Helping Your Husband Through Grief


sad man with his hands in his palms

About a month ago, my husband discovered that a dear college friend of his was in the hospital. He quickly reached out, only to discover that his friend had stage 4 pancreatic cancer —a death sentence for most these days. He was able to combine a work trip with a trip home to New England to see his friend. It was bad. They hadn’t seen each other in years so there was a lot of catching up to do.

My husband and his friend said their goodbyes, both thinking that they had a little bit of time and could see each other again. My husband got the news not two weeks later that his friend was back in the hospital and the cancer had spread to his liver. He had just a short time before he was to go to hospice.

He immediately began looking for flights back home; he had to see his friend one more time.  

Now, this friend was a friend to both of us. He was a groomsman in our wedding party, had visited us when we lived in Arizona (for a Patriots football game, of course), and had spent time meeting our kids once they were born. He was a best friend to my husband.

I insisted that he take the first flight he could to travel back East—time was not on their sides. He took a red eye to Boston and went right to see his friend. From what my husband tells me, there were many tears shed in between stories and reminiscing.  Not 72 hours after he landed, my husband’s best friend lost his courageous battle.

It was a delicate balance for me—to allow my husband to grieve and to check in with him and share things that were happening at home.  I didn’t want him to worry about what was happening for us; he needed to be present for his friend.

Through texts, a few phone calls, and helping him edit the eulogy he was giving, I knew my husband was hurting. I wanted to be there with him, but our kids were wrapping up school and final projects. And honestly, I hate death and especially funerals. No one likes them, I know, but I was also being selfish. I was not ready to expose my children to the grief process. I know they wouldn’t be experiencing it themselves, but they would be exposed to it, and I just couldn’t handle that.  

I handled it as best I could from the other side of the country. I made sure they knew that their dad was hurting, sad, and crying, but I did not want them to sit through open casket calling hours and a whole Catholic funeral mass. I had done that at least three times as a child. Instead, I wanted them to know the stories behind their dad’s friendship and to cherish that.

My husband will be back in a few days, and I know he will not be the same. If it’s even possible for him, he will love even more deeply, spend more time with those he loves, and communicate more often with friends and family alike. It will be important for me to listen, really listen, to live in the silences, to let him share his memories of his best friend, and to let him cry— in front of the kids.  


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Tracy is the Director of Programming and Partnerships for Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization. She grew up in northeast Ohio, and has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Northern Virginia and has worked in the arts, in education, in non-profits and in ed tech. Her husband's job brought them to the Bay Area and there's no looking back! Tracy is mom to two trans teens who are just beginning their journey. Self-care includes pedicures, reading, cooking, crafting, and just being with her family. She also serves as Chair of the Board for the Attachment and Trauma Network, a national non-profit.


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