Anna set up a Candelight Fund in memory of her husband Johnny. Now his gentleness and kindness continues to reach communities around the world.
Talking about death is not easy – especially the death of a loved one. There is real and genuine pain in grieving: physical exhaustion, aching limbs, and knots in the tummy and throat. When we talk about death, even if that death happened many years previously, we are immediately reminded of these feelings. We are brought back to that place of pain.
A man who spread generosity and kindness
I met my husband when I was 16 years old. He worked in a drapery shop. Straight away, I was very impressed by him. He was handsome, kind and generous. Generosity and kindness are values people associated with my husband throughout his life. The word I associate with him most, however, is ‘gentle’. My husband was a truly gentle man. We don’t often use the word ‘gentleman’ nowadays, but that was Johnny – a gentleman.
Johnny always put himself forward. He was a helper, always giving his time to the benefit of others. He reminded me of my grandmother. She taught me from a young age about being kind to others, and Johnny shared a lot of her qualities.
Just by living, my grandmother gave an example of how to be of service to others – to her family in the first instance, then her neighbours and the local community. She was absolutely wonderful. And Johnny was the same. His kindness, generosity and gentleness spread out from him to the core of our family and into the wider community.
Eventually, with the help of CAFOD, that generosity and kindness reached vulnerable communities overseas.
The light of memory flickers
Some people might scoff at the idea of ‘soulmates’, but it’s how I think of Johnny and myself. When he died in 2017, I felt lost, confused and helpless. I felt the pain of grief. Even when death is expected, if a loved one is ill for a long time beforehand, the shock and hurt of their death remains. This wonderful person that has been by your side for decades – your partner, your soulmate – is no longer with you. They are here then suddenly they are not. It’s like a light going out. There is a sense of overwhelming darkness.
As Catholics, I’m sure many of you have been to an Easter Vigil. The thing that stands out to me about Easter Vigils is the moment of darkness. We’re all in the church together and it is dark. And then the priest brings in the Paschal candle – a lone flame flickering in the darkness – and we all light our own candles from that single flame. It is beautiful, striking imagery: light growing in darkness. And as the flame spreads from candle to candle, the darkness is slowly pushed away. The faces of friends and family grow visible in the warm orange glow. Eventually, the church is bright again.
To me, this is the process of grief. We begin in the darkest place. We feel alone. We feel scared. The only source of light: the memories of our loved one. In grief, that light of memory flickers against the pain of loss. And as with the light from a candle, if we share memories, memories grow – and darkness is pushed away.
A gift that lives forever
A CAFOD Candlelight Fund is a lovely way to keep the light of memories alive. I knew I wanted to honour Johnny’s memory with a regular charity gift in his name, and the Candlelight team at CAFOD helped me every step of the way to make this happen. In my grief, when I was lost and didn’t know how to move forward – because the love of my life was no longer with me – it was a blessing to have their support.
Talking about death is not easy, but it is important. Sharing memories of our loved ones who have died is how we cope with their loss. My husband is buried on a hillside graveyard in Shropshire, but memories of him will live forever. In the very real pain of my grief, this gives me comfort. It is at once a small thing, this comfort, and a great thing – that in Johnny’s name, vulnerable people around the world can be supported to live a better life.