Christine Webber

I saw a message on social media recently which might resonate with you.

It was written by a recently widowed woman, and read: “OK, I’ve tried this new life now. I don’t like it. Please can I have my old one back.”

Lots of us feel like that when big changes take place – and I’m not just talking about bereavement but all sorts of other upheavals, such as retirement, divorce, a house move or empty-nest syndrome. 

Somehow though, we must keep going and accept that life now has to be different.

This doesn’t mean we should forget what we miss; on the contrary, it’s important to remember and value it.

But we do need to put effort into building a new existence and  recognising that it can be good, even if it’s totally dissimilar to how things used to be.  

One way of increasing that acceptance is to make new friends.

There’s nothing wrong with old friends of course – the more the merrier. But there’s something about a change of circumstance that often requires different people in our lives.

People who we tend to meet as we struggle with a new beginning, and who see us in a way that is uncluttered by memories of how we were before. 

nfortunately, though, we can feel very conflicted about all the changes we’re  making and the individuals we’re meeting.  

For example, newly retired folk often find it hard to relax.

A male friend of mine, Nigel, has joined a walking group. And, much to his surprise, he loves it.

But now, another member has suggested they have a drink, or coffee after the walk. Partly, Nigel wants to do this, but he also feels he should be using the rest of the day more productively.

It can take a while to acknowledge that you have worked all your life and are entitled now to do something different with your time.

Try to remember that new friendships are a positive part of retirement – after all, it’s unlikely you’ll be meeting with work colleagues nearly so much, and that will leave a gap; a gap that new friends can fill. 

These sorts of mixed feelings are even more complex for men and women who are grieving. The other day, a widow I know told me she’d gone to a party for the first time since her partner’s death.

She was pleased she had made herself do it. But she had felt uncertain about allowing herself to have some fun while her husband was lying in his grave. It can be very tough to deal with these confused emotions because we often suffer a sort of “survivor’s guilt” that we are alive while our partner is not. 

But it can help if we acknowledge that our late spouse would not have wanted us to stay home and mourn indefinitely.  

In this column, I’ve often talked about adults building a new life around the hole left by divorce, bereavement or retirement. I remain convinced that’s what we should do. And many of us do start joining organisations – a book club, a gym, a dance class, the U3A, Women’s Institute, amateur dramatics, and so on – and a by-product of this activity is that we create an opportunity to make new friends. 

My pal Linda, who I’ve known since we were students together, moved from Somerset to the Peak District, so that she and her husband could be near their son and grandchildren.

Sadly, her husband died not long after they got there, which means she has had an awful lot of change to negotiate.  

A few months ago, and with some trepidation, she joined a local choir. At first, she wasn’t sure she could stick at it, but she persisted, and now enjoys it.

And in the last few weeks, she’s become good friends with another chorister – a sparky woman with a lively brain and a great sense of humour, much like Linda herself.

This feels very special to her, as none of her older mates live anywhere near her now, and she hasn’t made a new friend of her own – as opposed to joint friends with her husband – since the seventies. 

She said to me: “It feels really significant, and I find the way she’s reached out to me very touching. In fact, I’m almost pathetically grateful”. 

Many of us, I know, can understand that. There’s a kind of pathos in the situation because our partners will never know this new development in our lives, but at the same time we feel reassured that it’s possible to build a fresh social network which will enhance the quality of our lives in the future.  

Friendship is such a golden aspect of being human, especially when we have had to deal with considerable turbulence.

It brings sense and shape to our days and helps us feel we have a purpose, and a place in society – and that it’s OK to feel happy again.