout Christian, to live after her death. It’s wonderful to look back and the main component of grief is not guilt but gratitude and the desire to be in that person’s presence again, which you know will happen.

In many people’s lives guilt is the dominant element of grief.

It’s such a sad thing, because you can make it right with God, but you can’t make it right with the dead person. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that there is a worldly suffering that leads to death, and a divine suffering that leads to repentance, a change of direction. This is God’s light and I was talking earlier about expressing love for one another because this and gratitude removes the things that cause guilt later on. And that’s why forgiveness is so important in an authentic relationship.

But when someone dies and you haven’t said the things you wanted to say, you have to go to God, to the cross. Jesus said that He is the God of the living and the dead. So you do that because forgiveness is important for both the person asking for it and the person giving it, and God will intervene and give you peace. We often don’t understand this and we ask: “How can God cleanse me and make it right?” He does it because He is a God of eternity, of love. Even if you have a strong feeling of guilt because you couldn’t make things right with a person, don’t despair! Leave it to God who is loving and real and will help you!

Most of us, while not denying that we will eventually die, live as if it will happen so far in the future that it has no effect on our present lives. I think it was different for you because your wife suffered all her life and the thought of death was present; both of you were always aware of it. In a way, this painful burden was an important means of discipline for you: “I can’t put off reconciling with my wife, asking her forgiveness, treating her with love, with tenderness.” Someone said: “It’s never too early to do the right thing, because you don’t know how soon it will be too late.”

Paul wrote: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 4:10).

After your wife’s death, what did you do with the weekly post you used to write on your blog? On the one hand, you couldn’t write as usual without mentioning what you were going through. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to write about such a recent event, because at times like this, thoughts and emotions change quickly, but if you put them down in writing, they stay there forever. Were you tempted to stop writing for a while?

I stopped writing for about a month after my wife died. Then I wrote about grief, and sometimes I thought I was writing too much about it, but I wasn’t delving into it, I was just describing “this is how I feel.” But I think one event that spurred me on was a conversation I had with a mechanic who came to start the car that had been my wife’s. I mentioned in the conversation that she had died. He was thinking about getting married and didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of his family, so he was worried. I began to talk to him about faith. I told him how beautiful marriage can be when God comes first and when there is mutual respect, tenderness, and love between the partners. The conversation that hot day awakened his faith that there is a living and merciful God. He got married and now has a beautiful experience.

I have many good friends who have visited and with whom I have shared memories that have kept Patty alive in our memories. They had the same reaction to the garden, for Patty’s legacy is in the beauty of that garden. I have continued to write about these experiences and it has been difficult, but in fact it is sometimes easier for me to write than to speak because I am somewhat introverted and introverts are better at writing to express their emotions.

I’ve kept at it and I don’t find it as easy as I used to, but if I don’t have something sincere to say, I generally don’t write. I know you receive what I write and the reason I sometimes send the email later is because I am still thinking about what to write and praying about it before I type.

Thank you for this bittersweet effort to write and share your journey, your grief, your work with God during this difficult time. These things will be part of your eternal legacy.  

Kent Hansen, longtime director of Loma Linda University’s law office, describes for us the outline and colours of a relationship he hopes he will carry into eternity.

Note: This is a television interview by Adrian Bocaneanu, broadcast on the Romanian HopeTV channel. The transcript of the interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.