Years ago I befriended a widowed man. A couple times in my life I have met someone and knew they were going to be my friend. This was one of those. There was an inevitability in play. I even held off on it – this relationship I sensed was inevitable – because I’d fairly recently had complicated emotional experiences going on in my own life that related to someone’s death – the predominant of which was sticking very close to someone else in the months after his (ex) girlfriend killed herself and devoting my energies to making sure he was okay. I was personally grieving other deaths as well and was feeling, for want of a better term, death–ed out. I wasn’t ready for a widowed man and dragged my heels for awhile regaining my equilibrium. As I say, I intuited that we’d be friends. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be, I just wasn’t ready yet.
In time, with my propulsion, we did indeed become very good friends. I felt like, given my own experience with death/grief (and here I don’t mean the ones mentioned above but another far more significant to me), that I had something to offer, something perhaps that wasn’t really available elsewhere. This man, whose wife had died after a very long marriage, was blown open. He had that shell-shocked look many bereaved people take on in the months and sometimes years, after a death. He had family and friends but as the new friend, someone who hadn’t known the couple, I was in a unique role with a different vantage. Bereavement aside, he wasn’t an extroverted jocular fellow and I suspect that while the people already in his life definitely cared for him, they probably didn’t know quite what to do for him after the earliest activity and commotion following the death of his wife subsided.
This was not if you are thinking it, a romance. I didn’t see him that way and that wasn’t the point, and while one can’t always know the future, I didn’t believe it ever would be. We were quite different. He was a lot older and had been the proverbial long-time family man. He’d had a long profession. I, on the other hand, had been much more footloose and independent, having a number of shorter relationships over my life and jobs of many stripes. He later admitted he initially thought I was much younger even, than I actually was. It was, though, a meeting of intellects, a conversation-based relationship. He was introverted, reserved by nature, bookish and a talker in the one-on-one sense. His physical appearance and demeanor could be seen as stern and unemotional to those who didn’t know him; they didn’t invite familiarity. His humor, not abolished by his grief, was dry and under-stated. A person needed to be paying attention. I was paying attention and breathed life back into his world. I’m certain of it. For my part, I got an intellectual equal, someone who listened to me, a man of depth. At the time, I considered him and our friendship the most grown-up I’d known. That was a lot.
Over a period of years the friendship changed. From here, today, I’d say it ran its course and accomplished its purpose. At the time, while I’d felt he had deeply, genuinely appreciated me, I also felt that by having initiated, and driven the engine of the friendship, I’d established a pattern and made things easy for him (which wasn’t entirely wrong given the state he was in when I met him). However, as I saw him gaining energy and strength, I expected the relationship to become more balanced and well, it didn’t exactly.
Further, as he began to emerge from the worst throes of grief, my friend became less recognizable to me, less empathy-warranting. I believed that I’d known a version of him after his traumatic loss and now the fuller picture was emerging. He had more energy, yes, and was putting it toward causes unrelated to grief. Whether it was good or bad is a loaded question and not essential to answer so much as to say that what was emerging wasn’t resonating with me. I chafed at what I was seeing. I told him, even during our friendship, that given how different we were, we’d done awfully well to have had as close and meaningful a friendship as we did. I still think that. Perhaps you could say the ending of the friendship was as inevitable as its occurrence. I know I left him better than I found him. I also knew I’d turned a corner in relationships and going forward would only have grown-up ones.