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Let me take a wild guess…
You’ve lost some friends on your grief journey.
How did I know?
Because it happens to the best of us.
We all had friends who claimed to “be there” for us in any number of ways and just didn’t keep their promises. I’m sure they meant well, but when it comes to the cluster fuck that is grief, only the strong friendships survive.
Tragedy plops friends smack dab into one of two camps. You’ve got the friends who don’t know what to do but jump into action anyway. And, you’ve got the friends who don’t know what to do, so they avoid you like the plague.
The friendships with the avoidant types were on the verge of collapse anyway. The real truth about faltering friendships that only widows know is that grief just pushed those fringe friends right on over the edge.
Which one of these friend types are you glad you said sayonara to?
The Friends Who Can’t Handle the Truth
Some friends like to ask generic questions and don’t really want to know the answer.
You know who I’m talking about. The folks who act like they have the time or inclination to listen to your answers, but don’t.
I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but honestly, most of the questions from these friends are rhetorical. Standard societal courtesy, that’s all. The questions aren’t truly an offer to listen intently about how grief is holding you hostage and how you question whether you’ll have normal, rational thoughts again.
The rhetorical questions make the person asking the question feel better.
The rhetorical question-askers, like grocery store passersby and school curriculum night attendees, see you and wave and gush about how they “think about you all the time!” And then, when they ask how you’re doing and you say, “I’m doing OK,” they tilt their head sideways in that annoying pseudo-sympathetic way and go, “no, really, how are you doing? You can tell me the truth.”
At that point you want to go all Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in A Few Good Men and scream at the top of your lungs:
Do people really want to know what it’s like to curl up in a fetal position in your closet and cry so hard you choke on your own mucus? Can they possibly understand the terror that invades your every waking hour because of your own irrational fear of dying? I’m not convinced the general population can really handle the truth about how the crushing anxiety over raising your kids alone and making every single, solitary decision by yourself makes it hard to breathe.
The real truth about faltering friendships that only widows know is that you let these simple folks off the hook. They can’t handle the truth.
So you say, “I’m OK.” Even when you’re not OK.
And you don’t waste your time on these friends anymore. You only see them occasionally. Not everyone needs the full deets on what’s going on with you post widowhood. Your energy is better spent elsewhere.
The Friends Who Bail
Do you have a disappearing friend who bails at the first sign of distress? The real truth about faltering friendships that only widows know is that these friends can’t handle their own mortality.
OMG…your husband has a terminal illness? You mean, like, he’s going to die? Like, not make it? Ugh. I can’t deal.
Some of these friends lack essential problem-solving skills but hold out hope that your dying husband will make it because, you know, they prayed and all. They stick around during the whole ordeal but when death raps its bony knuckles on your door, they disengage. They have to face their own mortality and the realization that sometimes prayers don’t work as intended.
So, they bail.
WTF? How is this even possible? Faith doesn’t mean shit. Everything I’ve believed up until now is shit. I can’t even cope with life, let alone help her cope with death. Maybe I’m just a shitty friend. She’s better off without me. I’m out.
The real truth about faltering friendships that only widows know is that some friendships aren’t worth saving. If friends bail when your grief is AT ITS WORST, it’s time to let ’em go.
The Energy Vampire Friends
I never knew how to explain getting the life sucked out of me when I was around certain people. I was irritated, for sure, but the other bored, anxious, and stressed emotions confused me. But I never knew how to explain it.
And then some genius coined the term “energy vampire” and, holy hell. It all started to make sense.
These particular narcissists hijack your grief space and refuse to give you any time to sort out your own feelings before shoving their feelings down your throat.
I know *exactly* how you feel. When our dog died, I couldn’t deal. I mean, I had to tell my kids their dog had cancer! How sad is that? I cried for days.
My grandma died of cancer. I can totally relate to what you’re going through. I couldn’t get out of bed for days.
Huh? Dogs and grandmothers trump dead husbands and fathers of children?
Dealing with an energy vampire friend while grieving is like swimming in a rip current. The rip current doesn’t pull you under but it tires you out if you try to swim against it. You have to swim out of the rip current altogether. Same with the energy vampire. Dump that friendship as fast as you can because you’ll deplete your energy stores and exhaust yourself trying to have rational discussions with this dingbat.
Besides, grief isn’t a competition. Your real friends know that.
Your energy is precious and I’m assuming in very short supply. Don’t waste an ounce of it.
The Friends Who Let You Down
Friends can let us down in different ways. Sometimes friends think they’re protecting us by keeping information we’re actually better off knowing. Other times, they insert opinions into matters that really don’t require a personal assessment.
Maybe some friends don’t reach out as much as you’d like. Or they make plans without you because they assume you’ll decline an invitation to a gathering of mostly couples.
I know I’d rather make the decision to attend gatherings or not instead of being left out of the loop altogether.
Grief is hard enough without worrying about which friends have your back.
Besides, everyone has their own lives to lead. After the first year or so some friends just aren’t committed to hearing about your continued grief. They aren’t committed to the friendship when their lives go on while yours continues to fall apart.
The friends who let you down might be looking for a way out, too. Maybe just give them the extra nudge they need to end an already rocky relationship.
Widow Wrap Up
It’s not easy being friends with a widow. The grief is oppressive for everyone involved, not just the grievers. Cracks we never saw become more visible in faltering friendships when you add in the stress of grief. It’s unrealistic to expect that all of your friendships will withstand every traumatic life event. They aren’t supposed to. It’s called self-reflection.
When the cracks start to surface, it’s time to re-examine why the friendship exists in the first place.
Perhaps the relationships are already emotionally draining. Maybe it’s all-out toxic and the struggle for dominance is more than you can handle.
Do you feel like you give more than you receive?
These cracks give you the opportunity to examine what the friendship means to you and decide if it’s even worth it for this person to take up space in your life. Some friendships are definitely worth saving. I think you know in your gut which ones are meant to last even with a few cracks starting to show.
But if you’re internally debating, contemplating pros and cons or justifying repeated behavior, it might be time to say goodbye.
How have your friendships changed since becoming a widow? Share in the comments!