What Your Friend is Going Through

by Kit Hinkle

Most widows lose 75% of the friendships they had before their loss.

– source unknown

No one can tell me where this statistic comes from, but it seems to be out there, everywhere!  And when I first lost Tom, I thought, no way—after all, in that first year, there was so much attention on me that I wanted to hide under a rock—seemed like everyone wanted to help me in my grief.

But gradually, through the hard road of walking alone, a year, or years out, I started to see some of that rule coming true—ouch.

I wanted to talk to you about that feeling you get when you wonder where are people when you need them.

And I want you to smile and know several truths.  First, that this is normal. Second, that you can heal and forgive those who scatter. And third, that you can only heal and forgive when you can truly embrace your life as your own.

The dynamics of healthy friendships are not unlike the dynamics of healthy courtships. If you understand that healthy relationships come from wholeness, you’ll empower yourself to attract the right kind of friendships by being all whom God wants you to be first. I’ve noticed this first hand each time I’ve been in the position of walking alone without a significant other in my life. There is a pattern. First there’s this feeling of “gosh I wish I had someone,” and looking around for a bit, coming up empty, and feeling frustrated. As time would pass, I’d finally get comfortable and even appreciate my alone time.  And then—boom, there he showed up—the new significant other!

How does that happen? Well, it’s based on those three truths, just as friendships are based on the three truths. Until you can realize that it’s normal and okay to be a single woman, and embracing it makes you more available for a relationship, you may have to recognize that widowhood is a season where you will walk with less of a crowd around you because many of your girlfriends won’t be able to handle the neediness of your situation. Some will, and you celebrate those, but the goal is to get healthy so that you are welcoming the right kind of relationships to move forward. Once you actually feel good about where you are in life, you’ll start to find more women stepping up to benefit from your positive attitude.

I humbly suggest to you those three truths.  Consider them, and perhaps the Lord will use them to speak a new insight to you.

First, that this is normal

Try to remember that not everyone understands what you’re going through and knows how to handle it. Many don’t know what to say.

It’s really all part of accepting your struggle as a joy, a way to develop your perseverance.  It’s as James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). When you’re looking hard for friendship from a position of need, you’ll find a mixture of reactions from friends. You might find some old friends to help you in your needs and perhaps they can temporarily flex to be the one to prop you up. Sometimes this is good for a season. I know a widow who couldn’t get herself out of bed, and a friend came over daily and pulled her up and got her make up on for her.

But as you grow and move forward, you and your friend need to return to a more balanced friendship. Sometimes bringing someone into your life out of need attracts the wrong kinds of friendships. Friends that love to be the helper may not have the maturity to stick with you when you climb out of your grieving hole.

Second, that you can heal and forgive those who scatter.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I had a dear friend once tell me a neat tip.  Don’t always assume people say or do things (or forget to say or do things) because they are rejecting you.  She said, “what I like to do is list three possible reasons they did what they did which have absolutely nothing to do with me and then I simply choose one of those and decide to believe it!”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I asked.  “What if it’s because they’re mad at you?”

She shrugged and said, “If I can’t think of what I’ve done to hurt her, and she won’t tell me, I can’t blame myself. Many times people are mad at me for unfounded reasons.  Many times it’s their own insecurities or shame that’s the root of their behavior, and they are just choosing to repin it on me. What good does it do for me to unearth all of that?”

Wow.  Think of the power in that!  Okay, so your friend didn’t call you in your time of need.  After searching yourself and owning up to your part, try some of these on for size—warning, some of these aren’t necessarily excusing her actions—some reflect shallowness on her part—that isn’t the point. We are all sinners, and we cannot control that even your friends are all sinners and may simply not be up for the job during this season:

  • She is going through something overwhelming in her life that she doesn’t want to burden you with.
  • She’s feeling so awful about what you’re going through and doesn’t have the emotional strength to walk with you through it—she’s terrified and can’t bear to delve into the depths with you. She feels awful about her weakness but nevertheless it is what it is, and she can’t bring herself to repair it and walk with you at the same time.  It’s just too much.
  • She doesn’t want you to see her cry.
  • She’s secretly feels a little to blame for your situation.
  • Your situation reminds her of a painful part of her past she hasn’t grappled with yet.
  • She is scared to death what happened to you could happen to her and seeing you makes her think about that–it’s just too scary.
  • She knows her strengths are in other areas and she’s not suited for the job of lifting you through this valley.
  • She’s perhaps not really about helping you. Until this tragedy happened, you provided something for her that she just isn’t able to get from your current situation. So she’s not going to invest.
  • She doesn’t know what to say or do around you.
  • She’s afraid everything she says and does will remind you of your loss.
  • She thinks you might be uncomfortable in the old circles of friends. So she’s assuming you’d rather not be invited.

Even if some of the reasons may not flatter your friend, the truth is, none of these have anything to do with anything you have said and done wrong.  That’s what’s helpful about deciding what might fit.  Naturally checking in with them helps, but there are times when a friend might be too uncomfortable in even discussing these with you.

Third, that you can only heal and forgive when you can truly embrace your life as your own.

It’s only in forgiving and embracing your life that you can heal and move forward.  I recall a very close friend of mine who seemed to want to be at my side more fervently than I felt comfortable with just after Tom died. She visited, called, brought dinners, included me on every social event she went to.  Because she was so wonderful, and I really needed a friend, I gratefully accepted her offers. I felt touched, but something in my soul didn’t feel right.  Every time she suggested that I let it all out and cry in front of her, I couldn’t. I felt pressured.  I can’t explain it—she was a lovely woman.  Perhaps it was because I knew her to be a social butterfly—a queen bee of sorts in the clique of ladies we hung with.  How many would know all the details of my tears?

As it turned out, my other friends told me later they felt rebuffed by her anytime they tried to come in close to help me. I felt like I was being claimed like her territory.  When a mutual friend invited my boys and I on a weekend in the mountains with her family, the queen bee friend became irate with me that I would go.

And when I made decisions, like getting a job or building a sun porch, she was angry that I didn’t check in with her.

Finally came an evening where my tears over Tom were spilling over and I needed a friend to count on—I didn’t call her. The friend who came over just held me as I cried like a baby.  The jealous friend found out and called me in tears—why wouldn’t I call her?

Ladies, remember something.  This is your widowhood—your ordeal. While you want to be considerate of others’  feelings, remember that nobody should be telling you whom to go to over your loss. The minute someone tries to flip it on you, they are out of line. It’s not their ordeal.

Needless to say, I eventually frustrated my friend enough that she lashed out at me and the friendship was over.  I was devastated.  She didn’t just talk to me calmly about her feelings and gradually pull away.  She completely wrote me out of her life.  There I was a year after losing my husband and now having to feel alone all over again. My soul wrenched between feeling relieved she was gone to feeling violated by her judgment, especially in light of her social status and feeling quite sure I was being gossiped about among other friends.

And guess what, ladies? I was wrong.

No, I wasn’t wrong about my assessment of this ill-suited friendship, but I handled the loss of it all wrong. I wrestled and cried over it, muttering to myself, “what the heck did I do to deserve this?” And do you know where the question got me?  Nowhere.  In fact, for several months, I found I wasn’t available for opening up new friendships because my hurt over this woman consumed me.

It wasn’t until I started to pray about it, and lovingly forgave her in my heart that I could be in the same room with her—visit with mutual friends, and not cringe at the mention of her name.

Today this woman and I write each other and occasionally meet for coffee.  Somehow, she’s more respectful of me than before, and our boundaries are at a better level.  Forgiveness works both ways, I suppose!

I went on for quite a while here, but please write and tell me if this helps you.  I think that when you’ve gone through such a loss you see life differently.  You’re not trying to make the perfect friend anymore.  You know to be open to loving people where they are, and accepting love how it comes.



21 replies
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Four months after my husband died I moved to another state to be closer to my family, and so left my friends. I have now lived here for 11 months and have not made many new friends. I think that being ‘single’ stops other couples from inviting me (and my son) over. We are in a small town and everyone is friendly, however we are never invited to anyones home or even to go out to dinner. Life is so busy for everyone and I know it is hard to make time for something or someone new. Then again maybe it is me that is somehow holding back. I have always been the one to invite people over, but now that I’m single and in a new city I hesitate. I even worry about keeping the conversation going (my husband was always really good at that).

  2. Kit
    Kit says:

    Jamie, as usual, your insight is so right on. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure your wisdom was appreciated by many!

  3. Jamie Parfitt
    Jamie Parfitt says:

    Interesting that you would write this now. I lost Ken 1 year, 6 months, and 7 days ago. I have been becoming vaguely aware that my attentive friends are not as attentive. I think it may be partly due to the fact that I always tell them how I feel, especially when I feel down. But it was a good reminder to think beyond myself and consider what may be happening in THEIR hearts. I’m not the only one who hurts in this world. Widows aren’t the only ones who hurt. I was given the opportunity to speak to the ladies at our church one evening last September. Many thanked me for being so open. I spoke of my regrets and urged them to change things in their marriages so they would not be plagued by so many bad memories. I have many good memories, too. Sometimes Ken and I talked about how we thought we had the best marriage in the world! Aren’t people funny? And then some days we would wonder how we got so far apart. Now ladies at church sometimes confide in me. Maybe I seem to be safe since I don’t have a husband to share their stories with. But my heart grieves at some of the bitterness of these women. I try to cover my feelings of wanting to scold them. I try to gently turn them to Scripture. They were looking for sympathy, knowing all the time that I would not sympathize. They wanted prayer and they get that. But they, too, pull back. Ken and I learned the hard way one year, not to get too close to anyone. We and another couple started to do everything together as families, especially since our two families were the only ones homeschooling at our former church. That suddenly came to a head, the friendship went sour, and we learned to be guarded in our friendships, to make friends with LOTS of people and not have best friends, except for each other. I think we widows need to be careful of that, too. We only have so much emotional capacity, and we can’t really take on other people’s problems and they can’t take on ours. We in the church are a body, and the body has MANY parts. Some parts can minister while others take a rest. Recently I got a milk goat, and I like to milk one-handed, switching off to give my other hand a rest. It may take a little longer, but it keeps me from resenting the task. So we need to give our friends a rest, too. They may have expectations of us that we aren’t going to meet and we need to check to see if we have subconsciously set up expectations for them that we should not set up. We don’t want them to resent us. I know, I’ve strayed a bit from your point. I do appreciate your list of possible reasons people pull back. When Ken first died, I tried to keep every single thing in my life the same, as much as possible. Now I am seeing that it is not possible. The amount of change is actually surprising. But then I look back over life and see that it has always been that way. Most of my friends from 20 years ago are gone, living other lives in other places. God will always provide more friends. I have attempted to stay close to people I thought were close with my husband. But that usually means the men, and that is VERY awkward. I think everyone is just about done remembering now. That’s OK. I have to be willing to move on and just let him be gone. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for living, but if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, the reason will become evident. 🙂 In the end, we are just supposed to glorify God with our lives. And forgiving others, and not expecting commitments from others so that they can live their own lives with their own families, really glorifies Him. “And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” (Dt. 8:2) I’m glad God loves me enough to lead me, humble me and, prove me. 🙂 That’s the friendship I need to put the most effort into. As someone wrote above, I am learning to be close to the Lord in a way I would not have if my husband had continued living. And closeness with God is the most important thing in the universe.

  4. Kit
    Kit says:

    That’s wonderful, Jill. So glad you have found the grace to forgive and reconnect with her! Blessings for the future of your friendship!

  5. Jill
    Jill says:

    Oh my goodness, today I received a letter from one of the friends that gave me an ultimatum about 13 ms ago. I believe this post and all the comments since have prepared me. I feel that it is an opportunity for me to extend grace. Thanks for all of your perspectives and insight. god is moving and I am so excited!

    Love, Jill

  6. Just Another Widow
    Just Another Widow says:

    My Dear “Mrs. Joe”

    Thank you for having the courage to share your “heart” with us, even though I know that heart is broken right now.
    I am so very sorry for your loss of your precious Joe. 43 years of marriage and three wonderful children, tells us alot about your Joe. Thanks for sharing him with us. Please continue to post and gain strength and comfort through this website. Together, we can ALL make it through this journey on “Grief Road”

  7. Annonymous
    Annonymous says:

    I am not sure where to begin…..April 14th, 2011 was one day I wish had been left of the calendar of my life…..it was a beautiful spring morning we got up early and Joe began getting things ready to go to the little place we had at the lake…we were going down to spring clean – inside and out! I got my better vacuum cleaners he got his necessary tools for pressuring washing the boat, garage, and work outside…as was our usual ‘thing’ I pulled out some steaks to cook on the grill…we were staying maybe a couple of days…something we didn’t do often…something about the fact of us not staying for several days or weeks always baffled me since he had his own business…being from the old school he always knew he wanted to lead by example…that morning getting our showers and dressed Joe said to me…I would like to live long enough to see all our grandchildren graduate at least from high school…I didn’t think much about it then, he made another comment and I too passed it off…as we were riding thru the country I said to him…you know Joe the Lord wants us to be better Christians today than we were yesterday…he responded with a quote from Paul……the things we want to do, we find ourselves not doing and the thing we shouldn’t do seem to come so easy……..at that point I said to him….Joe do you have any idea how much I love you…I mean really know in your heart how much I do love you…he said I do….and I love you too…..he had told me several times over the years he didn’t think he would live to be an old man…he was 62…..but of course I would shrug that off and tell him not to say things like that……after we got to the lake we had a bite of breakfast and got ready to get busy……nothing out of the ordinary when he had a big task ahead of him…we sat down a couple of times to drink water and talk then about 4:20 I went out and we drank some more water and he said…get the steaks ready and I will get the grill hot…of course he had to put away all his work equipment and I needed to finish up inside……he was on the phone and I didn’t know it at the time but had talked to all three of our children just that afternoon…….as I finished putting my stuff away I realized it had been about an hour and he hadn’t called to me to say the grill was ready….as I stepped out with the steaks in hand things were really quite……as you probably know by now I walked on around to the door of the garage and there he lay……I knew when I got to him he was gone……I did have sense enough to look around him for some sign of trauma but there was none…..he had been complaing about his back hurting for a while but both of us had just had a physical and got good reports…….but I knew! From that moment and still so many moments since then I wondered how quite things were at that moment when God called him home…he was a big guy and we always played and some kind of noise was all around us……but this moment was between him and God…….they told me it was a massive heart attack….you know when I heard those words I just knew they had to be wrong surely God would not do this to me – not take my Joe…..oh how I wanted to go too – how could I live without him – we were high school sweethearts and partners at graduation and he was my rock – he was my everything……..I still do not know how to handle a lot of things around me and still even have moments that I think this is a dream but then………..no I do not like being a widow – single and alone but ‘I can do all things because God gives me strength – Philippines 4:13’……..God didn’t tell us we had to understand just ‘follow Him’ someday maybe I can tell you the rest of the story and all about our wonderful 43 yrs. of marriage and our 3 wonderful children but right now I just felt I had to share……..

  8. Danita
    Danita says:

    Kittie – wonderfully put. Sometimes we need to see the facts in black and white to realize it is not just ‘us’. The depth of emotion of the widow walk is overwhelming, both to those walking it and to those watching who want to ‘fix it’. From my perspective of 9 years, and having moved to a new continent after Dave died, I can say the lonely has eased and while God has placed many wonderful folks in my life, He is the center. I met Him more in the lonely than I ever could have surrounded by well meaning friends. I pray for each one reading Kittie’s excellent post – that He shows you boundaries for your friendships as well as providing those heart friends who ‘get it’. Love and hugs….Danita

  9. Jill
    Jill says:

    Everyone’s comments on this post are really powerful. What an encouragement. I love the video. Thanks for sharing.

    Love, Jill

  10. Kit
    Kit says:

    Sisters, I wanted to share with you something my sister sent to me when I was going through learning to walk alone. She was so encouraging with this video, and I believe you might be encouraged as well.

    “This video reminded me of you…esp when you were lamenting about how “friends” were passing judgement on your situation..I think you are like this girl..sometimes doubting yourself but …against all odds..you always keep the faith and listen to your heart…you never have to be “like the others”. Watch the video and you will understand…

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Dear Kit,
    WOW, this article hit the nail on the head. I will be two years without my husband on July 2 and the 75% is pretty real. Some friends state ‘they want their old friend back’, ‘it is time to be over it’, ‘your husband would like you to be happy’. Well, their ‘old friend’ does not exist as she was; a deep loving lifetime together does not have an expiration date with a ‘wipe the memory clean’ mode; and,.yes he would like me to be happy BUT he was the person here on earth that helped make ‘happiness’. Their intentions are probably noble, but they do not yet understand the loss of a spouse and want to understand what makes them feel comfortable. New friends have stepped forward; they did not know the ‘old me’ but understand that there is a void and make strong attempts at accepting this new me.
    I have forwarded this article to a few friends that have tried to understand, along with a note thanking them for walking with me.
    Thank you for sharing.

  12. Julie Wright
    Julie Wright says:

    Thanks for this post, Kitty. It is reassuring to know that even though some people, family included, have “disappeared” its okay. I acutally had my very best friend say something hurtful to me in the early days of my grief. I remember it peircing my heart and how angry and hurt I was by her words. I pulled away from her and she backed away as well. It was TWO full years before we had lunch together and I finally got the courage to clear the air. After tears and hugs, we managed to acknowledge eachother’s viewpoint and move on. I’m grateful to have her back in my life again, but know its not always the case. Thanks for the great tips and insight on this difficult topic.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It has been four years since my husband died and I believe you are right … you do lose a great many people. People that I thought would always be there and people that I knew were friends with me because of my husband.
    But my loss of company went a little further. My husband has 3 sisters and a brother and only his mother and brother came to the visitiations and funeral services. And I have not spoken to any of those missing sisters in the last four years … and his mother and brother have left us as well.
    I love the strategy you have laid out here, and I have lots more to pray about now. But for our daughter, who is now 14 … I don’t know.
    Any direction would be helpful …
    My thanks … and God’s Peace to you.

  14. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    thank you for this blessing. This is exactly where I am. Feeling like “nothing matters without Michael”. Those crying days are coming more frequently right now, 14 months out. Needed to read this.

  15. Kit
    Kit says:

    Thank you, Jenny. The be positive remarks and the remarks about you’ll find another just don’t cut it, do they? But then, when you remember that these women just simply don’t know what to say, it helps to just take their intention as truth–truth that they care and just tossing you the hail Mary pass of encouragement and hoping that somehow you’ll catch it!

  16. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    “This is your widowhood—your ordeal”. Wonderful words of wisdom. I lost the love of my life 22 months ago. Your post was exactly what I needed to read. I have had women that I thought were sensitive loving friends, tell me to “be positive and think good thoughts” to “ahhhh, you will find another man and move on”!…REALLY!. Then there are those wonderful women in my life that just listen or offer a shoulder to cry on when needed. Thank you for posting these words of wisdom, because many days I play the mind game…”what did I say to hurt her feelings”, “how could she be so cold and uncaring”…
    I am grateful I read this post today…I’ll print as a reminder on the tough days…this is my journey and God is the only one that will never leave me or forsake me.

  17. Kit
    Kit says:

    I love it, Terri! “there are some people who no longer deserve to have a front row seat in my life.” I’m going to remember that one!!!

  18. Terri
    Terri says:

    Three years ago today I became a widow. Some days it seems like it happened yesterday and then there are days it seems like it has been forever! For the most part, I have been surrounded by precious friends who let me be me and pray for and encourage me. However, there have been a couple of women who have pulled away. I couldn’t figure out why they did this and my feelings were really hurt. Your post today has shed some light on why this may have happened. Thank you. I love how you said that this is my widowhood…my ordeal. I never thought of it that way before. I think I have come to the realization that there are some people who no longer deserve to have a front row seat in my life. I still love them, pray for them, and am working on forgiving them. It’s a process and God isn’t finished with me yet. Thanks again for your words of wisdom and for allowing God to speak through you and for serving Him in this ministry to widows.

  19. Kit
    Kit says:

    Jill and Bethany— please know you are not alone. Jill, ultimatums are usually great neon signs blinking “RUN!” Trust me, there are many friends waiting to delight you with fellowship! And Bethany, please know you are very loved and the abandonment most likely has nothing to do with you whatsoever.

    I don’t know how to share this part with you, ladies, but 2 things. Recently I’ve been on the other end of this where I had to step back from someone who was so hurt by my stepping back. I couldn’t convince her that I loved her but just needed to step back. She’s still angry at me even though I know it was simply where I was in my life as a widow and her life being so filled with drama that I couldn’t do it all and manage my boys. Then recently, I’m finding one of my friends stepping back from me. I know she loves me so I’m trusting that she’ll be back when she’s ready, just as I’ll be back when I’m ready in this other woman’s life.

    It’s so hard, ladies, but there is healing when you can let people step back and don’t punish them for it. Just smile and love them and let the air between you be light and peaceful. It’s the most beautiful gift you can give- true easy forgiveness that’s genuine. It’s what HE did for us, right?

  20. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    Hi Jill,
    I ran across your blog a few months back and was really touched by it. I have been going through a separation and divorce, and while I am not a widow, I have unwillingly and suddenly become a single woman and mother. Today, I have been feeling burdened by the fact that I have one friend who seems to have abandoned me in the midst of it…and it feels like I don’t know why and I really started to get angry. I closed my facebook account and was looking through my blog sites and clicked on yours. Oh. My. Goodness. It was like you were writing to me and I just wanted to thank you for this post today. You’ve opened my eyes. With every line, I was amazed at how it was exactly how I have been feeling! So, thank you…I know you don’t know me and my story would take up many pages…but I wanted to know you helped me today!

  21. Jill
    Jill says:

    Thank you for this perspective. Your wisdom and insight were perfect timing. I have had several friends give me ultimatums in regards to our friendship. It was tough to deal with but feel like they had some boundary and balance issues. I am learning that some people are not comfortable with my new role. My heart is beating and I am breathing, therefore, I have a purpose. There ultimatums didnt go as they planned. I have to be able to move into the plans and purpose God has for me. They want to limit me. I feel that as long as I’m needy then they have a purpose. It has been very hard to be treated as if I died too or easily dismissed. I will never be the same and am not sure complete healing will arrive while walking down this road but i know it will arrive when I walk into eternity. I try to remember that people and their approval should not be my main objective. Honoring my audience of One should be the only objective.

    Thanks for shining a light in my long road.

    Love, Jill

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