The Unfaithful Widow is a collection of essays by Barbara Barth, describing her first year alone after her husband's death. "I blush to say that everything in the book happened to me, or rather I did it all, " says Barbara. "Saying I did it all has more power to it, which is the message in my book." I spoke to Barbara about the role that friendships played during that life-changing year.
Irene: Losing a life partner turns a woman's life upside down; how does it affect her friendships?
Barbara: When my husband died it was amazing how my friends looked after me. A bit of my background history may explain that statement. I am not the type of gal who went off for weekends with girlfriends. I never had a roommate. And when I was single I preferred to drive myself to parties so I could leave when I wanted. However, I am very social and love people. I have to head out of the house every day for a small adventure, and then come home to my nest.
My husband and I were rarely apart for the twenty-five years we were a couple. I was home with him most nights. After I retired from my federal job, I became an antique dealer. I lunched with my antique buddies during the day and several of us set up at antique shows. My best friend was also his good friend, his tomboy friend he liked to call her. So I had my best friend, my close antique buddies, and many women in the antique business I knew casually.
My best friend was my lifeline. I can't tell you how many times a day I'd call her. My antique buddies stayed close. The surprise was that the other women I knew from the antique world rallied around me. Suddenly I was in a social whirl of lunches and dinners. I turned 60 three months after my husband died, and my friends gave me a wonderful week of celebration. A friend of mine that I knew for twenty years as an antique dealer said one night over dinner, "There are angels that come into your life when needed. Sometimes they stay, sometimes they move on. I hope I am one that stays." My friend was right. I was well protected by angels my first year.
Irene: Did your friendships remain stable or did your find that the type of friends you wanted to be with or felt comfortable with changed?
Barbara: My friend who I mentioned above has become one of the angels that stayed. We have dinner every few weeks and have a ball. She has a guy at home, but comes out to play at night. We aren't out late because I have dogs at home to feed. Some of the other angels have gone back to their own lives, but will forever be in my heart for being there at a time I was so lost.
My friends and I are very open with each other. Nothing I tell them shocks them. We laugh about everything and they accept the changes in me. They don't judge my choices. Most are married. Sometimes I think it would be nice to find other single women to do things with, but I am still that homebody at heart.
My husband's cousin kids me that for someone who talks about wanting to date I have put up barriers - six dogs. But they are so much company. I have chosen to write in this new life of mine and that is isolating so I have to work harder to get out and be social. When I say I haven't done anything my friends laugh. I've usually done more than anyone, but I have a high level of energy and need to stay active.
I feel as comfortable with my old friends as I always have. I am not in that world of married women fearing suddenly single women. My friends and I are as we always were. That has not changed.
Irene: What are the ways in which girlfriends can support a woman who is recently widowed?
Barbara: Pick up the phone and call. Call again. That was the most important thing for me. I needed to have human contact. Sometimes it is hard to know what to say to someone who has had a loss. Don't worry about it. I didn't care what anyone said. I just needed to hear a voice. To know someone was thinking about me.
I remember years ago when I was a kid I read somewhere that if you visit someone who lives alone, let her talk, don't take over the conversation. I never thought it would apply to me. But it did. I was surrounded by silence in my house.
I remember the night "Sex In The City" had its premier. Two of my antique buddies had planned for us to go. I fell asleep on the couch, depressed. The phone rang three times in twenty minutes. The fourth ring I picked it up. My friends shouted at me, "Wake up, Sex In The City. Picking you up in twenty minutes." I threw water on my face, dabbed on some lip gloss and was ready when they pulled up. We had a ball. I would have languished on the couch that night without their pushing me to get out.
Irene: What are some of the ways in which girlfriends can grate upon you are feeling vulnerable?
Barbara: I guess I was lucky, still am, with the friends I have. If I had someone question what I was doing, made me feel guilty, that would have been horrible. My friends all encouraged me to do what I needed to do. When I started dating we all laughed at my bad dates. I am a good storyteller, but my friends laughed with me, not at me. Big difference.
Irene: Did you join any support groups or connect with other widows? If so, what was that like?
Barbara: I decided to find my own way. I didn't want to go to a support group and I didn't want to talk to other widows. I was afraid it would depress me more. I was at a bookstore with my best friend and wandered into the self-help section and pulled out a "widow" book. It depressed me. The author talked about women my age starting to date again after a long relationship and all the pitfalls. That was another yuck moment.
I started writing at night to purge myself. I danced at night to my favorite music. Bad dates led me to good things. I felt the universe was sending me signs and I kept moving forward. My book is about all the oddities of that year. I found that laughter was the best medicine. I think that support groups can be very helpful. I just couldn't deal with going to one. I didn't want to be around people who had suffered a loss, I wanted to be in the middle of life.
Irene: Dogs play a big part in the story of your first year. Can pets substitute for friends or companions?
Barbara: I am a dog lover. Always have been. I now have six, five from the local shelters in the last year. Perhaps I have gone overboard. But they are so much fun. My dogs are not substitutes for friends but are a special part of my life. I can't imagine not having a pet. They make me laugh. They teach me lessons about life. They show me that love is more important than a good rug.
They helped me find joy again. They are my writing muses. I think anyone can benefit from the unconditional love a pet gives you. My book has a dedication to animal rescue shelters and my favorite quote, "I like to think that I have rescued dogs, truth is they have rescued me."
Irene: Any other advice to widows about friendships?
Barbara: I was always focused on the fact I needed to talk to someone. One day I called a good friend, embarrassed to be on the phone yet again. It turned out she was in worse shape than I was and it was good I had called. I think being alone, being a widow, makes you feel vulnerable you are imposing on others. The truth is we all need the support of our friends and should not be afraid to make that first move.
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