The year I turned fifty, I suffered a devastating personal loss. My husband died of melanoma after receiving a clean bill of health the year before. During the course of the months of grieving that immediately followed, I was surprised by how many people I subsequently met that also became widowed many years before they expected to be. When I first met them, it wasn't noticeable right away, they looked like random, ordinary people. It wasn't until we were brought together through grief support or the resulting new single-hood in middle age that we had the chance to meet.
We got to know each other first with small talk, and soon enough one of us mentioned our greatest burden. We had lost our spouse to the finality of death. What followed was always immediate and sincere sympathy and a look of deep understanding. Then a confession that she too had lost her husband when she was too young to be a widow.
This revelation seemed sadly comforting. It was a sharing of personal and private details with a relative stranger. And in a way, we recognized ourselves in each other, knowing firsthand many of the shared experiences that they have been through. So here we are together, members of an exclusive club that neither of us signed up for, and most certainly never expected to join. This simple but intimate sharing creates a sudden bond between us. It's like being in a foreign land, not knowing the language, but finding someone in a group that also knows English. You can connect and communicate immediately, and better than with others.
This is a person who will listen to our story without interrupting, all the while not being put off if tears suddenly bubble up and overtake us momentarily. Sometimes, especially in early grief, it can feel like we are reliving the horrible experiences all over again, as the scenes play out in our minds when we share our story of loss with someone new. This creates a bond of true connection. You become fast friends as she is recognized as a new member of your exclusive tribe, and can be a source of support and understanding. After all, grief is a universal feeling, and it can feel devastating.
Being with this new friend can feel like a safe haven from the waters of grief that toss you like a cork while the choppy waves make it impossible to swim, float, or tread water. At last, you find a place to rest, if only for a short time, in the calm presence of someone who truly understands that you're feeling like you can't keep your head above water. The knowing look in her sympathetic eyes or a soft touch on your arm can calm your panicked feeling of being desperate to know how you'll ever manage to survive on your own. She knows it's possible. She's been in the same situation, and she's a survivor, willing to help you stay afloat until the wild sea of emotion calms down.
Making new friends in mid-life can be challenging, so finding a kindred spirit through a shared life circumstance gives you a reason to connect and continue to get together occasionally. It's a bonus in your newly altered lifestyle that can otherwise get you down much of the time. Together you can move forward and heal your spirit by spending time together, making new memories doing activities, or sometimes just chatting on the phone. Discovering together how your lives can become whole again even though things didn't turn out the way you expected can be a gift you give each other, and a path out of suffering.
Author: Janet Polech, Inspiredprints. Healing is possible, Trust the Process