In the widowed Twitterverse, I see quite a few widowed people talk about how friends disappeared after their spouses passed away. I think there are a few reasons that this happens.
First, the friends don’t know what to do or say or how to act around us. One of my late husband’s friends of over twenty years has never reached out to me after the memorial. We’re still Facebook friends, but zero contact.
The second reason is that the widowed person doesn’t have the emotional (and sometimes the physical) energy to reach out. In most cases, the entire burden of settling the details and accounts and notifying people falls to the widow. Frankly, we’re tired.
It’s hard for us to remember that those friends are grieving, too, even if their grief is a completely different animal. I imagine that animal to be a lot more passive and docile to the beast many widowed people experience. I see it as passive, because they don’t have that added emotional burden of dealing with an estate, suddenly raising kids as a single parent, perhaps fear of finding/losing employment, figuring out where we fit with the in-laws who are now no longer related by law at all, navigating other people’s opinions about how we should grieve.
In some cases, like mine, it’s hard to keep connections with people who hero worship a man who was abusive–mostly emotionally, but sometimes physically, to us.
An old friend messaged me this week. She is a sweet person and checks on us from time to time. It’s hard to talk with her because it brings up memories of how my late husband (LH) compared me to her. “Why can’t you manage the household like she does hers?” “She’s way better at these things than you are.” “She does the laundry this way. You should, too.” “She’s a super mom, and you’re not.”
It’s also difficult because she wants to reminisce about him. Evidently, he made her believe that he loved us and supported us emotionally and was proud of us. These were things he never said to us–specifically never to our kids.
He was a human. Not a god-like super hero standing on a pedestal. However, I don’t want to burst her bubble about that image she still has of him. I don’t want to cause her more grief–I know she’s reaching out now because his death day is soon. BTW, he called it his “death day” because he didn’t want us commemorating it. (Of all the people in my life, he wanted to tell me how to grieve him more than anyone else did.)
The thing is, I don’t want to tell her our life story to prove that we’re doing well. I don’t need to tell her that we’re all in therapy to sort out the decades of damage he did. I’m not sure it’s okay to tell her that we don’t miss him at all and that my kids are happy he’s not with us.
Then there’s the selfish friend who only thinks about one thing–and it isn’t friendship or compassion. Perhaps he or she wants a thing that belonged to him. Or maybe they want something inappropriate. One of my LH’s friends got in touch with me barely six months after he died. He didn’t message me to see how we were doing. He wanted me to be his travel sex companion because his wife preferred staying home with the kids, and he had plenty of money to travel in style. As if I didn’t have kids who needed me? As if I’d have an affair with him anyway? Did he assume I found him attractive? Gross, absolutely not. Talk about awkward. We’d gone out as couples together many times, and I thought we were friends. I feel sorry for his wife. Needless to say, I blocked all contact with him.
It’s the weirdest thing being happy as a widow, because it’s surprising how many people don’t expect it and make it awkward (which is sparking another blog post). Usually those are the people connected to him (his family, his friends). The one person I worried about the most was one of his oldest friends who married into my family. I dreaded conversations with him until he told me that he knew what my LH’s demons were and was sorry I went through that. It was a freeing conversation. He knew, and I didn’t have to explain anything.
I guess I don’t know how to cut off the conversations of hero worship and the expectation that this time of year is as hard for us as it is for them. It’s just not. It’s easier not to maintain those connections sometimes rather than deal with the continued grief from people who only knew his outer, charming presentation that he reserved for them.
I’ll say what’s easy, “I’m happy now” or “We’re doing well now” and finish the sentence in my head …that he’s not here.
How do you handle difficult conversations with people? Is there a phrase you use to take back the control of the conversation? Have you kept up connections with friends and in-laws?