Let’s say you have a female friend that’s you’ve known for a number of years (and it could be a man, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s imagine it’s a woman.) One day, her husband falls ill and soon after, he dies. She is bereft, and also needs to figure out how to afford her house payments, continue with her career and care for her young children.
In the initial days, you knew what to do. Maybe you didn’t know what to say but you knew what to do. Bring food, lots of it. Donate to an online campaign to pay for funeral expenses. Offer to pick up her kids from school. Call her from the grocery store to ask what she needs and drop it by her house.
Maybe she’s a really good friend of yours, so you also help her organize her finances or clean out her husband’s closet. Maybe you decide to take her kids to church for a couple of months or babysit for an entire weekend in those early days when she is having a hard time getting out of bed.
You are a good friend. You are doing what good friends should do.
But time goes by. Your friend, the widow, starts going to the grocery store by herself and making her own meals. She picks up her kids from school and attends school events. You see her at the local playground or pool or trampoline park and you notice she doesn’t openly cry like she used to.
And you think: I’m so glad she is through that terrible part of her life. She seems to have it all together now.
You’re glad because all the things you used to do in the initial months are no longer needed. She can deal with the logistics of her life and she appears to be a competent parent. She’s kept the house. She even shows up at neighborhood parties with a plate of food.
At this point, you may think that she doesn’t need your help any longer.
You would be wrong.
Maybe your widow friend hasn’t been out in months, and really wishes she could. Or maybe she doesn’t want to go out, but she’s still sad when she hears about all the fun everyone is having without her. Maybe she wishes her kids had more play dates with her, or maybe she wishes they had those play dates without her. Maybe she keeps running out of milk because the closest store where she used to go for groceries reminds her of shopping with her dead husband, and she doesn’t want to cry in front of the cashier. Maybe she wishes her friends would come over for a quiet glass of wine every once in a while, since she can’t get childcare for every ladies’ night.
I don’t know what she wants, because I don’t know your widow friend. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s your friend. And if she’s your friend there’s one thing you should do to find out what she wants and needs: you should ask her. And then you should ask her again. Because being 6 months out and 12 months out and 18 months out can feel really different.
Maybe this feels unfair. In a friendship, both people should check in on each other, right?
Being a young widow means that all the things your friend could do before, all the amazing parties she could throw, all the homemade pastries she could make for the bake sale, all the easy conversations she could make at the playground – all that is changed forever. She may want to be the same person as before, but she’s not. She can’t do what she once did and she can’t be who she once was.
This may also mean your friendship with her is harder than it once was. She might not be providing that same comforting ear to listen with or shoulder to cry on that she once could. It may feel frustrating to you.
What you may not know is that she may wake up after a year or two and realize that the world has shifted around her, and she doesn’t know how to navigate the relationships that were once so easy. She may have fewer connections to many people around her and she may not know how to repair those relationships that remain.
But you are her friend. It’s not easy anymore to be her friend, but you aren’t going to give up on her.
So you call her and text her all the time, even though she doesn’t always get back to you, and even though you’ve been doing this for over a year. You invite her to dinner with you and your husband, even though he’ll be the only man there. You offer to pick up her kids from school and you tell her to go get a pedicure instead, even though you yourself haven’t had a pedicure in months. You drop off some plants from the garden center because you know she’s a gardener, and these plants will make her day. You remember her anniversary because you put it on your calendar, and you put a card in her mailbox on that day. You do all of this even though she doesn’t do any of it for you.
You do this, and so much else, even though it may seem overbearing. You do this even though it’s been over a year and she seems okay overall. You do this even though you are tired yourself, and really wish you had someone calling you from the grocery store.
You do this, because you are her friend.
You know that if the roles were reversed, she’d do the same. Not just for a few weeks or a few months. But for as long as it was needed.
That’s friendship. It’s not easy friendship, but if you stick with it, she’ll come out on the other side. I promise. She might be different, in many ways, but she will still need you to stand by her. And she will forever remember how you were the one who was there when things were not easy.
You did it all because you were – and you are – her friend.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.