I wrote before about caring for aging parents and how the responsibility usually falls to the single child. As we all know, the period of time spent care taking elderly parents must come to an end; eventually, we all go to meet our maker. What happens next in a grieving family is a very different experience for the single children as it is for the married children.
This morning one of my best friends buried his beloved mother. She was an art teacher, and in fact when she retired from her position at a New York City public school, I was the one to replace her. They were some very big shoes to fill, as all my students reminded me. Meanwhile, her son and I bonded quickly; and more than 10 years later, we are still as tightly bound.
He is one of her seven children. However, he is single with no children of his own. It occurred to me while he walked behind her casket that his bereavement period was going to be far removed from that of his married siblings. They all have their spouses and families to cling to. He has only me and his close circle of friends.
So how do singles deal with grief? How, in our pair-bonded world, can we cope with our compounded loss? This is a difficult, if not impossible, situation. But I think this is a time when singles should look to their friends more than ever. True friends will not let us grieve alone. I used to think the same thing about boyfriends, but after today, I am re-thinking my conviction.
A decade ago, a boyfriend refused to accompany me to my grandmother’s funeral. I should have taken that as a sign.
I dedicated seven more futile months to try to make it work.
In stark contrast, when my father passed a few years ago, my ex-husband made himself available at all times. It spoke to his unfailing support, loving kindness, generosity of spirit and his unquestionable capacity for forgiveness. This is a man who proved his friendship, despite the reality of a failed partnership.
When my dear friend texted me the link to his mother’s obituary, there was no question that I would be there, both for him and for myself. I would not consider myself a good friend if I didn’t pay my respects. And I never want him, or any friends, to feel what I felt when that old boyfriend refused to see me through my bereavement.
During the funeral Mass, I kept sending my dear friend knowing looks as his siblings hugged their spouses and children. It hurt me to see him looking straight ahead, hands folded in front of him. At the sign of peace, I made my way over to him and hugged him tight.
“You’re not alone,” I whispered.
He hugged me tighter. For the burial and the repast, I stayed right next to him, tissues in hand. We got through a tearful day with our friendship strengthened and deepened.
I thought back to that old boyfriend and it occurred to me that he did me a favor. In retrospect, he didn’t belong there. Death in a family is an intimate experience; one that should not be shared with casual friends or people we are dating.
Just a few minutes ago he texted me: “I could never have gotten through this day without you.” I know he is being truthful, and it makes me proud to be his friend.
If you are single and going through a profound loss, I urge you to turn to your true friends rather than try to depend on a beau, especially if the relationship is a new one. It may put unnecessary strain on the relationship, and your beau may feel pressured. This is not a situation that should be used to test someone’s level of commitment to us. Instead, cling to the love of long-established friends. They are your true reminders that you are not alone.