When you’re widowed you can find yourself feeling very lonely. Unfortunately it isn’t always solely because your spouse or partner has died. Sometimes other people walk away as well. Those secondary losses of relationships can be incredibly bitter. Nearly 9 years after losing my husband Kevin, I can still recall the feelings as friends faded into the distance. One who asked me to attend and speak at their wedding, one who lost his best friend in a motorcycle accident and had a complicated relationship with his friend’s widow, and those who I think just had no clue how to handle me without Kevin.
I reflect on those past relationships and understand that they had their time and place. I grew up in an environment where my church and school community were everything to me. As I slipped away from the church scene following Kevin’s death I found myself without a deep sense community like I once had. I had close friends who continued to do everything they could to be there for me. Some of those friends were going through their own trials that I couldn’t understand at the time, yet they continued to give of their time to me. Eventually I found community in an unlikely way; through an introduction to Twitter from my cousin. I was living downtown and within months of joining twitter I had a solid following of city locals who very simply acknowledged my pain without offering solution. They listened online and I built a sense of community with them.
These days few of us are regularly on Twitter, yet those relationships have evolved to attending their children’s birthday parties, group campouts, walks, picnics, and creation of a community of friends. Between those friendships, the friendships I have built from meeting widows online and at Camp Widow, the relationships with my closest friends from adolescence, and from my supportive and growing family through blood and two marriages, I have a solid community. It’s a mish-mash of people from all walks of life and backgrounds and they are amazing.
Relationships like these didn’t just happen or stay close by happenstance. It took me being open to a new life and new friends and that is not easy. For years I remember being bitter about the friends who simply stopped checking in. I remember losing a close friend, who was there with me through every step of widowhood those first few years years, and never knowing what I did wrong. Then, out of nowhere, the relationship started again and seems to be repaired. I remember being so angry at one of my few male friends who felt I was too needy/clingy after losing Kevin and chose to disengage from me. I was devastated. Each relationship that went by the wayside after Kevin was like a blow to my heart. Every one required mourning…again. Something I was so sick of doing.
When the opportunity for a new community arose out of Twitter, there was excitement and fear. I was incredibly open and vocal about my loss and journey and part of me knew some people would not be able to handle it. I used it as a sword to cut out the people who couldn’t deal with my extreme emotions. That wasn’t fair to either party. I did the same when I began dating. It not only hurt me but hurt them. It wasn’t fair to place my burdens so heavily upon their shoulders expecting them to carry everything I was going through. But you live and learn and you wish sometimes you had done things differently.
As I mentioned earlier, a group of people did stay by my side through the extreme ups and downs of widowhood, and eventually remarriage. They watched me evolve from blogging, to publishing my book and they supported me in amazing ways. They embraced Dave into their lives like I had enveloped him into mine. I still think about the many gestures that people offered, people who barely knew me, and how I can repay them. I am still so grateful for all their generosity and my way of paying them back is paying it forward to others in ways that I know how.
My sense of community is not one source; it is fed from many different backgrounds and relationships. I had to be vulnerable to let them in. I had to share my story without just burning them with it, but opening my heart to sharing it with them beyond the brash introduction into my grief. Those shared and intimate moments created lasting bonds and allowed me to find a strong network of friends who have carried me through this world the past 9 years.
Wherever you are, I encourage you to allow yourself to be vulnerable in your grief. If you’re lonely and hurting, allow your story to touch others and to build bonds between you. Even in the unknown, uncertain of where your feet may land this year or next, community can be global and fluid. It can be for a moment or for a lifetime. When you engage with others you allow your heart to begin mending in ways you couldn’t imagine.