Ask Alice — Advice for All: Keeping a Friendship After the Death of a Spouse

I am trying to make sense out of a sad situation. I have been a close friend for over 25 years of a woman whose husband died after a long illness. We raised our children in the same neighborhood, went to church together, and she and her husband often traveled with my husband and me.

Published February 27, 2012 5:13 PM
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I am trying to make sense out of a sad situation. I have been a close friend for over 25 years of a woman whose husband died after a long illness. We raised our children in the same neighborhood, went to church together, and she and her husband often traveled with my husband and me.

 

Dear Alice,

I am trying to make sense out of a sad situation. I have been a close friend for over 25 years of a woman whose husband died after a long illness. We raised our children in the same neighborhood, went to church together, and she and her husband often traveled with my husband and me.

During the many months of her husband’s illness, I tried to be helpful to her. I noticed that the sicker he became, the more she seemed to pull away from me, often not returning my phone calls. I accepted this since I had no choice, and I respected her right to privacy during this difficult time.

 

Since his death several months ago, my friend has not done anything to resume our relationship.

 

I am very sad about this since I consider her to be an important person in my life. I have invited her to our home several times, but she always says she is busy. I have even asked her if I have done something unknowingly to hurt her, but she says no. Maybe I was not as caring during this period as I could have been. I worry that I am harassing her, which I don’t want to do. Should I just let her go, or is there something you can recommend I do to reconnect with her?

 

— Confused

 

Dear Confused,

 

You need to consider that your friend is struggling with her grief and trying to adjust to a different life without her husband. She doesn’t know how to tell you that being with you and your husband may be too painful for her since your families enjoyed so many wonderful experiences together. Her new vulnerability may embarrass her. She may have little energy for relationships at this time. Avoiding you is a way of protecting herself.

Now that her husband has died, your friend no longer has the important role of caretaker to play. She may not even know all that she is experiencing since grief causes so many mixed and intense feelings.

 

It is likely that she isn’t ready to resume some parts of her former life. She knows she can’t return to her life the way it was before his illness and death. Instead of inviting her over with your husband and family present, ask her to have coffee or lunch with you alone. Grieving people often have a difficult time talking with more than one person at a time because they get overwhelmed.

 

She has to heal, and each of us does it differently. Since she has been so important to you, keep trying. Write her notes and tell her you miss her. Over time she may be more willing to reestablish a relationship. Her desire for your friendship is likely to be rekindled after she adjusts to her recent, profound loss. Be patient and present.

—Alice

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