Saturday, June 11, 2011

Maintaining Friendships: Whose Turn Is It To Call?


I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately and how they change and I know that’s also on the minds of many of my widow(er) friends out there.  I guess it’s that time of year...when friends and family seem to get together more than usual, so friendships and how they change are pretty much “in your face” right now.

This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I wanted to write it very carefully.  I don’t ever want to come across as someone who doesn’t understand or who dismisses how hard widowhood can be.  Believe me...I’m not that person.  But I also think there is a different side to our changing friendships that we don’t often look at.

I’ve thought for years how lucky I am that many of my friends didn’t abandon me when my husband died.  I gave them all a lot of credit (which they deserved) for sticking by me when the going got tough.  And tougher.  And even tougher still.  But I think for a long time I wasn’t giving credit to someone who was the most important part of keeping my friendships together.

Me.

I know I’m different from a lot of people. Throughout my life, very rarely would I sit back and wait for someone to come up with a plan or call me.  I was always the one putting parties together, organizing Happy Hour, or just calling to see if someone wanted to go to the movies.  My family affectionately calls me “Julie the Cruise Director” because I’m always the one getting everyone together.

I know this is going to sound strange (and for those people who are supporting friends who have entered the Widdahood, please forgive me if I make you sound like the family pet for a minute), but I think there is a certain training process we have to put our friends through when we lose our significant other.  We have to show them who we are now.  We have to give them time to digest who we’re becoming.  Instead of being upset that they’re not calling...we have to make the effort and call them. 

One of the big reasons I started thinking about this was Memorial Day weekend.  I heard from several people who said they had no plans for the weekend because no one had called and asked them over and they seemed so disappointed.  I started to feel really sad about that.  But then something occurred to me.

No one had called me either.  I had no plans.  And that’s when I got on the phone and called them.

I really think there is a certain amount of time after we become widow(er)s where we almost have to insist that our friends stay our friends.  They don’t know what to do.  They don’t understand that we’re not crying because of something they said...but because there’s a piece of lint on their shoulder that looks like our dead spouse and that just set us off. They don’t know when we want to talk about our significant other and when we want to pretend like all of this never happened.  We’re a really confusing bunch.  I’ve even found myself stumbling over what the “right thing” to do is with newly widowed friends of my own...and I’ve actually been through it.

They need to take their lead from someone and I hate to tell you this, but...we’re that someone.  Many of our friends have never been through this before and many of them haven’t even been through this with another friend.  They don’t know what to do.  We’re the ones who know what we want and need. 

So...why are we waiting around for them to make the effort?

I’ll give you an example:  When I first lost my husband, I had a great core group of friends who really looked out for me.  They would call and check in every once in awhile...you know...kind of the social “mirror in front of the face” to make sure I was still functioning.  But it occurred to me that after a few weeks...I never saw their husbands.  Now, I’ve heard other widows say that their friends are suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that they’re suddenly single and a possible threat.  At that time...that didn’t even occur to me.  What seemed to be happening was much worse.

The husbands just didn’t want to be around me.

It got to the point where I thought enough was enough.  If I wanted my friendships to survive (because, after all, I had been friends with their husbands too), I had to prove to them that they could.  I started putting together small dinner parties at my house when I felt up to it, on my turf, and inviting the couples.  Night after night, I would have people over until setting a table for 5 instead of 6 became more normal.  I would still bring my husband up in conversation (I still do) and after awhile my friends stopped fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats when I mentioned his name.  As time went by, we all seemed to start working together to fill in what was missing the best we could.

I didn’t wait for them to come around.  I didn’t wait for them to invite me over.  I took control.  In a way, I forced my new situation on them until it became their new situation as well.  And dammit...it worked.

What I’m about to say is going to sound incredibly unfair, but I firmly believe that it’s true. 

When you become widowed, you have to make more of an effort to 
be a friend than you ever did before.

This isn’t permanent.  But it’s a fact.  If you want people to be with you...you have to call them.  If you need to talk, you have to go through your entire contact list until you find someone who picks up the phone.  I would say that at the beginning stages of widowhood, if you’re interested in staying close with a few people, the effort to keep those friendships going shifts to about 70% on your part and 30% on theirs.  And I’ll tell you why.

Because they don’t know what the heck to do with you.

They don’t know what to say.  They don’t know how to act.  They don’t know if you want them around or if they’re an imposition.  For awhile, it becomes your duty to be as detailed as possible in saying what you want and need.  You can’t dance around it.  You can’t hint.  And you can’t wait.  You have to call someone, anyone, and say, “I want to go to dinner tonight.  Will you go with me?”

I realize that there are many people in the world who are not like me and being social isn’t their thing.  In fact, for a lot of those people, I’m betting that they lost the more social person in the couple.  Which makes it even harder to think about making the effort and coming up with a plan.

What I would suggest are baby steps. 

And believe me...I know what I’m asking of you.  I’m asking that you, in your exhausted widow state, add yet another thing on your list of things to do.  But I’m also suggesting that you have a little more control of this part of widowhood than you might think.  In good and bad times...no one wants to go through losing a good friend.

 And that good friend...is you.

16 comments:

  1. This might be great for those that have been married a long time and have lives in the same place for a while. When my husband died (military)I brought him to his home state for the funeral. I do not know a soul here. I have a job now, but I work alone in the office. There are the usual church groups and one widow group through a funeral home...but they are for older ladies. I am 37 and do not blend well with the 50-60's widows. This is a small community and I may be the only young widow here. When you have no friends, life stinks. I am alone here.

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  2. I think you are right on with this one...As usual...I am very social as well... We have to take control of our social calendar. Reach out and show others we are going to be OK...and the we have changed...Finding our new normal and new selves...We would like them to be a part of our new life... as we navigate into this journey of life...We are here until we are not..

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  3. Natalie Ryan-RamirezJune 12, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Wow, I think I have met a younger version of myself via FB and Widowhood. Oh my, could this be scary? ((( LOL ))). BW ( before widowhood ) I also was the one who would always be "putting parties together" and any other social function I thought would make for a happier joy ride. After all, we are here to have FUN and to help others, right?

    People have also called me “Julie the Cruise Director”. But, what struck a real high note with me was when you said that we " have to make more of an effort to be a friend than you ever did before." Although I had a dear friend rally a group of us together over this last Memorial Day weekend, I did host the event (surprised?). It was such a HOOT! We had a girlfriend slumber party of 6. We laughed, we cried, we laughed and did I say, WE LAUGHED our AS..........K me anything and we probably laughed about it. We had so much fun!!!!!

    The next day, I asked them if they would mind if I video taped them telling other widows it is o.K. to ask for help. Good friends do want to help their widowed friends but they just don't know how or when to help. We also encouraged other widow viewers to reach out to their friends.

    You can go the FB page, Wise Widowed Parents to see this "widow girlfriend chit chat". You'll have to scroll down to our older postings and go to Mon. May 31, 2011. You'll see and hear first hand what you are talking about here on this blog. Amazing how our "widow girlfriend" vibes are in tune with one another.

    Wow, I have such a big smile on my face just knowing another widow still does want to keep friends, "FUN" and laughter in her life too. Thank you Catherine for sharing this important blog. YOU GO GIRLFRIEND!

    Feel free to come on over to our FB page, post on our wall and share the friendship, love and laughter. We'll be happy to highlight your work as well. We're in this "wacky world of widowhood" together so why not stir things up a little and have FUN! There is enough time to be dead after we die! ((( LOL )))

    Natalie Ryan-Ramirez, Founder of Wise Widowed Parents

    P. S. I'm fairly new to all of the social networking through the "widow net". I look forward to keeping up with YOUR blog though. Will you be attending Camp Widow, in August, with the Soaring Spirit Loss Foundation? If so, look me up and let's laugh!

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  4. Dear Anonymous...

    Please know that I sympathize with the fact that not everyone's situations (and locations) make it easy to keep friendships going. But also remember that great friendships don't always have to be local. Reach out to the people you know. They don't have to be "close"...but your effort might make them closer. In the meantime...(((HUGS))) and I hope with all my heart you find the support you're looking for.

    Susan...You hit it right on the money, my friend. I'm so glad to hear from you again and I hope everything is going well for you!

    Natalie...I'm checking out your page! I love, love, love that idea. Sometimes laughter and tears are all we're left with...and sometimes we can make that choice. ;>)

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  5. I've pulled myself together and am going out with friends - but I still see some hesitation when couples get together. Don't quite know why........the latest thing that our couple friends are getting together for is an outdoor band concert. When I asked if I could go with a group the conversation turned to, "when are you going to start dating?" I've been widowed about 3 and a half years. I am completely comfortable going out with couples, but obviously that comfort doesn't extend to everyone. I'm not sure I want to start dating yet, but one of the things I loved about being married was our social life with other couples. My husband was very social and would do what ever I planned for us socially. Now I just need the companionship of my friends. Not sure I want to start dating, nor do I even know how to go about it. I know they were just trying to help deep down, but it didn't feel very good--I kind of felt like I wasn't welcome unless I had a date. In fact I had asked one good friend in particular (I do things a lot with her and her husband)if she was getting tickets to the concert and she said she didn't think they were going. Later when a group was talking about the concert, she said she had some couple friends she was going with. I wanted to ask her if I was chopped liver or what the deal was, but of course I didn't. Widowhood is a difficult time to develop a thick skin, but widows HAVE to in order to survive. I'm a 54 year old widow and I feel funny hanging with older widows too. The older I'm talking about is 70 something. I am still raising a teenager also so issues are different when you are a widow with child. I think 54 is too young to be a widow, but I had no choice! Most of maybe expect to lose a spouse in later life, but 54 is not LATER life yet!!!!

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  6. Oh I forgot to compliment your blog. Great!!

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  7. I am glad to find a site that discusses the problems of the single life!'
    I have been widowed for 26 years now. We were married for 26 years and I was 44 when he passed away!
    Our lives change daily and it is up to us to make a successful life for ourselves!
    Thank you for allowing me to say this!
    God Bless all of us!

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  8. Nice post.
    I also am trying to reach out to friends more often, including entertaining them. Taking the initiative to help maintain a friendship is important, not easy always, but important. Expecting everyone else to reach out to someone who lost a spouse and then not to reciprocate seems unrealistic. And honestly, unfair also.
    Finding out who really is a friend after widowhood isn't easy either. There can be disappointment in friends and relatives. But maybe it's a way to edit the new chapters in our lives.
    Wishing you well and thanking you for a great post!

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  9. About a year after I was widowed, I got my friends together and asked every one of them to write down how I could be a friend to them. I also wrote my own list and we all shared with each other. It was very eye opening for every one of us. But, now we know how to be the best friend possible for each other. Now, my friends call me to ask me to join them...because it was on my list.

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  10. Bonnie...that is a FABULOUS idea! We can't always wait for others (or ourselves) to be inspired! Sometimes we have to really spell it out. Thank you for sharing that!!

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  11. great post, so glad I have kindred spirits of joy and fun out there. John is not here, I still am, not stopping living well.He wouldnt want me to. You nailed it, as I read widows post they are upset their loss isnt mentioned, or it is and folks share a bible verse with them, that upsets them, bottom line, as I have written is We need to educate them, most have not suffered loss as we have and they dont have a clue. One gal wrote so many were there while her husband was ill and then many fell away after he passed, well me to, but I remain thankful they surrounded us for my husbands sake. If I had a choice of such an outpouring of care and concern I am glad it was when my husband could see how much folks cared, it meant alot. I choose to continue to love and reach out to others. It is a choice for each of us to make.

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  12. I really liked your post too. You're right, if we don't reach out, no one is going to know we need them. But then there's the other side. I'm afraid I need my friends too much. They already have spouses and full lives and now Mimi that they used to hear from every so often is calling every week... or more. I don't want to wear out my welcome and feel like I need a lot more friends so as to not overly annoy the few I have.

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  13. Catherine, I agree - we wids can be flaky (getting upset when someone says something as well as when they don't say something, for example). We need to think about the people we want in our lives and work to keep in touch. That's difficult sometimes - in our marriage, my late wife was our "cruise director", and it's easier to just coast a lot of the time. But I am abandoning friends by doing that.

    Take care,
    Rob T

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  14. I think you make very valid points and may be the best way to deal with this issue, however, if it's the first time you have lost a mate, how are WE SUPPOSE TO KNOW WHAT TO DO? We are experts in the beginning nor have we connected probably with other widows who can help us along like you.....

    Those are just my thoughts.

    Also how do I as a 55 year old grandmother who took in her own three grandchildren as foster children (and caring for them before that) have time for dinner parties may I ask. I am jumping through hoops for appointments, school, supervising visitations, etc. yes I have time to reach out to people who if they have half a brain could see I needed a hand....

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  15. What about when you have tried to reach out to friends that you've know for many years and they don't respond? Why would I subject myself to that kind of rejection over and over again? The only thing that tells me is that they weren't true friends to begin with. So my next step is to reach out to the people I know that have at least tried to get together with me during the last year .I guess I should just forget about the couple of friends that have just walked away.no calls or anything since the funeral over a year ago but it adds another layer of loss. Its hard to accept that.

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  16. I'm in a new country - not county - COUNTRY - and I'm finding it very very difficult. I've tried reaching out so many times I can't even count them. I cannot just move house or countries, I have a viable business and a chockablock house that I can't possibly tackle moving myself.

    I do, therefore feel quite trapped. Whenever I've reached out, I get answers back like "oh we're manically busy" or actually put the phone down on my ear, or the worst is when a new "friend" thinks their job is to sort me out or fix me - I don't need fixed I'm not broken - just brokenhearted. I just want someone to hang out with and as a Christian woman, to pray with. And finding new companionship in a nice gentleman would be great too.

    I cycle alot because it's all I've got, and I make sure to look after my cats. The old nasty cows in church actually come up to me and ask me "why do you come to this church? You owe us an answer!" (!!) Can you believe it??

    I go because the vicar is good to me, and many people don't have any time for a widow.

    I've tried the proactive approach as you've described, and it is not working for me. I'm finding life very very hard. And yes most women seem to feel threatened. I've lost a ton weight and look great, but I don't want someone else's husband, I know my late husband would want me to find companionship, but I feel my efforts falling flat and life is just not working for me.

    I'm open to replies xo

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