The biggest struggle for me, of being single after having been married, is not to have anyone to share sad times with. The happy times are easy … everyone looks forward to hearing good news. I can call all of my friends and most of my good acquaintances to share happy news, and after I was divorced, I did call those people when I have something to share.
Sad news, however, requires a much closer bond. I do have good friends, but everyone has their own lives. When you’re not married to someone, you are no one else’s first priority. Other people, even single friends, all have someone else that is most important to them, and none of those top priorities are me.
Perhaps people who have always been single go through the same experience. After having been married for 15 years, I was very used to having someone else whose world would come crashing to a halt when mine did. Although I don’t believe I was ever truly my ex-husband’s top priority, while we were married I was near enough to the top that what impacted my world also impacted his, and he was there to hold my hand and let me cry on him during the sad times.
As I’m writing this, my grandfather dies this morning. As the end of his time approached, I reached out to a few friends, but without satisfaction. With a single parent friend, her children’s bedtime seems to encompass the entire two-hour window that I am mostly likely to call, after I’m out of work and before I settle down for the night. She is, of course, usually willing to take my call, especially when she knows I’m struggling, but any call is continually punctuated by attention-seeking interruptions. Other friends live busy lives, and aren’t sitting by the phone waiting for my call. “My grandfather is dying, and I don’t really want to talk about it, I just don’t want to feel alone in the world” isn’t exactly the kind of message you leave on voicemail.
And so I do feel alone in the world. I am part of a large extended family, so while visiting my grandfather prior to his death, there was always family around, and I belonged there. But the constant stream of visitors became overwhelming for my grandmother, and while her children were keeping vigil, others, like me, were told to keep visits short. But if I couldn’t be there, surrounded by people that also knew and loved my grandfather, where could I be? Casual conversation felt crass, but there’s just too much to explain to outsiders that don’t already know the family history. Even good friends have a limit to how much time they can spend listening to stories of someone else’s life.
Now that he’s gone, I wanted to be there, to be with the family and have people to grieve with. People I don’t have to explain myself to. People who don’t come up to me and unknowingly ask how I’m doing, as they wonder about my puffy red eyes. But I was told, don’t come yet. I want to help make preparations, but it’s not my place to make any decisions, and no one has time to tell me how I can help. Five siblings have enough opinions of their own without an adult grandchild piping in with hers. I was going to just show up, and make myself useful, but was told to stay away for now.
And so I have no one to grieve with. As I rearrange other plans, to be available for whatever the family needs, and to take unnecessary projects off of my plate, I’m told by friends not to worry about these things, but to spend time with my family. Of course that’s the right things to say, and I appreciate their understanding when I can’t meet prior commitments. But what am I to do when the family doesn’t want me there now? I’m 38 years old, certainly not a child, and so my mother’s priority is taking care of her own mother now. It’s not about me, of course, it’s about protecting my grandmother, giving her space to grieve, and not be too overwhelmed. But that means that I grieve alone. There’s no one here to cancel their own plans to hold my hand. No one whose most important task for this weekend is helping me grieve, or listening to the countless stories of Grampa Tom that I’ve already told twelve times before.
It’s 2013, and so much of our lives happen virtually these days. When I’ve had success at weight loss or reaching exercise goals, Facebook has been a great ego boost, as dozens of friends are there to “like” my accomplishments. But today, some family members may not have yet been notified, so there’s an embargo on posting of my grandfather’s death. I understand this. I wouldn’t want to find out from Facebook. But even that outlet for sharing my grief has temporarily been cut off.
This isn’t really a conversation you can have with a friend. The very nature of the conversation – that I feel alone in the world and I’m not important enough to anyone – would instill a feeling of guilt in any friend, and that’s not the point. I don’t want my friends or extended family members to feel like they need to put me first. I fundamentally agree with their priority choices, and even so, they’re not mine to choose. I would never expect someone to put my needs before those of their children or spouse. I just want someone who puts my needs above those of everyone else because that person is MY family.