A community of peers created by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation
In a way, this is my most difficult subject. More than his end of life, more than my rage or sadness. And it's the one that many folks on FB seem to gripe about the most and bitterest.
What's your story? Is it still changing? What are your hopes for your friendships -- old ones, or just with others who aren't widowed?
At a year, I just wanted everyone to come keep me company. I felt alone.
At two years, I felt betrayed that they didn't call or send notes. I didn't reach out, though, either.
At three years, I was in love and planning to remarry. I didn't have time for friends.
At four years, I thought I could keep going without those old friends, most of whom I hadn't spoken to in a year or more.
At five years, I am wondering how I have gotten by, and trying to mend as many fences as I can.
Yes, each year I made a few new friends.
I always had some safe place, like church or work, with people who wouldn't run away.
A few of my close friends stuck by.
And I had the internet, and I had all the widowed people, who I adored and who kept me busy.
BUT. I wish I had taken better care of my friendships. I wish I'd been able to attend, at least a little, to their lives. God knows I needed escape.
I wish I understood a bit better what THEY saw when THEY looked at ME, and I wish I had enough compassion for myself to know how hard that was for them.
I know my problem with my friends started long before I was widowed, long before Claire was ill, it started when I moved less than 40 minutes away and got married. You'd think I had moved out of state. I had been in the fire department for a good number of years, and was pretty close to my friends there, but that only goes so far I suppose, even though I'd been friends with some of these folks since grade school. But the firehouse was where we hung out. I'm still welcome there anytime, if I make the trip down there. There are a select few friends that will actually come up here for a party but even though they always say the need to they don't come just to hang out. I was impressed with how many people showed up for the wake, but that was the first time I'd heard from many in over a year. I do wish that I had some local friends, I understand that it's asking a lot to drive over a half hour to help me put the cap back on the truck, or move a piece of furniture. Anyway, I'm rambling now...
I was pretty angry about the flight of friends for about two years. At about one and a half years it shifted focus so that it wasn't so much that I didn't have these friends anymore but for my children. I felt like all these stories and perspectives of their father just vanished. Of the hundreds of friends Joost had only three have stuck around for the good, bad and ugly. And I'll love them forever regardless. Of my friends, well, it had already happened when I moved overseas so living here I really relied on Joost's network. That probably made it a little bit more bitter. I have a few friends in the US that are lifelong and will always remain so.
This third year I've tried to reach out again. I threw a party for Joost's 40th and got a lot of turnout. But since then nobody has contacted me. That was back in May '10. So there's that.
Then probably my most favorite experience regarding his friends occurred in Nov. I have gained firsthand knowledge in why they fled and actually why we aren't friends, and I realize that this is a good thing and is probably saving me from more heartache. Can I share here? because it is quite Fellini and entertaining But LONG (sorry!).
One of the friends who stuck around had a big party and invited me. I really doubted about going knowing I'd see lots of the 'flee-ers.' But I thought, "heck, I haven't been to a real adult party since forever. I'm going." When I arrived nobody talked to me. I tried talking to a few familiar faces but when they realized who I was, they managed to go get another glass of wine at the bar and disappeared. Fortunately Joost's best friend was there with his wife and we hung out the whole night having fun. The last hour of the party was when it got weird. reeeeeal weird.
All of a sudden about ten of them swarmed around me and literally stared. STARED. not saying anything. I tried a little small talk about kids, etc. I was feeling kinda strange. Then one of the guys said to me, "Seeing you is very confrontational for me." In my shock what could I say? 'Sorry.' is about all I could muster. I'm not Miss Perfect Comeback unfortunately. Why should I apologize????
Then this guy's wife said he felt really bad he hadn't contacted me and always wondered if he should and if I would have wanted him to. Would I like him to now? I said no. especially after confrontational comment.
But that wasn't the best: picture this, I'm hobbling out the door (back problems) to the waiting taxi. the front door is open and I'm putting on my coat. the silent crowd has gathered to wave me off. One of the 'friends' who has not talked to me the whole night is suddenly feeling talkative. here is the script if any of you would like to use it for a screen play or something:
Him (casually with a dutch accent): How is your love?
Me (subtext, he is not a native english speaker so I give him the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe he confused 'love' and 'life' or something): What do you mean?
Him: Your love. How is your love?
Me (still need clarity so I change my strategy): How is your love?
Him (points to wife): She is standing here next to me.
Me (ooohhhh his english is fine): Mine's not.
I jump in cab and take off not really understanding what he was talking about but glad to be out of there. and then I realized I PAID for that! the meter was already running!
Anyway, I guess my point is that there is a reason they stay in the past. Reaching out to rekindle a friendship is overrated. I thought it was the right thing to do and Joost would have wanted me to. Now I think he probably wouldn't have. He would be really embarrassed to call them friends now. I really have nothing in common with them and never did outside of Joost.
now I concentrate on the few friends I have and am happier for it. Letting go of those people and my anger and disappointment at them was gratifying. Still lonely but lighter.
Since Cliff died, his friends have been there for me. One sends me a text every single day - a dirty joke - he says he does this because that way he knows that I smile at least once a day. They will always be my friends and treat me the way they always did, but they are even more protective now. Some have helped finish the roof (apart from the last 20 tiles and that reminds me ...), others have endured countless 2 a.m. phone calls and have told me "Cliff stories" until they can hear I am no longer listening (bedtime stories for adults LOL) and I have had some good nights out with them, laughter and sharing memories. I visit one of his friends (and his g/friend who has become very close to me too) every Friday night - this is the one I can say anything to in absolute confidence, I mean I could to most of them, but I feel more comfortable with him and her with some subjects. They give me honest opinions and help me to make decisions too, even warning me about the integrity of others (they are too aware of my ability to trust everyone).
One old friend (we went to boarding school together) has emailed me every single day since Cliff died and I visited him in Australia, he is like a brother to me ... you tend to be closer than usual if you board away at school from the age of 9 - 18. In fact all the old school-friends have been in touch with me often, I have visited many of them, and we phone each other. One of them lost her son when he was 2 and she is now a counsellor so she has helped me enormously ... through her own pain, which is so selfless.
My best girlfriend I spend every Friday night with. We have dinner together, we talk, she helps me analyze my reactions to things and calms me. She lets me grieve how I need to and is comfortable if I howl. I don't know what I would have done without her.
I feel very lucky because when I was with Cliff, my whole world centred around him. You know, I would have been happy if were marooned on an island - nobody else there. I was happy with him. Didn't need anyone else. He gave me security, love, friendship, stimulated me intellectually, everything, everything. We laughed lots, we could talk for hours, or happily sit in silence together. He knew me better than any one else ever did. I did keep in touch with friends, but it was more luck than design when we visited, apart from a couple of people (which are the two, incidentally that I see every Friday night). Cliff and I helped a lot of people of the years and I guess they were happy to see us happy together, we moved an hour away from the area and got on with work, the house and life got in the way of constantly visiting and entertaining. We were too busy, but happily involved in our little bubble.
Just one blot on the landscape - two people took advantage, under the guise of "helping" me, they actually took advantage and "helped themselves" to some stuff out of the house. Because two people "helped" individually and close together, I can't difinitively say that it was one that took xxxxx, or vice versa. But it had a devastating effect on me. It made my world, already very unstable and frightening appear much much worse. It made me paranoid, it filled me with so much hurt and then hatred, it set me back about 6 months. They won't do it again but the psychological damage was done. It made me feel so vulnerable that I couldn't trust anyone, and I rarely left the house except for work. It broke my heart and I realized that one of them changed his attitude towards me the second that Cliff died when I sat down to think about it. I don't bother with them anymore. Revenge is a dish best served cold as they say ... I'm sure "karma" will visit them one day.
I like to think I'm thoughtful and giving. People often tell me I am. Kindness is not a weakness and sometimes people take it as such. It didn't bother me before, but now it really really hurts. A widow even took her own pain out on me a couple of times, because she saw me as "soft" and assumed she could, despite how much I had been thoughtful and supportive no matter how I felt, only ever giving her kindness. I look at her in a completely different light now and hold back compared to before.
My best girlfriend went through breast cancer and surgery/radiotherapy last year and I was there for her 100%, right through till she got her all clear. By that I mean extra support, help etc. We'll always be there for each other what ever happens. I've helped someone else out - even using my house as finance because no one else could help in his family even, and I know Cliff would have done the same. But he is very special (the friend I talk about above). And other stuff ... but when my g/f got sick ... I was terrified that she would die too. And the interesting thing is that I found that I could put my grief on hold and support her half the week. It showed me that despite believing that I was not moving at all, I was actually stronger. A couple of times I needed her support but I could see how low and that she needed me to be strong, and out of nowhere I found the strength even if I howled the second I left her house. That's what friends do for each other. Give and take :-)
Oh dear, I have rambled on but will click on reply anyway. Thanks, it helped me to look at this objectively and see the overall "friend" picture. The learning I'm taking away from this discussion is that if I ever get seriously involved with a man again, I will not be so absorbed in "us only". Friendships need attention too. Thanks Supa, such a huge learning x
I understand what you're experiencing, el. Most of our friends slipped away during the long cancer battle. Only one stayed by our side for the duration: Vern's good friend and co-worker, Joe. He was a life-saver for both of us. The others were there for the first few months, but when he didn't die as quickly as expected they just vanished. It hurt terribly at the time and I was angry and resentful for awhile. But I really didn't have the time nor energy to give them that much power over my feelings, so I pushed all of that to the back and just focused on caring for and loving my husband. A few came back around when he entered hospice and I was shocked at the tremendous turnout for his funeral service. But as soon as that was over, they were gone once again. The anger resurfaced but I have finally put all of that to bed. It is what it is.
I have one girlfriend who supported me during the final year and has stayed by my side. Just one. I don't understand any of this. I've been told by casual friends/co-workers that I shouldn't be spending so much time online with others who are grieving. But they never offer an alternative. The friends I have made here understand, they are available to listen to me when I'm feeling low, they support me and hold my hand ... how blessed I feel to have them (and I can't wait to meet some of them at Camp Widow and others when I do some traveling). I hope you're able to make these same connections, el.
I have also been told by friends and family that I need to stop spending time connecting with other widows, reading about grief and generally not moving on (in their opinion). I so rarely hear from our old friends but when I do they are disappointed that I'm not dating, not going out and enjoying all my "freedom". I've tried to explain that being lonely doesn't mean I want to date or remarry, it just means I'd like someone to call more than once a year to see "how I'm doing".