One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 7, reflections (the last one, I promise!)

(If you really want to start at part one, I started this story back in May. [Yes, May of "this year!"])

The story of my late mother-in-law and how I cared for her after my husband died has been drawn out nearly as long as I possibly can. But the more I hear myself tell it – now that it’s over, two years later, now that she's really, truly dead (remember that she wanted me gone instead of her son, and to steal my child) – the more I learn about my first loss, and the one before that, and the ones when I was young. At least one of these bears telling through the lens of Audrey.

I’ve written about how hard it is to care for someone who doesn’t want to be cared for, and who doesn’t have long to live anyway, compared to a youngish, healthy man with a child and much more to live for, and compared to caring for a child who is purely on the up-and-up. I’ve shared how I feel the system of protecting our rights harms elders, creating paradoxes that our independence shouldn’t be expected to resolve.

I haven’t really ruminated much about what older folks, including widows what seems like a few years older than my group, face when they lose a partner: a wall, a future that’s shorter, their own mortality. I know Gavin and I couldn’t face it with his diagnosis, with failing treatments, with rapid decline. Death is not something you can look at: it’s too large. And what does that look like when you’re in your eighties or older? As a young widow, I’m grateful that it’s obvious to everyone I have many good years left, even if that isolated me from every single human I met while I was grieving. Maybe, even looking at Audrey, I still can't think too much about this. Others can, and I envy them.

I lost something else. I haven’t mentioned, not much, that Audrey and I had, apart from the end-stage Oedipal conflict, a warm relationship. One Valentine’s Day years back I gushed that she’d been nicer to me than my own parents, and in some ways, on some days, it was true. We were both completely “out of it,” as they say, after Gavin died. What a hole he left in our lives, how little we thought of our lives in those moments that lasted for months. But her dementia did more than distance her and stress me: it meant that I lost the possibility of her comfort and the chance to help her cope with the loss, too. We were robbed of a chance to grieve together, to live through the first year and the second year, too, as any sort of family.

Now that I know more about grieving families, I suppose all I missed during that time was the chance to have her judge me more (when in fact, she barely understood any of the things I was doing, as she forgot the world and its workings). I didn’t get the delicious opportunity to have her judge my dating. Strangely enough, even as I burned everything, she was too messed up to even criticize my cooking.

I learned, too, that grieving is a learning process: my daughter and I were on the upswing in life – we had to go on – and so each day of grief was like a lesson. Since Audrey’s couldn’t remember things, she couldn’t learn. Did she not experience the grief or did it just go nowhere, into depression and continued decline?

And there’s another insight about letting go. After she died, I held on to her notes, pages and pages of scribbled phone numbers with too few or too many disordered digits, questions to herself about whose name was what, the script declining and precipitously disobeying the fair blue rules on notepaper of every conceivable kind. Countless letters were drafted, front and back, to the editor of everything asking to be set free from involuntary captivity. Lack of comprehension abounded, and it seemed all the paper stayed balled up together in her purse or photo album, among sugar packets, none of them ever sent.

I wanted to save it all. I felt I needed evidence. I wanted forgiveness, an excuse, something to help me explain (to Gavin?) some vague day why I had to put her in the nice apartment and then later, in the nicer dementia ward. Even when the cousin from Ohio was responsible, it was clear I was still the “local relative,” I was the one the staff saw. There were ways in which I felt still responsible, even though I know I was off the hook. It was, after all, me that they called at 4:00 a.m. one night to tell me she was in a diabetic coma with blood sugar of 13 and that I should not request that she be sent to the hospital (of course I called the cousin).

I craved the evidence of her disease. But Mr. Fresh, who accompanied me to identify her body, who had never met her, was wise. He made me throw the papers, envelopes and sheaves of scribbly torn crazy pages, out. That’s not how you want Short Stack to remember her grandmother, he said. You don’t have to explain anything to anyone.

He was right. There is no audit for grief, and no standards in the large areas of action – outside of medicine – that we call “caregiving” and “managing care” that’s done by family. Audrey received the best care, later than she should have, but earlier than anyone else would have arranged. She probably lived longer for my assistance. And by the time she died I no longer felt I had to do it “for Gavin,” or the way he wanted. I had let go of those ideas at last and that marked some kind of change. In my new life, I strive to be less lawyerly. It's not that hard a habit to lose.

About Short Stack: although losing her Grandma did happen when she was older, closer to understanding loss, it didn’t seem to affect her any more than losing Daddy did. It gave her some new questions and then some new understanding, but she “got” more of Grandma’s illness. Over the course of the next year, as she learned about nutrition and avoiding apple juice, she seemed to be able to absorb that Grandma had died because she didn’t eat and drink enough. Shortie’s life was not framed by two losses: it was built of memories, like her last date with Grandma playing catch with a pink balloon in her nice bedroom on the dementia ward.

My last impression is of identifying the body, frail and pale, eye black like a panda’s from falling against a doorknob. A duty that hospice, who shot a Polaroid as they admitted Gavin, had saved me in the first case. I felt like steel next to her cold body in that large empty room, crossing the inlaid marble floor, in the midday. She was like a queen there and I was doing my job.

The cousin and I organized a memorial service – at which I didn’t tell anyone I was engaged to Mr. Fresh, even informally – and that was the last time I saw some of Gavin’s dearest friends, just a dozen people showed up including several of the old ladies who’d shared our vacations.

And to be honest, after everything, it was hard to be sad for any of that loss. Audrey had had a better life than she'd ever expected -- she had the satisfaction of dying with her secrets untold (probably unremembered) -- and she didn't know she was on the way out. It was a simple relief and one less weekly duty and with the second anniversary of Gavin's death coming up, I needed all the breaks I could get. Audrey wouldn't have understoodd my remarriage. She wasn't coming with me into my new life.

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Wordless Wednesday: My kid can make a game of anything

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Another Memorial Service

Here's what I said at Amy's memorial service, held at our church, just a week from the fourth anniversary of my husband's memorial service there. Am I bad for putting all my energy into those that survive and not the spirit and memory of the woman who was once so vital, so here, and now isn't? Am I awful for "knowing" this world and how to navigate it, which no one knows, for remembering how poorly I did and trying to change it for John?


As I stand here, among the memorial quilts, I am called back almost exactly four years, to the memorial service for my husband. The day was so much like this one – I think it was a little hotter – and the room was filled with friends from all areas of our lives and music, just brimming over with love. I couldn’t wait for the service to be over, for what I was going through to be over.

I wish I could have bottled that intense feeling, love and support poured out by more than 300 people. I didn’t know that the next day would be not the end of my grief, but day one of a journey that I’m still on. I didn’t know it would be by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know then, that I’d find a mission helping other young widowed people, many of them raising small children.

Because there were many days, just a few months later, when I looked around and saw no one. Where the hell is everybody? Everybody who who promised that day that they’d hold us up? I was alone, and it was horrible, and worst of all, I know it didn’t’ have to be that way. Those people did love us, and still do – but they were helpless not knowing what was right, and I was too tired to ask.

I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t ask well or that I’d get so little support. Now, four years later after sharing and learning from hundreds of young widowed people, I understand some of the simple things we can do to fix this gap.

So please don’t say to John what everyone said to me that day: “Let me know what I can do to help.” We don’t know. We’ve forgotten how to get to the grocery store; we certainly don’t have the capacity to organize our willing friends. That statement is our 3rd least favorite, after “he’s in a better place” and “at least you found someone to love.”

Just do something, anything specific, and above all stay in touch – call or email him when you’re hurting or when you’re happy. When you’re wrapped up in your busy life, call John. When you’re at the grocery store, call John. When you are remembering Amy or carrying out her good work in the world, call John. When you feel bad you haven’t called, call John. When you know you can’t do anything, call John. When he doesn’t call you back, call him again (we never check messages). When you have an extra hug lying around, call John. Call on their anniversary, the date of their loss, her birthday or his or the boys’. You won’t make their pain worse. There’s not really any “wrong” thing to say.

John, Adam and Bryan, if they are anything like me, will need your contact, but seeing them doesn’t have to feel like a duty, or be hard work. It’s mutually enriching, easy, fun. You needn't be strong or comfortable with emotional displays. You can cry, or not. It doesn’t matter if you knew him or knew her or hadn’t seen either in a while. Sometimes someone just wants someone else to come by and help fold laundry, or keep them company while they read.

These small favors, these connections with you, are what keep a grieving person afloat.

So please, do what you can, do whatever work you need to do on your own to get comfortable with it, and please stay close in a way that works for you. I promise it won’t hurt you and it really will make a difference for them.


And will my words make any difference at all for this loving man, still a husband, and his beautiful little boys? I pray, please, please. We can change our world, please, let's do it bit by bit and hand to hand.

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One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 6


This mother-in-law thing is turning into a very long story. But in many ways, the story of my mother-in-law is most of what happened during that first tough year after my husband died. What else did was going on? A job, a child, lots of laundry. I wasn’t bored, but I was numb and my responsibilities overpowered me. When I let go of caring for Audrey, I had to start looking ahead.

It wasn’t that the grief hit me all of a sudden – it had been there all year, gnawing at me every free minute and punching me down occasionally. Like Audrey, the grief was something to work on; unlike her, thinking and feeling did make a difference. And while most of it seemed to hurt, as people in grief all know, we’re not ill and we don’t need to be fixed. The only way out is through.

Life during the first year wasn’t all gray. There were many laughs with my new, young widow friends in group. My daughter was adjusting to day care, reveling in playing with kids her age all day and growing, growing, growing. We had high points, delights, and many, many tantrums, and we still visited my mother-in-law in her new “home.”

In brief: Audrey had seven good months in this facility, which she never got used to. She’d call me frequently asking when we were leaving “the hotel,” and occasionally she seemed upset to be there, but she was receiving the smallest amount of care possible for her abilities and it wasn’t too expensive. We visited and did craft projects. I fantasized that it was a good place for her to get used to and live well for a while.

I suppose in retrospect I should have been sharper about detecting changes in her. One memorable morning she called me thirty times before 9:15 promising to break out of the home. Each message told me her plan: eat breakfast, pack things, and then run away from this awful place. Each call was a new experience for her, and some of the calls were adjusted for the fact that she’d already eaten breakfast. I thought it was humorous and a sign of her insanity and inability to carry anything out, but not necessarily a mark of how far her dementia had progressed. Obviously, grief was making a lunkhead out of me, too.

I told my daughter, over and over, that Grandma was sick. Audrey, I said, had a problem in her head which sometimes made her think that I was in charge of everything in the world, and also, she had to be in a special place so they could make sure she ate and drank enough healthy water. My girl was fine with it and guided me through my duty to keep visiting though I would have loved to abandon the old woman altogether. I was so thankful to not be in charge and remembering that weight kept me doing the least (really the least) I could. After all, the woman I’d come to know and value as family – the self-sufficient and generous mother of my husband – wasn’t there any more.

She was no longer maternal, I had become the parent of everyone around me. One anchor was gone, replaced by a giant weight as I tried to lead my little girl through each day’s fog. It was never a problem; she danced ahead of me.

One Saturday afternoon in October, when Shortie and I were on a church camping trip, Audrey broke her hip. This event --- the stress, the hospital visit, the surgery – precipitated my first Match.com relationship in all its exhilaration and hilarity. All four days of it.

Some statistics you always keep in the back of your head, vaguely: how many seniors die within a year of breaking a hip. How many people, after widowhood, die within a year of their spouse. After the broken hip, I knew Audrey’s clock was ticking. When she at last died, six months after the last move, her mind was nearly gone. Her final home was the dementia ward of a real nursing home (the previous facility had been transitional and only offered very limited care).

Audrey died holding secrets that I was hoping to untangle from her: I think this was part of why I saved her tchotches, especially the New Mexico ones (I still have them). After she died I found out that even her best friends, the sisters of her generation while she was raising Gavin alone, were as much in the dark as I was.

She had lasted nearly two years after Gavin died. Some of Gavin’s friends thought, like I did, that she’d only be around a year beyond him, and that was when we thought her abilities were greater than they were. Fortunately, finally, I’d outlived her. I knew that my daughter and I would make it.

(to be continued... but not much longer, promise!)

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One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 5


How was I liberated from caring for Audrey? Gavin’s cousin from Ohio – Audrey’s niece, her sister-in-law’s daughter – was the only other person alive with any interest in her well-being. I spoke to her every few weeks on the phone, and updated her on how badly the old lady was doing. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t take over. I was doing so badly, and so was Audrey.

Finally one day the cousin planned a trip East to take over managing some of the care and stated, “it was getting pretty depressing hearing you talk about how badly you all were doing.” Thank you, I thought. And also? Duh! That’s what I was aiming at all this time. What the hell took you so long?

Her trip coincided with Audrey’s second fall. Since it was showtime – really the opening we needed to move her into assisted living -- I arranged a third three-month leave of absence from my job.

(Wouldn’t this make a good sidebar? “My three 3-month leaves in 3 years: a picture of family in crisis. 1. Maternity leave, daughter. 2. Bereavement leave, husband. 3. Arranging move into senior living, mother-in-law.”)

And I packed up her apartment for the old lady’s third move in five years. I Freecycled much of the furniture including the bookshelves Gavin had made for the home they used to share. I thrifted scores of books about Ireland, hardcover mysteries and memoirs, Thomas Merton, and a few strange volumes about what it’s like to live as an ordinary, unimportant person, alone and undistinguished. (I’m not even kidding about those.) I packed up dozens of tchotchkes: kachina dolls, Hummel figures, Nippon statues on fake boxwood bases, and pottery from the years they spent “on the run” in Albuquerque. Each object was a story that I still hoped to someday hear. I photographed how they were arranged so that if she ever wanted to, she could set them up again.

It was so easy for me to slip back into that warm jacket of denial. “In case” she ever comes home, “in case” she remembers and wants that candlestick to be on that same end table.

It’s not that the story ends there, far from it. Things settled down. I was still the only local family, but all the financial and medical responsibility was being sent to the cousin.

My whining was over. I found out that my grief group, like the cousin, was tired of my gripes about eldercare. Getting to know me in my most intense time of life, they thought I was boring.

Now I was just a visitor to Audrey’s room and the parent of her little sunshine. Her dementia continued to progress, which, in a way, made my life easier: I had optimistically planned to visit two or three times a week. Since she couldn’t remember anything, I could pretend to pull that off while I was visiting just once a week, if that much.

In some small way, I knew that her life would run linear and downward from this point, but my fate and hers were disentangled and the relief was overpowering. Just in time, too: she moved in to the first of two assisted living facilities the day of her car accident one year before, the day before the first “sadiversary” of Gavin’s death and I was expecting an avalanche from that.

(to be continued)

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Guest Post: Defining the Widow/er

On Facebook, I asked for jokes about loss and this appeared in my inbox. Since he's published it only via email, here is a guest post from my friend Jo Rozier:

Widow, n (‘wi-do)
Bipedal primates belonging to the mammalian species Homo Sapiens Alone-ous. Involuntarily solitary, widows are social by nature and can be fearsome predators. Athough they have a reputation for unprovoked anger they are often quite insecure especially about their appearance. Because of this they will rarely initiate a charge. If they do attack, it is usually a blind one to scare off those who are less than comforting...or to scare up affection. More often than not, the widow will use stealth techniques to ambush its prey, rather than speed.

Widower, n ('wi-do-wer)
The male version of the bipedal mammalian species Homo Sapiens Alone-ous. This creature, formerly known for its great strength and cunning, now cries at the sight of butterflies and can be seen looking at pretty flowers. Now that it has to run the household on its own, the widower quickly realizes its former mate was much smarter and more organized than he. Its appearance is often characterized by excessive amounts of gray in its mane or what’s left of it. Although involuntarily solitary the widower can be reluctant to engage in a new relationship for fear that its first partner will somehow find out and he’ll still be in trouble. Particularly susceptible to the attentions of a widow. Approach with caution.

Children of Widows or Widowers, n (children of wi-dos n wi-do-ers)
Long term: the offspring of a widow or widower are observed to be very capable and surprisingly well adjusted. While some may exhibit problems making lasting commitments because of their painful past experience most develop the capacity to live and love to an astounding level. They take little for granted and are often a source of incredible compassion for others who have been hurt deeply. They are the embodiment of resiliency and strength.


These members, especially the “teen” version of the species, are capable of extreme fits of rage and destruction. Do not be deceived by quiet members of the clan, they are merely resting between rages and sizing you up for a meal. Can render great physical harm merely by looking at you. They do not suffer fools lightly. For more handling information go to your local library and look up anything on pit bulls, piranhas, great white sharks, or category 5 hurricanes.

(Thanks, Jo!)

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One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 4


When – someday, if I’m ever able – I tell Gavin’s cancer story, it will be suspenseful and satisfying. It will have pacing, contain a gamut of human emotions, and the two leading characters will be transformed before one melts away into the ether. The story is physical and spiritual and illuminated by the small soul of our first, only, treasured child.

But in Audrey’s story, the meaty part is pretty boring. There’s no need for me to walk you through how the cousin’s trip coincided with Audrey’s second fall, and how we moved her at last into a facility with variable choices in assisted living nearby, where Shorty and I could visit often.

What is worth noting, since I have the privilege of being storyteller here, is the conflicts between people trying to “help” the elderly and the official powers that preserve their right and their independence. When I used to do martial arts, one of my mentors told me, “sometimes the best way to protect someone is to break their arm.” At least, an injury removes them from the action and prevents more serious and collateral damage. For twenty years I didn’t know how true this was.

But caring for Audrey – even caring about her and knowing her limits – as she approached 90 and senility was all about determining which pain would be greater and how to see the big picture. And doctors, EMTs, governments got in the way of my protecting her interests as I perceived them. Maybe my self interest was in the way, too, but as I said, I know the outcome and I think history vindicated my judgments.

First, doctors. I was appalled that her primary care doctor couldn’t provide any system to help her keep track of her prescriptions. How hard would it be to write them all down on one sheet of paper so she could check whether they were all filled and how many to take? It’s not protocol, ma’am. I was sick of hearing it during cancer treatment and I was even more frustrated coping with Audrey.

Second, more doctors. When Audrey fell at the corner store buying Nutter Butters to share with my severely peanut-allergic child, she was taken to the hospital where Gavin had been for his last downward spiral. While she was there, her credit card was stolen from her wallet. I was her only contact. I insisted that the doctor keep her in hospital until her care manager and I could arrange her entire move to a more supervised setting. I told him that he’d be responsible for her early death if he sent her back home unsupervised. I told him she wasn’t capable of taking her medications and didn’t eat. He stuck to the symptoms he could observe (she fooled his dementia test, too, as long as they administered it before sundown – they diagnosed her with “sundowning” without actually recognizing it as part of dementia!) and sent her home after 2 days.

Third, the EMTs. One morning when she was extremely confused and unable to handle her phone, I called 911 because I was sure she’d collapsed. When the emergency staff arrived, they refused to take her to the hospital because she said she hadn’t eaten yet and had collapsed from hunger. I told them about her dementia but they listened to her (she was disoriented, but didn’t want to go to the hospital). I told them they were making a big mistake and walked out. The EMTs made her some toast, which she insisted would fix everything.

These two failures were followed within a few days by a second serious fall outside. (I think I mentioned my oracular powers?) This time, a different doctor at a different hospital listened to me and arranged for her to be discharged to a rehab facility for a vague and extended period. During this time, we were able to sabotage everything she wanted and move her into a care situation that she desperately needed. A hostile takeover of her entire life, this represented the hardest love and best care I’ve ever given.

Fourth, the government. I talked to our MVA, state and county officials, and professional senior care managers. There’s virtually no way to take away a senior’s drivers’ license unless they have multiple convictions for reckless driving. You might say “until they kill someone,” but actually, it would take a few fatalities, unless there was evidence they were drinking, for the state to act. I was advised to steal her keys, lie and cheat on my own time, but there was no officialdom that would support me if she protested. Even the insurance company was bound to keep insuring her.

Every day, she put at the top of her to-do list, scrawled on an envelope, “buy new car,” but fortunately she proved herself unable to make it to any dealership, even in a cab (remember she’d totaled her car, and I took my loaner back). She was de facto restrained from driving but when she died, a year and a half later, with advanced dementia, she still had a perfectly good driver’s license.

Fighting a stage IV cancer for two years with my beloved, I was used to living in “you and me against the world” mode, and I’m by nature a bit contrarian, occasionally to the point of being oppositional. So it was easy for me to get pissed at authority figures who were only doing their job. But in caring for someone, “doing a job” doesn’t really do the job.

In my bizarre situation, not really obligated to care for her but doing so anyway, there was no way for things to work well. A family member would have lied and cheated, someone who didn’t have a job and a toddler might have been more aggressive in watching her, but me? I was stuck in limbo between nothing and everything and I couldn’t handle one bit of it, and wouldn’t let go.

Until, thank heaven, the cousin took over.

(to be continued)

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Facebook friends vs. real life friends, or, regular people vs. grieving people

(Left, the "real" me, and right, the "virtual" me.)

I didn’t set out to conduct an experiment comparing my Facebook friends to my real life friends, but I did end up creating a fairly controlled situation in two different contexts on Facebook. I even got a lesson or two out of it. I can tell the story as one about isolating yourself online – something that small groups who connect through social media are often accused of – or the source of an insight that helps us recognize the different ways that different people use Facebook at different times in their lives. I choose to interpret the comparison as a way to observe how we use social media tools, and what we take away from them. About finding about value and support during tough times – not as competition between the real world and the virtual one.

Here’s what happened: I have two pages on Facebook, one for my real name, and one for Supa Freshwidow, the owner of this blog. I have close to the same number of friends on both accounts. On the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death, it made sense to mark the loss in some way for both groups. On each page, I posted a status update tailored to the population and forum.

Under my real name, I posted: “Today is the 4th anniversary of Gavin’s passing. Shortie and I will spend some time remembering our loss and his love today. Please share your memory of Gavin by commenting, or send me an email. Thank you!” As with many normal people’s Facebook accounts, my friends here range from besties and ex-besties to colleagues to ex-co-workers to acquaintances, as well as classmates I have barely seen in 20 years. At least half of these friends met Gavin in person, many of them are primarily HIS friends, and they are all people I have met in real life. Dozens were at our wedding and a few hundred have met Short Stack in her 6 years on earth. There is also a page and a Flickr site, clearly referenced on my personal page, devoted to his artwork.

As Supa, the professional widow, I published: “Today is the 4th anniversary of Gavin’s death. I plan to spend some time alone, some with friends, cry, and laugh with our dear daughter. Wine, chocolate, and telephone will all be available should I need them.” Supa’s friends are mostly widowed people and those I have met since his death. I have met a few of them at conferences, and some of them exist in my “real” universe too because I have met them or made substantial contact with them through blogging or other media.

Well, let me tell you.

The sound of crickets from my real name account would have crushed my heart two years ago. My 700 “friends” didn’t exactly deluge me with love. I received:
-- 1 “like”
-- 12 comments (4 from widowed people)
-- 3 wall posts, 2 of which were on his career page and a few visits to the Flickr site
-- 1 e-mail

Supa, on the other hand, logged on and was greeted by a veritable receiving line of hot June hugs. My 700 peeps who have never met me or any of my family in person welcomed me with open and enthusiastic arms:
-- 10 “likes”
-- 67 comments (32 in the first hour, 2 from non-widowed people, and 3 from people with the same sadiversary)
-- 3 wall posts
-- 4 e-mails

At first glance – if I were to simply react – I’d say the real world knows nothing of grief and loss, is confounded by widowed people who are comfortable with themselves, and chooses not to respond even when I suggest a specific easy action for them to take. I’d think, widows are generous and unafraid, kind and loving. Widows give you a big, juicy kiss and a long hug that smells really nice. In the real world, you’re lucky if you get a Chardonnay-scented peck on one cheek. I’d say, no wonder widows only want to hang out with other widows. No wonder the avatars are winning.

But that’s not really a fair interpretation, is it?

Because the fact is that neither of these two identities is “me,” and they work and network in very different ways.

The “real” me uses Facebook as a secondary or tertiary means of socializing with a wide range of people I’ve met. And the overwhelming majority of people who know that “me” on Facebook also use it as a secondary or tertiary way of contacting me. I have no idea how often they check – some, as often as I do. Yes, there are some acquaintances who’ve become friends by status updates, comments, etc. But I’d never feel snubbed if my best friends ignored what I said on Facebook. And for all these people, I’m just another person with many qualities and a variety of experiences in my rich, deep life, from which Facebook “me” shows a tiny, fragmented slice through a peephole.

Supa, on the other hand, lives entirely online. Most of her Facebook friends relate to her solely as a widow, and she is something of a cheerleader and counselor, an ideal friend with the one biggest issue in common with them. Most of these folks know just a few young widowed people in the real world, and rely on the connections with others online for validation and support. People who are not active commenters (my page is public) tell me they get a lot out of just reading what others say. Because most of what we do is simply peer-to-peer sharing of daily experiences, observations, and our feelings and we are all going through something very intense in which we feel generally alone, these friendships have a special role. I’m a leader in this small community of geographically dispersed people, and someone whose page they check fairly often.

Also? I received just one phone call, a day late, from an elderly person who's new to Facebook. Guess which identity is her "friend?" Yes, the real me, the one shown with good jewelry in the above pictures.

So the difference between the responses is not, about real life versus virtual life, and thank God, it doesn’t mean I should disappear into the virtual world. But it does show me how much I am loved there by folks who understand me, and that my real world friendships won’t survive unless I put a bit more time into cultivating them. The contrast is a good illustration of the temptation to hide online and among those who speak our language during this time of widowhood and transition. It makes me think I’m getting too insulated and reminds me to get out of my bubble more often. Real world, I kind of miss you! World of grieving people, I just plain love you.

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