For me, it’s not the home maintenance–even on a week like this when my home’s electrical and plumbing systems are conspiring against me! It’s also not money management, work challenges, or even single parenting that are the toughest to navigate as I journey down this “widow’s walk.” But instead, it’s finding where I belong in the social world, now awkwardly single after so many years of moving through it as part of a couple. I find myself frustrated that I still–after over four years–haven’t figured this out.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely getting easier as I build more one-to-one friendships with women and follow up with those few couple friends who still seem to be genuinely comfortable hanging with me now that I’m no longer “coupled.”
But it’s as if Steve and I are seated around a table with several couples–all longtime friends. We’ve been playing the same board game we’ve enjoyed together every Friday night for decades when, suddenly, something distracts me, taking my attention away from the table for a moment. But when I turn back to the game, everything has changed.
In that blink of an eye, Steve–my forever playing partner–is nowhere to be found, and some trickster has thrown all of the playing pieces up in the air. Now gravity has taken over, so they’re tumbling down like colorful hailstones, landing in totally random places on the table and rolling off onto the floor. While some of my friends are enjoying the cacophonous chaos still crashing down around us, I’m not. There’s nothing I recognize here. My grip has tightened on the table, and I feel my lower lip quivering as I try to hold in the howl that threatens to escape my clenched teeth.
You see, I was enjoying our orderly–even at times predictable–get-togethers. Same pizza. Same game. Same friends. Same husband. There was a beauty in this simple rhythm. But where does a person even begin to figure out how it all works, now that everything has changed? What exactly are the rules to the new, partnerless game?
For a while, I was utterly immobilized at the prospect of trying to figure this out. “If I don’t know what to do, then maybe I should just do nothing.” (You can guess how well that approach worked out!)
* * *
I was sitting at my friend Jeanine’s dining room table on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, surrounded by spools of jewelry wire, beads in every shape and hue imaginable, and a big bowl of buttery popcorn.
Jeanine had invited a woman she met in her grief group to join our jewelry jam. So there we sat, a trio of widows, each attempting to string together something of beauty while practicing a new way to enjoy the company of other people. Jeanine generously gave us tips on technique as we shared a few of our stories and how we came to know each other. We talked about how we lost our husbands, and how much we each need more of this kind of healing, creative “play” in our lives.
At one point, I saw a pendant Jeanine had been working on (pictured above). The heart looks to me like a life in progress: my life. It has lots of open space. But if you look closely, you will see it’s not an empty heart. Instead, it’s one that is gradually filling in with tiny beaded flowers, reflecting the work of the ultimate creator–so much more “half full” than “half empty.”
I know gatherings like this will never feel like those decades spent at play with Steve and our “couple friends,” but it can become its own treasured ritual, moving to its own sweet rhythm–one beautiful bead at a time.
- Art by Jeanine Cogan