I watched the first episode of a new show on Netflix this morning called Dead to Me. In the episode, two women meet at a grief group, both widows. They end up building a new friendship as late night phone buddies since neither of them are able to sleep. The show goes on to take a lot of unexpected twists and turns (and believe me you should so watch it!), but that one aspect had me remembering the early days of my widowhood… of building friendships with fellow widows in the wee hours of the night.
When I first connected with other widowed people, it was through a private Facebook group. Many of us ended up fairly often online, in the middle of the night. Effectively being late-night “phone” buddies for each other when we could not sleep. There was almost always someone there ready to listen, in the middle of the night or any other time of day that we just needed to feel heard and lay down our guard. And because we got each other, there was just this ease. A kind of comfort no one else could really provide. I ended up making a few of my closest friends from that initial group, people I now travel to see and talk on the phone with often.
I was fortunate to have found groups like that online, and to have since built friendships with people who will actually fulfill the words “Call me ANYTIME”. I have used that lifeline even now, seven years after my fiance died. Because new things do come up. You start dating again. You move in with someone new. You get engaged to someone new. You hit the 5 year mark or the 10 year mark from your person’s death. New stuff always comes.
So yes, I have been very fortunate to find places to spill out all my shit no matter the time of day. But I do remember for about the first 6 months, I didn’t have that.
For those first 6 months, I didn’t know a bunch of other widowed people. I didn’t feel like I belonged to a group of awesome, strong, brave, hurting, totally unconditionally supportive people like me. And even though I had a lot of amazing friends, they weren’t widowed. I felt alone, and weird, and like the only widow under the age of 30 in the whole world.
I felt like everywhere I went there was a shining beacon that everyone could see… a beacon that told them there was something different about me. That I was now abnormal. How I couldn’t even remember to buy dental floss, much less floss my actual teeth. For like, a LOT of months. Or how I just quit my job and left my entire life because of how broken I was. Or how, even though I had the money, I had not paid any of my credit card bills in 6 months because I just didn’t give a shit anymore. Or how I refused to buy cherries for the rest of my life (he died in a helicopter crash in a cherry orchard, long story).
It isn’t their fault really. All of this strangeness scares the shit out of people who aren’t grieving. Because they know, eventually, they WILL be grieving, and they’re so terrified to end up like YOU. They’re scared of your pain and their scared that when death comes knocking they won’t be able to handle it even halfway as well as you are. I picked up on this pretty quickly… essentially, for a lot of people, I had become a beacon of death. A walking reminder of all of the most unthinkable things that will one day happen to them. How awesome.
And so, until I found other widows, I would lay awake at night, alone. Alone in my pain. Well, not entirely alone since I still had my two cats and endless reruns of Drop Dead Diva, which was the only show that seemed to be able to take my mind off of my own grief for more than two seconds. But otherwise… alone. Despite having amazing non-grieving friends and a wonderful best friend, there are just those times when none of that is enough.
Having other widows, having late night buddies, can be so life-changing. I remember finally being able to laugh for the first time with people who were not weirded out by all of the strange darkly humorous things about widowhood. People who did not cringe when I made jokes like “if the world ends tomorrow I’d be completely fine with that, really!” I remember I started to sleep better, just knowing they were there. I remember feeling, finally, for the first time, less like an insane person, and less like a walking beacon of death. And eventually, when I met those people in person, I remember that they helped to transform this feeling of embarrassment I had about being widowed into a feeling of pride. Which was a really huge turning point for me. And those late night buddies, and those fellow widowed comrades were the ones who did it for me.
I remember feeling like these people actually saw me, not just the death that happened to me. And, they saw my person, and wanted to know about him and his life and the life we shared… which was so, so healing. Most of all, I remember feeling that here, with these people, I’m normal again. I know that not everyone actually finds that at the time they need it. Hell some of us aren’t even capable of mustering the energy to get out of bed, much less try and find a group of other widows. And sometimes it takes us years, for all sorts of reasons. In part, that’s why I write here. I mean, it’s also for selfish reasons of being able to blab out all my own shit to you. But honestly, I know what it’s like to feel completely alone at 3am and not feel like there is anyone on the planet you can reach out to - or want to reach out to.
I know how sometimes just reading someone else’s story helps you feel less alone too. I did a lot of that before I ever actually talked to another widowed person. I also know how vulnerable and scary it is to take the steps to talk to anyone new when you’re widowed, because you don’t want to accept that you have to introduce yourself as a “widowed person”. That this is now your life. I totally get it.
I think that’s why blogs like this and many others are so important. Why it’s important for anyone who feels the desire to put down their feelings in words and put it out into the world. Because there are a ton of people who don’t yet have the energy to interact with others about this new world they were dropped into. Many who silently read our words, at 3am, needing desperately to feel a little bit less alone, but feeling too fragile to reach out. That’s a very real place.
I hope this actually finds at least one of you, in fact, at precisely that time of night when you need it most. At a time when maybe you don’t yet have those late night buddies and you need to feel less alone.
I hope this also encourages you that if you are in need of late-night widowed buddies - your “call me anytime” widowed peeps - you will find them. Maybe in the Soaring Spirits forums here. Maybe in a private Facebook group. Maybe in a local grief group or at Camp Widow if you’re feeling especially brave. Maybe in a totally random and unexpected way even. But you’ll find them. And if you have already, maybe this post for you is more about just taking a moment to be so glad for those incredible people that have made this chapter of your life so much more full of understanding, love, and laughter.
Maybe this is just a reminder someone out there who is nowhere near ready for any of this widowed community crap - to just know that we’ll be here, writing every day, just in case. Just in case you’d like company at 3pm or 3am, with no pressure to share your feelings or ever write us back. Because that’s the sort of thing that real “call anytime” friends do.