Friday, October 22, 2010

The Truth About Friendship: The Before and After

Last night I posted a question on Facebook about whether or not people feel like they have “before” and “after” friends, mainly because I was thinking about my own week. I know you all haven’t heard from me much this week, and that’s because I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine (who I hadn’t seen in a very long time) stay with me while she was in town on business.

First of all…I forgot how fun it was just to have a girlfriend in the house. I would get the kids to bed and we would talk and talk about life, marriage, kids, and…most importantly…how I should treat this zit on my chin that has its own zip code. It was nice to have a chick-flick companion and someone who didn’t roll their eyes at me when I placed a salad before them.

Second…it was just flat-out nice to have another adult in the house. You don’t realize how much you miss that until someone is there, helping you do dishes while you give the kids a bath. Something like that is more valuable to me than jewelry these days.

We talked, and talked, and talked some more. We talked about my late husband and what’s different about my life now (other than the obvious). We talked about her life…the things she loves and the things she would change. No subject was off-limits and no topic too sensitive.

Sigh. It was nice.

At some point in the last few days it really hit me how much I had changed. There’s something about talking about your life and saying things out loud…you realize how different things really are.

One of the things we talked about was what each year of loss has meant to me. I was explaining to her how I really thought that once I hit that first year mark, things would magically get better. That suddenly the loss wouldn’t be there. That people wouldn’t refer to me as “the widow” anymore. I was surprised, disappointed, and somewhat devastated that that wasn’t the case. The realization that I would always carry this loss with me just about brought me to my knees.

By the middle of the second year, Loss and I had developed a truce. I agreed to not fight him anymore, if he would let me have a normal day every once in awhile. That was the beginning of us learning to co-exist.

I just wish he wouldn’t steal the covers all of the time.

I started talking about year 3 as “The Year of Change.” That was the year that I fully realized that I would never be the same and embraced it. I started calling myself “the widow”…I owned it and accepted it as part of who I am. I knew that I would always miss my husband, but I would never want to give up who I had become. Because before this loss, I had no idea what I was capable of. And now…the sky was the limit. If I could dream it…I could do it. And I alone would have to make it happen.

Which as you know…is an exciting and absolutely terrifying thought.

A lot of our conversation turned to the support I’ve had through this online community. How the people I’ve met encourage me every day and let me know that things can get better. How everyone shares stories and opinions and the most intimate parts of their souls with strangers who are constantly inspired by how they are living with their loss. How even though I may meet someone whose pain is new and raw, I always see a glimmer of what could be in that person.

And how getting to know everyone…it’s like Christmas morning to me every day.

The most interesting thing about spending time with this friend is that she’s not someone I see or talk to every day. She moved about a year before my husband passed away. We lost touch and grew apart, as friends do, and the next time I saw her was at his funeral.

So, looking at myself through her eyes really gave me a different perspective. Since I hadn’t seen her in three years…it was kind of like seeing a 7 year old you hadn’t seen for that long. Think of how much they grow. You might not even recognize them.

But it was such a comfort to me that I could pick up with her just as we would have in the “before” days. Yes, I’d “grown” a foot, but she could see that it’s still me under all of these changes.

It made me wonder about “before” and “after” friends. I know I certainly have people who fall into those categories…the ones who know me and the ones who knew us. And the ones who just walked away.

For those who have walked away…I’d like to think that that would have happened anyway. That those friendships were probably a little shallower than I originally thought and that as I got older, with or without my husband, those relationships probably would not have held up to the test of…life.

And frankly…as I get older, with or without my husband, I don’t have time for that shit anyway.

For those friends who have stuck with me…I think I needed to give them the time and the room to evolve just as I have. I guess realistically…I thought of me as “us” for a long time too. It’s taken me a few years to think of me as just…me. And just as they have tried to be as understanding as possible about the changes that I’ve made, I guess I needed to give them the time and space to adjust to those changes.

Because the truth is…for my close friends, my online friends, and the ones who can just pick up where we left off…

…I wouldn’t be me without them.


  1. One of your best entries ever.
    Love how the "real" you - whether before OR after, is here to stay.



  2. Thank You! I really needed to hear what you had to say TODAY! I am only recently widowed, and have a toddler to raise on my own now(Plus taking care of a home and working 48 hrs a week). I am experiencing this "before and after" phenomenon now and it has really multiplied my sadness. It gives me hope to read about the strength you've gained and how time has helped you deal with not only the loss of your husband, but also the loss of some friendships. Trying to stay strong, Lori

  3. Great post! I have before and after friends for sure. One said, I never came to his house when he was alive and will not come now that he is dead. Um, what about the widow, does she not deserve a visit? We don't speak now. He can't support me then I guess I don't need him. Bad thing is, he was my husband's best friend. I have about 10 stories just like that one. But I do have some really great widow friends that I met online that I would not trade for the world. What my life would have been with out them, I am afraid to even think of it. Thanks!

  4. Your timeline is similar to mine. I'm a widow for four and a half years and at year three I felt I was capable of just about anything. A freeing feeling.
    Thanks for your post.

  5. HI. It is just past eight months that my husband died and I am experiencing already what you have written. Thank you. The absence of friends who you thought you could count on--not expected--takes a toll on self esteem. It's hard to make new friends. That old friends aren't there for you (as you know you would be for them) has enlarged the void. But widows and widowers whom I have met since his death are the most wonderful people!

  6. It's been a year and a half and I can count on less than one hand the friends who haven't walked away. I like to think that if this had happened to a friend I would still be there for her offering support and continuing our friends hip. I wish that my former friends would understand that I need them now more than ever. Unfortunaely, they apparently don't.