Anyone who does interviews knows you can get a lot of predictable – and evasive – answers. But sometimes I get a gold nugget of a response. That was the case with a woman I interviewed for my book about the loss of a spouse or partner, “Turning Toward Tomorrow. “ She had requested the interview, oddly enough, though she was still happily married. What she said was: “Some of my losses are still walking around.”
She was referring to the debris of relationships that were dead – or on life support. It’s a familiar syndrome to many of us. Relationships change for myriad reasons. When my husband died, some of my friendships were strengthened by supportiveness. Other friends, who apparently couldn’t take the reality of my new life, fell by the wayside. I’m thinking of one formerly close friend who stopped phoning because, she admitted, “I’m afraid you’ll sound depressed.”
It isn’t just death that can end a relationship. We all know how a marriage that began as a love affair can end in the ashes of divorce. We don’t often admit, however, that sibling relationships may also undergo transformation, especially if one of the siblings becomes more successful that the other. I confess that my closeness with my sister turned testy when we became mothers. Childhood resentments that had been hidden under the rug were resurrected via competitiveness about our children.
So what do we do when a connection we need is no longer there? We can walk around wrapped in self-pity and anger (as I’ve too often done). But that’s a dead end street.
Neediness can make us cling to the remains of a relationship, which puts us in a beggarly position. So I was struck by the words of Phillip Galantes, who writes an advice column for the Styles section of “The New York Times.” A few months ago he received a letter from a woman complaining that her daughter-in-law doesn’t include her in holidays. “What should I do?” she asked mournfully. His advice? “Knock on other doors.”
That resonated in my head. A holiday dinner was approaching, but my grown children had plans that didn’t involve me. I did feel a rising tide of self-pity starting , but I also became aware of the warm connections I’ve deliberately developed with my nieces and nephews. Hesitantly I called one niece to ask about the holiday dinner. She said, “There’s always a place for you at my table.” Hard to feel sorry for yourself with an invitation like that!
Finding new friends to replace lost ones isn’t easy. but I reject the attitude of a former neighbor who said, “It’s easier when you’re young and sit in the playground with other mothers.” The common belief that you can’t make new friends in later life is a myth. Yes, old friendships are meaningful because you share a history, but their loss doesn’t have to result in an isolation chamber. One of my most generous friends is a woman in my current writing group. It isn’t past years that connect us, but our shared passion for writing.
In fact, groups can be fertile meeting grounds.Although men often find it harder to reach out, a widowed colleague told me he’s finding stimulating friendships with “kindred spirits” he meets at political demonstrations. (Plenty of those these days!)
I welcome Emails about your experiences. If I don’t reply immediately it will be because I’m busy finding doors to knock on.
BOOKS: WIDOW’S WALK – available through iUniverse.com;TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW – xLibrius.com; TEN WOMEN OF VALR and ROLE PLAY- amazon.com & Amazon Kindle.