In the days immediately after the death of a spouse, there are an absurd amount of things that need doing. Funeral arrangements, bank accounts, lawyers for house deeds and the will. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In my case, I had friends and family in the UK to liaise with, a house to clean out ready for rent, and more.
That’s without of course, the cleaning out of your loved ones posessions. Deciding what is to be kept, what isn’t. For me, it was also moving house. Moving back into my parents to assist with my Mums care. So, I had to decide what household items were being sold and what I was keeping. What could come with me and what went to storage. All decisions that had to be made.
Author Megan Devine, in her book “It’s ok that you’re not okay” gifted the world this line. She said “Grief changes your address book”. Boy, she wasn’t wrong. The trouble with friendships after the loss of a spouse is simple. Your friends life has gone back to normal. It’s that simple. They lost a friend (your spouse) and grieved. Now they are back to their family life with their spouse and kids, doing what they always do. Going to work and getting on with life. Sadly, this is something a widow/widower is unable to do, and unfortunately, this can culminate In friendship changes.
After such a dramatic loss, friendships drift into different categories. Let me explain.
The “I didn’t bother you, I thought you’d appreciate the time alone” friend
These are the people that (a) don’t know how to manage your grief and (b) struggle with the fact that this highlights their own mortality. If someone bails on you at the time when you need them the most, immediately after a loss, a loved ones birthday or death anniversary, ask yourself if that person is a friend?. If they were a friend, would they not support you?
The “call me if you need me”friend
As a widow, and as someone who had a friend say to me “I’m not into small-talk, ring me if you want me”, trust me when I say…a widow won’t do that. We don’t know when we need you. Do we ring you when we are still in our PJs at 5 o’clock in the afternoon because we forget to get dressed? Do we ring you because we want to go out for dinner? As a widow, I can truthfully say, I never rang the person who said that to me. I didn’t feel I could. I felt as if I was a bother to him
The “I didn’t tell you because…” friend
There will always be someone after a loss, someone in your friend group, that doesn’t tell you something. Maybe they didn’t tell you that there was a party, because they didn’t know if they should invite you. Maybe they were worried you’d come and be upset, or worried you’d say no. Maybe there were going to be lots of couples there. Maybe they were worried that you’d spoil their party if you were upset. Personally, I’d much rather be given the responsibility of saying yes/no myself, than someone taking that decision away from me.
The exhausting friend
I had a friend who commented on how he missed my husband. When I responded “I can imagine, I miss him too”, I was told that grief was not a competition. Can you believe someone saying that to a widow or widower? Even as I type it now, it just seems horrible. In another article, I heard the term “energy vampire” and this sums up this group perfectly. When they visit you, the focus is on them and not you. For a widow/widower, it is like swimming against the tide. You can’t get away. Much as you may want to yell “stop, I can’t hear about your problems now”, you find yourself nodding along and helping them, when you need them more than ever.
The “How are you really?” friends.
These are the people that always say “I know how you feel”. Being with these sorts of friends, makes a widow/widower feel that they have to nod along and just say “oh, I’m ok”. If you look at these people as they ask the ‘how are you really?’ question, watch for the sympathetic head tilt. We all do it. We tell people that ‘they must be so strong’. We tell people ‘I don’t know how you keep going’ but do we want to know the answers or are we scared of what we might hear?
The “I’m coming over regardless” friend
These are gold standard friends. They are the most amazing friends/family to have. The ones that turn up on your doorstep knowing you’re home and without an invite. The ones that come in and talk to you about your spouse without batting an eyelid. The ones who come over just to walk your dog. The ones that make a cup of tea for you both and don’t care whether you drink yours. The ones that shop for your food without being asked. These are the people you need. Ones who don’t need to be told, for want of a better phrase. As a widow, brain fog is something that becomes prominent. The ‘coming over regardless’ friend is that fog being lifted for you. They help you get through each day.
Being friends with a widow is exhausting for all. But true friends see through that exhaustion and oppression and stick it out for the long haul. But, widowhood can sometimes highlight cracks that were already in a friendship. Cracks that you knew were there, but had papered over.
The faltering friendships in widowhood, turn cracks into chasms. It is then time to say goodbye to some friendships. Sadly, I had to do that. People I’d considered friends had now vanished into the nether sphere of life, never to be heard from again. Messages went unanswered which left me in no doubt where I stood.
I was now grieving the living and the dead
There are however some amazing people that have stuck by me. My husbands best friend and his entire family have been such a mountain of support continually. We have friends in the UK that I know I can call at any time day or night. I have family that I can rely on. I have friends here that I worked with from my first workplace 17 years ago. My first Aussie friends. We are very close.
I lost my soulmate a little over three years ago. In the time between his death and celebration of life, just six weeks later, my life became unbelievably quiet as some friends slipped into the ‘I didn’t want to bother you’ mould. One even said ‘I didn’t think you’d want to see me, so I didn’t bother’. At my husbands life celebration, friends came to pay tribute to him. After that, friends got on with their life.
Unfortunately, after the loss of a spouse, the widow/widower just can’t get on with life. It doesn’t work like that. Speaking from my point of view, I didn’t just lose a spouse. I lost my husband, best friend, partner, the man I slept with, my date, my sous-chef, my movie night partner, my confidante, and so much more. I lost the man that I enjoyed late night chats with, lying in bed. I lost my life. That’s the part that friends can struggle with. While a friends life continues, a widows life will ever be the same again.
“For me, a day without writing is like a barista without coffee”
Sharing the path I have/am walking as a widow, is one way I can help others.
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