Unraveling the Friend Disappearance Act
You lost your partner, and now your friends are disappearing too.
Yes, friendships change in widowhood. As if you have not had enough change and loss in your life, to start to have friends fall off and disappear is yet another blow. This topic is one that comes up 100% of the time in my client work and certainly one that I experienced firsthand as well. Everyone starts with such good intentions. They all want to help and be there for support at the beginning, so much so that sometimes that outpouring of assistance can feel overwhelming. They usually stick around for about three months, and then they go back to living their normal lives while you are still in the thick of grief.
Let me try to unravel the Friend Disappearance Act—a ghostly chapter in the widow's journey—to shed light on why some friends become the phantoms of friendship during times of profound loss and what you can do to start to explore new friendships. After experiencing loss, you may also decide that some of your current friendships are no longer serving you, and you may want to sever ties with them as well.
There are a number of reasons why you may want and need to find different people to spend time with:
You don’t have as much time as you used to.
You used to have mainly couple friends and now don’t feel as comfortable as a solo person.
You realize that life is short, and you don’t want to spend your time with people that don’t get you anymore.
If you have children, you are solo parenting. You may need to bring your children with you more.
You went back to work.
Here are some of the reasons why friends disappear:
Fear of Awkwardness
When a person loses their partner, friends may feel uncomfortable and unsure about how to offer support. The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can lead them to withdraw from the widow, creating a gap in what was once a strong social connection.
The dynamics of social relationships often revolve around couples. After the death of a partner, friends who were part of a couple may find it challenging to continue the same level of connection. Invitations to social events may dwindle, as widows no longer fit into the couple-oriented activities that were once the norm.
Some friends might struggle to empathize with the intense grief and emotional upheaval that widows experience. They may unintentionally distance themselves, finding it difficult to comprehend the depth of the widow's pain. This empathy gap can make you feel even more isolated and alone.
Life Moves On
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, friends may unintentionally move forward, getting caught up in their own responsibilities and routines. The widow, left to grapple with loss, can feel left behind and forgotten, exacerbating the sense of isolation.
Uncomfortable with Death
Societal discomfort with death and grief can contribute to friends avoiding the widow altogether. Some people simply don't know how to address the topic or offer meaningful support, leading to a gradual distancing.
So what can you do about it?
I get asked this question all the time. How can you make new friends, especially when you have not had to do that in quite some time? Where do you find your new “people”?
Seek Support Groups
Joining grief support groups or organizations specifically designed for widows can provide a sense of belonging. Connecting with others who have experienced similar losses can be incredibly comforting and may lead to the formation of new friendships. There are a couple of nationwide support groups (Soaring Spirits and Modern Widows Club) that meet in person and virtually. I have attended both of these groups and have made friends at both of them. Check them out to see if they are in your area.
There are many Facebook groups for widows that do things socially. See what is out there. There are also meet up groups for widows. Check those out.
Participate in NEW Activities
What did you like to do before your partner passed away? Now may be the time to try that again. Painting, pottery, fitness, pickleball. Check out your local park district and library. Actively participating in social activities can help to rebuild connections. Joining clubs or taking classes not only introduces widows to new people but also provides a positive outlet for coping with grief.
Join Book Groups
If you are not able to concentrate long enough to read a book, do an audio book and find a book group in your neighborhood. If you don’t know of one, check at your local library or ask a neighbor.
Reconnect with Old Friends
Reconnecting with friends from the past who may not have been directly associated with your late partner can be a way to rebuild a support network. These friends may offer a fresh perspective and be more open to creating new memories.
It is hard to try new things and to search out new friendships, I get it. But in doing so, you are taking an active positive step in your healing. Don’t talk yourself out of it, and don’t give up after only trying something once. Be brave, be bold and hold your head high. I know you can do it!