Q. My husband died after 35 years of marriage. Although I still work, I feel nobody needs me anymore. My grown children live far away. I’ve just been invited to a family event at a cousin’s house, but hesitate to go because I haven’t been close to these relatives. What do you think?
There are so many losses when you’re widowed, including being stripped of a key part of your identity. Connecting with others is essential to finding meaning and support. A good place to start is family (including in-laws) who live nearby. Relatives share bonds and memories that can be rekindled and add to your life, even if you haven’t been close.
This may be a time to look at old relationships with new eyes and find value in them—because everything has changed. You’ve changed. You’re a unit of one, not part of a couple. This new situation can affect interactions with others—your response to them and theirs to you. Maybe you didn’t socialize with some people you saw at weddings or holidays because your husband didn’t “click” with them. Or their interests or lifestyle may not have meshed with yours. Now you may feel differently.
As a widow you also have time for relationships you couldn’t pursue before. After my own husband died, I consciously decided to look for new roles to help replace the loss of my role as a wife. I made an effort to connect with my nieces. Two of them recently had babies, and I am an aunt who wants to be part of their lives. I offer positive reinforcement, interest in what they’re doing, and perhaps most importantly, a listening ear. And they’ve welcomed me. These relationships blossomed only after my husband died, and the busy social life we shared was gone.
My brother-in-law, who I saw once or twice a year in the past, has become a dear friend. I’ve also grown closer to two sisters-in-law.
By all means go to this family gathering. A little preparation can help you feel less anxious about attending. For example, you can arm yourself with conversation openers, such as “It’s so nice to see you. What have you been up to?” or “Tell me about your life these days? How have you been doing?” Why not take a chance and reach out? What have you got to lose?
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author—and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons / jimwhimpey