It felt as if there is a gap between the challenges of single widowed parenting that I outlined and the role of friends and family. This is not to say they weren’t there for me, of course they were and still are. God is in the heart of it too. Just that single parenting is just that.
Setting new rules, working out a way of living together, maintaining boundaries. It’s not community parenting, or village parenting or co parenting ; so I had to find a way that was my way,while finding a way to keep relationships and communication open in the family; as someone once explained to me.Sometimes I succeeded. Moreoften I did not. My friendship group changed drastically, and the close friendships I have now are all the more precious. And of course as a virtually only child in a very quiet house, my model for co living and keeping charge was Friends. I had no idea what I would do with a houseful of boys. Their lengthening legs and enormous feet were a constant source of amazement and still are. My daughter was rapidly turning into a teen and a tomboy with a penchant for black clothes . I was going to need all the sense of humour I could get.
I missed all the series first time around, so Friends became my first box set purchase, and even now whenI get an off day, a few reruns make me laugh.
My actual friends make me laugh too. And I make them laugh. Walking, coffee,cake, salad and Chardonnay, Pudding and Prosecco nights, Italian Nights, fund raising are how we spend our time together. Long chats in seaside cafes with always the sea at our back. I am grateful to them, esp those who have encouraged me in writing. And of course there is always the sea.
The coast is my ‘go to’ place shen I need solace. I think I must have inherited that from my grandmother, who grew up on the swansea coast. Unlike her I can paddle and swim beneath mountains and castles, and I am reminded of swimming in a lake in Germany much to Ryan’s horror. We were on a quick break between relapses.
‘You can’t swim there…. ‘
‘Watch me’ and it was perfect. I emerged gritty, muddy with a few squidgy insects. He made me sit on a towel in the car. For three years I swam every day after that. In some respects I was the rule breaker in comparison to him, which made being a sole parent hard. Occasionally one of the four would accuse me of sounding like a teacher. They never realised that default reasonable professional mode covered a range of emotions that even now get the better of me.
There is a comparatively famous image of the present queen with her mother and grandmother in mourning, entitled Three Queens Mourn. I wonder what someone were to say if there was a photo of myself, my sister in law and mother in law. In a way it was useful when the rituals of mourning were observed. There were clear signals. Recently, a divorced mother said to me “You know what it’s like.” No I don’t. I fully understand and appreciate that it is difficult, but our complex sets of circumstances are/were entirely different. I had four children 11 and over, she has toddler. She had choices she could negotiate re the ending of the relationship, I could not.
With one exception, no grief or loss is better or worse than the other. And it seems to me once these all too human experiences are compared and quantified, we diminish the experiences and the people who died. And this is why we need our friends to not make comparisons, to not fall back on platitudes, to understand why we are being difficult in difficult circumstances and to be truthful and gentle.
There is no right or wrong thing to say. Nothing can make it worse. But by simply being there and staying there, without being dragged in there you make a world of difference.
So thank you to those who did.