I lost my husband almost 2 years ago, and there is a woman who worked with him who cared for him very much and she has made a point of checking in with me regularly and making sure I am okay, and this was really, really helpful in the beginning, but now it has gotten to the point where I feel like she is using me as a way of experiencing her own grief. Like, when she misses him, she channels that into a I-know-how-hard-this-is-for-you communication to me, and then goes back to her own life emotionally cleansed. Sometimes I think she wants to be better friends and doesn't know how, and other times I think she gets something out of pitying me, and I don't know how to handle asking her to take it down a notch when she is ostensibly being such a caring person. I have made a couple of attempts at asking her to take it down a notch now and then, like say, at a lunch, "let's not go there so much today, I don't want to get sad", but she doesn't take the hint. It wears me out having to perform my grief for her every time I see or talk to her.
Mary, WOW that is one weird relationship for friendship! I can hardly get my good friends to reflect back when we were all young, happy, and healthy, etc. They don't want to bring up the past thinking it may make me sad. I seriously don't know anyone like you are describing possibly using you (the widow) to experience her own grief. Strange I think, but I suppose that could be happening. Yes, by all means, remove yourself from this friendship, it doesn't sound healthy for you. Hang in there friend.
Thank you all sooooo much for replying. I have been trying to work this out for a long time. I learned in the first year how to stand up for myself when people were crossing the line, but in this case when someone was being so "caring", I didn't know what to do. All my attempts to talk to redirect her only worked for a moment, like, if I said something at the beginning of a lunch, condolences would come back in strong by the end. Yesterday before I decided to ask all of you, I was drafting an email putting it more directly, asking her to stop leading with it every time we talked and telling her it was hard on me, and I erased the email without sending it, feeling in a difficult position. No matter how I put it, it felt wrong. I think she gets something a little not nice out of feeling sorry for me, so I think I will tell her that I am beginning to accept what has happened and that I am going to be focusing on how grateful I am that I was able to spend the time with him that I had. I will report back and let you know how it goes. Every other time I tried to put the brakes on her sympathy, she would come in approvingly with a strong "he would want you to be happy." Which sounds nice and like what everyone is hungry for, but it is just another version of the same thing, and that is what makes the situation so tricky. I do appreciate when I am sad and want to talk about it that people are there who support my feelings, but this is just something different, and I am glad I have found some good advice from people who understand. Probably in the end I am going to have to cut the friendship.
I agree you should listen to your gut on this one.
Like Inaz, I cherish the few friends who will happily reminisce with me and include references to my spouse in our conversations as a totally normal thing, and do not do the "avoid mentioning it at all costs" bit.
So this "friend" seems like a real oddball sort of emotional vampire who is gaslighting you by pretending to have your interests, not hers, at heart. Or maybe she's just a clueless do-gooder who has a checkbox, "sympathize with widow on a weekly basis." Regardless, as the advice goes, surround yourself with people who uplift you, not bring you down.
I'm reporting back on this as promised... I told my friend that I was beginning to accept my husband's death and that I planned to go forward by focusing on how grateful I am that I had the time with him that I did. (This is the kind of advice I would receive in the first month after I lost him, and I was not at all ready to hear it then, but it is really helping me now.) Anyways, it worked like a charm. She didn't even respond at first, and then came back with "That's impressive." Which might have been a little grudging or doubtful, but whatever. I am really happy to have figured a way out of her pity trap.
I've run into this also with my husbands best friends. They were a couple we did everything together. I know they mean well but I've had to start to limit my time with them. I'm trying to move on but they don't seem to want move past it. I started dating, the wife is very much against it. She gets mad and tells me I'll never find anyone like my husband. I'm still in my 40's, I'm no shrinking violet. I want to have fun again and be happy. I would like to get through a conversation with her without it always being about how she misses my husband. I can't keep it up much longer. I love them both but it's not healthy for me. These are the last ties to my old life, it's sad but they might have to go. I'm finding I must lose the past to walk in the future. It's been 2 years for me too. I figure if I can have a conversation without bringing it up, it's about time they try. If she doesn't get it, you might have to move on. Good luck
Thanks Popmuzic, that's perfectly put. I finally did make some headway with my I'm moving on from grief and working towards gratitude speech, and now she can get through a conversation without bringing it up, but, she finds something else to be really sorry about, like I am sooooo sorry your knee hurts, or I am sooooo sorry you're sick, or a sympathy laden "how's it going with x, y or z?", so that basically even though she's not using the words about my husband, she is making it really clear that I am someone to be really sorry for. The last time I saw her she asked me, "Do you do anything for yourself?" as if I should, as if I didn't. It's been 2 years. I've moved into just turning down every invitation she sends my way and she's not taking the hint. I imagine in her mind that she thinks I am withdrawing from people now and that this is a sign that I am doing even worse than before, so she keeps coming at me. One or two more attempts from her and I am just going to have to lay it on the line, that I understand she's trying to be a nice person, but that I don't want a relationship based on somebody feeling sorry for me, and that maybe after some time has passed we could try to be friends on a more equal level. I'll say maybe to spare her feelings because I know she has good intentions or at least that she thinks she does, but really, I just want to put it behind me.
Also, it is terrible that your husband's friend gets mad when you date. Shes named you a widow in her mind and that's where she wants you to stay for whatever reason. Who knows why. I do see a lot of similarities the way she is treating you.
I think moving to gratitude just comes with time, Mary. I don't think you really "move on" from grief. Now, I look back on my life and see the profound affect Lupe had on my life. All for the better. I'm kind of at this stage now where I'm thinking "what do I want to do with the rest of my life." I'm retiring from a 30 year career in August and I'm still relatively young. Overall I'm pretty optimistic I will figure it out.
Thank you for your post; I try to understand your position, but don’t claim to be able to, really, because all our journeys are different.
However, your post has helped me to understand the behaviour of one of “our” old friends/ex-colleagues; she has always been a worrier and, if she didn’t have anything of her own to worry about, she would borrow other people’s concerns. As for suggestions to help with her “worries”, she’s always been a “Yes, but . . .” person.
Now, just over two months since MyLovely died, I realise that she is not in contact as often as she was because, I think, she obviously can’t cast me in the role of suffering bereaved widow (though that’s what I am, of course). She would prefer me to be weak and wobbly – and I am, sometimes and if I am, I don’t answer the phone; if I answer the phone, I’m functioning. Your post has helped me understand better how she needs me to be; not that I’m going to play her game but I understand the possible reasons she’s in contact less often.
You are so, so early on catapan, that everyone in your life ought to be expressing the utmost sympathy to you, but it's true, so many people disappear, and there can be so many reasons. My husbands family evaporated on me, and I suspect it is because they were afraid I would look to them for financial support. They did have a history of supporting financially strapped female relatives, and I guess they looked at me at my 3 children and just said "no." I didn't need their financial support, but what I did need I didn't get, which was for them to care about my children, and to make them feel like they still had a family as I had lost mine earlier. I'll always look at them with disbelief as they mourn the son they love and leave the children he loved floating in the wind with no attachments beyond me and what I can form for them. I am so disappointed, but I have been widowed 2 years and I have learned that some people will disappoint you by how caring they aren't and other people will surprise you with how caring they are, and what you learn about who the people around you really are is basically what will form the foundation of your new life. I am sorry for you. It hurts me so much to hear the pain in the newly widowed, what a hard road you have ahead.
This woman, she was one of those who was really, really there for me, which is why it was so complicated to disentangle myself when she wanted me to stay in the highest pitch of my grief. Yes, all of our stories are different, but the one thing which is true for almost all of us, I think, is that we change. We change and sometimes those around us have difficulty knowing how to deal with us.
I wonder if your friend was just stuck in the role that she thought was best. Some people read advice on how to be a friend to a grieving friend and they follow their script and cannot veer from it or grow normally in the relationship. For her, you each had roles and she was playing hers to perfection each time, while you were growing out of that need and into a new stage.