I think widowhood should have an alternate name: “The Great Friend Shakedown.”
You just don’t know who your friends are until something like this happens, do you? It’s kind of like not knowing if you have a good dentist until you chip a front tooth. Will you walk out with a matching set or will your dentist not be up to the challenge and make you look like Nanny McPhee?
I am a firm believer that friendships, even in good times, change, evolve, cycle, and sometimes just disappear altogether. We’ve all seen it. Those of us who have kids suddenly realize that the friends we were close to in college who decided they would rather travel and have a normal life than have kids…they haven’t called to have us over since our 2-year-old’s CD/DVD reorganization at their house. Most of us are pressed for time with jobs, families, and life in general and realize that we haven’t seen the best friend we had in high school (who we used to watch TV with over the phone even though they lived next door) in about 3 years. And some of us (and by that, I mean me) are just too lazy to check their voicemail.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become picky about who I spend my time with. In my case, that’s because if I actually want to have a conversation with someone, I need to get a babysitter. So I am always asking myself, “Is this friendship worth $10 an hour?”
I’ve also somehow gotten myself into a semi-hermit state, thanks to my DVR and my need to be in bed by 9 PM. So this has cut down on my social life quite a bit.
I thought, after my husband died, I would want to reconnect with everyone. I thought I would want to check in with all of the people from my past just to let them know I was thinking about them and that they had played an important part in my life.
But I kind of went the opposite direction.
It became painfully obvious to me how precious life was and how limited our time here is. I realized that if I had lost contact with someone…there was probably a reason for it. And suddenly my circle of friends became smaller and more intimate while the less important friendships kind of slipped away.
I don’t think anyone was to blame. It was a team effort.
The friends who have stuck with me…they’re the real deal. And I think most of them will agree that I have done my best to stick with them too. I didn’t realize it when I was doing it, but in my early days of widowhood, I was really training my friends. I think this was an off-shoot of my own personal “denial” phase. I was determined to make my life go on and still thought I could make everything normal. And before my husband died…what was normal to me was socializing.
I didn’t wait for people to invite me over. I invited them over. I knew that going forward, there was a good chance I would be the 5th wheel for awhile (or forever) and I didn’t want to dwell on it…I wanted to get used to it.
So I ripped of the big grief band-aid, as I like to call it, and made an effort to invite people over.
I never wanted my friends to feel like if we got together, their husbands or boyfriends weren’t invited because I was widowed. In truth, I think getting together was a helluva lot more awkward for them than it ever was for me. But I didn’t put the burden of easing the strain all on them…I had to meet them in the middle and let them know, as weird as it sounds, that it was okay to still be friends with me. That there still was a “me” under all of this stuff I was carrying around.
Most of my girlfriends were understanding and completely on board. It was their husbands who were tough. In fact, I had husbands who, weeks after my husband died, refused to come over. I’m not entirely sure what made them so uncomfortable. I think they were worried I would strap them to the couch and make them watch “Steel Magnolias” while I worked my way through a box of Kleenex and a Cost Co size bag of Snickers or something.
I swear that only happened once and I never liked that couple anyway.
The truth of the situation was that I needed to talk to the guys more than ever. I needed to trouble-shoot the plumbing problem I’d been having or talk about the best deal on tires. I needed to know the best tool for working on a sprinkler head (which as it turns out is either a hammer or your foot. Who knew?). For awhile there…I probably needed to have conversations with my friends’ husbands more than I needed to talk to my friends.
As a widow who was trying to “do it all”…I was probably one step away from scratching myself inappropriately in public.
I will admit that there were times when I pushed my friendships away, like most of us do. But for the most part…I think I kind of forced my new life on them. It would have been unrealistic to think that I could keep pushing away without pushing too far. Even as a widow I knew that if I wanted to have friends…I couldn’t stop being one.
We all get to that scary point when our friends’ lives keep going while our own seems to have come to a complete stop. It was heartbreaking for me to realize that people would still have babies, get married (and then divorced), struggle, and succeed…all while my husband wasn’t here. But it was never something I blamed my friends for. I never felt abandoned because they had their own lives. Because if I did…that would mean I had become so wrapped up in myself that I had stopped becoming a friend. And if that’s where I was headed…well…that’s a lonely place.
The truth is…being “a” friend is something you can do on your own. Being “friends,” like any relationship…takes two.
Copyright Catherine Tidd
Updated: September 5, 2013