Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson

Liam Neeson says he coped with wife Natasha Richardson's death by "running away to work," but still can't escape the pain he feels in the middle of the night.

"I think I survived by running away some. Running away to work," he tells the March issue of Esquire. "It's easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of work. That's effective. But that's the weird thing about grief. You can't prepare for it. You think you're gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work."

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Richardson died in March 2009 in a skiing accident in Montreal after suffering what at first appeared to be a benign head injury.

"It hits you in the middle of the night — well, it hits me in the middle of the night," Neeson says. "I'm out walking. I'm feeling quite content. And it's like suddenly, boom. It's like you've just done that in your chest."

The actor, whose action flick Unknown hits theaters Friday, was in Toronto filming Chloe when the accident occurred. He then raced to his wife's side, but had trouble making his way through the hospital.

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"I walked into the emergency — it's like 70, 80 people, broken arms, black eyes, all that — and for the first time in years, nobody recognizes me," Neeson recalls. "Not the nurses. The patients. No one. And I've come all this way, and they won't let me see her. And I'm looking past them, starting to push — I'm like, 'F---, I know my wife's back there someplace.' I pull out a cell phone — and a security guard comes up, starts saying, 'Sorry, sir, you can't use that in here,' and I'm about to ask him if he knew me, when he disappears to answer a phone call or something."

Neeson, 58, says he walked outside and spotted two nurses on a cigarette break — one of whom recognized him.

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"And I'll tell you, I was so f---ing grateful — for the first time in I don't know how long — to be recognized," he says. "And this one, she says, 'Go in that back door there.' She points me to it. 'Make a left. She's in a room there.' So I get there, just in time. And all these young doctors, who look all of 18 years of age, they tell me the worst."