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.