Hold a Candle for a Grieving Loved One

Family & friends can be your light in the darkness of grief.

By Kathryn Haugen

It has now been six months since I lost my beloved husband, Paul, after almost 38 years together.   I am totally shocked that he is gone and still feel like he will walk through the door at any moment.  

My emotions are all over the place.  I can talk to people about what happened in a calm manner and then crack up looking at Paul’s shoes. Although I am still in the midst of an emotional roller coaster, I can also see that I am coping better than I could ever have imagined.  I attribute that to being fortunate to have amazing support. Sometimes people do not know what to say or do when a loved one is grieving, including me. 

Although I cannot say that I have exact answers, I learned a lot from my family and friends.   I hope that my experience will shed some light on how to support a grieving loved one by “being there” with them on their path.

The lights went out when Paul died. 

Finding my way through each day without Paul is like walking through the dark with an unknown destination.  Each day I get up and simply start going through the day one step at a time.  Recently, I woke up during the night and was walking into the kitchen. Most of the lights were off, but a nightlight on a corner table cast enough light to see the floor in front of me. I was trying to find my way in the dark and realized how similar it was to how I felt every day. I thought about how family and friends were also shining a light on my path, as if they were holding candles so I could see where to take the next step    

In the initial days after Paul passed, the door was always open, and people came in to show their love for Paul and our family.  They shared memories of Paul, and we all cried and laughed as we reminisced.  Food kept arriving, and the kitchen was cleaner than usual.  My sisters alternated spending the night and have been my guardian angels.  My children, son-in-law and grandchildren have continued to bring joy into my life, and our relationships have strengthened as we work through our grief together.  Their friends from grade school and high school also shared memories of Paul and how he impacted their lives. Through all the sharing of memories, we have all shed many tears but also enjoyed many laughs.

Couples who I thought might fade out of my life have stayed in touch.  

One couple has visited several times from out of town. We have had a lot of fun, and they recently spent an afternoon working in our very neglected back yard.  Another family has taken me and our kids under their wing and included us in their family events. I frequently receive calls, texts, and cards asking how I am doing. I am enjoying reconnecting with people who contacted me, even though we had not talked for years. Friends have invited me to lunch and dinners and even drove out of their way to take me.  My counselor has helped me focus on taking care of myself and to have the courage to feel my grief.  It is through being able to talk to people and to feel safe expressing my feelings that I have been able to begin to heal.

 These family members and friends remind me of my nightlight, as they cast light on my path in the darkness.  The light they bring into my life shines bright enough so that I can take the next step and then the next.   I am not scared and lost in the darkness of losing Paul, as I might be without their light.  Many are also in pain from losing Paul, but they have the courage to face their own sorrow to help us cope.   All I can say is thank you so much for my health and sanity.  I never imagined I could feel so much love through so many tears.

Kathy Haugen retired from behavioral health nursing after 25 years that included working with adults, children and nursing students. She was blessed with almost 38 years of marriage to Paul and their family life with two children. She now also enjoys being a grandmother to two young grandchildren.

11 Responses to Hold a Candle for a Grieving Loved One

  • @Sue yes weekends are long and often too quiet. We must learn to fill our time and mostly our thoughts differently. Now is a good time for you to just go with the flow of what is. – JoAnne

  • Yes I agree. Weekends are so hard right now. That relaxing time spent together where the day stretches before you and you say what should we do today?
    Now it is what should I do today? Wishing everyone peace and healing which is what I hope to accomplish one day. Lost my husband 3 months ago. He was the love of my life.

  • Thanks very much for your comments. It is a very challenging time, and I appreciate all the support and sharing I receive from people around me. I am sorry for everyone reading this who has also lost loved ones. I have one reply to TJS and anyone else this might apply to. There are people in my life who I certainly expected to be there for me more than they were. I learned quickly who I could count on and kept them close. I wrote my story partly to say thank you to them. I just don’t expect much from the others who “disappeared” in terms of support, but I cannot say that I accept their absence. I decided to focus on the positive supportive relationships I do have and move on. If I felt alone, I would quickly seek out a group group. We all need a lot of support, and that is why I think Joanne’s website is so wonderful.

  • @Kathy Johnston thank you for your comment. It helps to know you are not alone doesn’t it. – JoAnne

  • @Raenita yes the day to day loneliness can be difficult. A solution to end of the day sharing is to find a friend or family member you trust and ask them to be your grief buddy, simply to let you talk and they listen. Try it, you will be surprised how it will help you in the short term. – JoAnne

  • My parents stayed with me following my husbands death. My husband and I had been together a total of 34 years with our dating time. He was my home. My parents left numerous times to stay with my sister. I had to beg them to come back as their leaving felt like I lost them to death. My parents became very angry when ‘I didn’t get over it as soon as I should have’. My mother told me she wasn’t my mother anymore numerous times, she stated if she saw me in casket she wouldn’t care as she had done everything she could do for me, she told me if I had cancer she wouldn’t want to know about it or come and visit me. My husband died from pancreatic cancer. My sister has not asked me one time how I am. To those who have little or no support, don’t give up. Go to a group of fellow mourners and give your pain to God, He offers comfort that only our Father can give us. He has never failed me despite my families lack of love. Thank you God! His love is everlasting.

  • this was wonderful to read. very raw with emotion, I appreciated that.
    I liked the analogies-it was helpful. I wish you peace on your journey.
    thank you!

  • Thank you! This is wonderful & I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my Mom a little over three months ago.

  • Hi Kathryn
    I send prayers and hugs your way. I lost my wonderful husband Terry 15 months ago and I still feel like it’s all been a dream. We had 20 years of friendship and 8 years of marriage. We met as teenagers. Jeremiah 29:11 says, for God knows the plans He has for you. Who knew God would allow us to share all those years as friends, go separate ways in life, only to reunite to become husband and wife. Wow, I’m still blown away at our story and grateful for Gods plan. What a beautiful 8 years we shared together.
    What an amazing ministry God ordained, that two shall become one, called marriage.
    Words can not explain this transition from wife to widow but I am still standing. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Many blessings your way.

  • Hi Joanne, thank you for all you do for all of us. You are a blessing. I pray for all of our healing. Hugs

  • I find that people haven’t left me. I stay as busy as I want. But the day to day loneliness is still difficult. At the end of the day there’s no one to decompress with. Weekend mornings are extremely hard too.

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