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I'm getting tired of my friend playing the ‘widow card'

The question

A friend of mine is a young widow who lost her husband suddenly a year and a half ago. Our casual conversations always turn to competitions with her playing the "widow card." Every time I talk about something, anything, she basically says to count my blessings and that she is much worse off. I don't disagree, but it can happen with even the most benign topics (e.g., my teenager is struggling in school or I'm in bed with the flu). Recently, I had an anxiety attack about some serious issues I'm dealing with and posted something on Facebook about people that are contributing (none of them are "friends"). She e-mailed me to say, "I can't help but think this is about me and I'm hurt." I responded that it wasn't about her and I wasn't in a place to worry about the feelings of others. She snapped and wrote that I shouldn't lash out at someone who is on her own every minute of every day and how she's always there for everyone else (my husband and I helped her a lot the first year). How do I move past this sore point in our relationship? Or do I need to abandon it until she gets her life figured out?

The answer

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No, no, no. You need to be patient. As George Costanza says in Seinfeld (talking to a priest, at a funeral, while loading canapés and sandwiches onto his plate): "Losing a loved one is, uh … I mean, forget about it."

Tough, in other words. True, I can envision an upside for my own wife, Pam, after 20 years: less crap strewn around the house, fewer dishes, king-sized bed all to herself, and no one to pull the blankets off her in the middle of the night. And mourning would become her: She has always looked good in black. Alternate suitors would no doubt descend upon her like darkness on a mountain village before my corpse was even cool.

But my point is: After the first rush of relief had passed, if Pam were to experience some grief, and that grief were to cause her to behave erratically or even divaliciously from time to time, I would hope her friends would be patient with her.

As you should be patient with your friend. Now, I understand that you feel you have your own issues, and they're always being trumped by her playing the "widow card." Teenager struggling? At least you're not a widow. Sick in bed? At least you're not a widow.

I can see how that could become tiresome after a while. She's taking away your God-given right to complain – and that's what separates us from the animals! But here's the thing: You have plenty of other people to complain to, right? Take a moment to try to imagine how she feels. Don't you think she might feel as though her problems do indeed dwarf/trump yours right now?

To be perfectly blunt, I'm getting kind of a Real Housewives of Vancouver/drama queen-type vibe here. I mean, posting a Facebook message about the people you feel are contributing to your anxiety? Isn't that a bit like trying to solve your hornet problem by poking the hive with a pointy stick?

Could the real problem be two drama queens vying for attention in an enclosure that contains enough air for only one?

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You need to settle down. Be there for her. She needs you. In all seriousness, if I were widowed, I would lean a lot on my friends – in a way I know would try their patience. But I also know they would be patient and tolerant of me. You should be that kind of friend too.

Being a widow is a tricky combination of looking back, reflecting on, and nursing the wounds from the past – and finding a way to move forward into the future. You need to help her both look back and move forward, a process as difficult metaphorically as it is in real life. She will have good days and bad. Encourage her on the good ones, be compassionate on the bad ones.

My other piece of advice is to take her advice and count your blessings. You and your husband are lucky to have one another. In the midst of all the problems life throws at you, remember to be grateful for that. (Something we all need to be reminded of once in a while.)

Ultimately, down the line, and sorry to be blunt again, maybe you could both get over yourselves a bit. It's true that death puts your other problems in perspective – which is why my ultimate sympathy in this tale of woe-is-me, no-woe-is-me is with the dude in the coffin. In the midst of all the back-and-forth contention for attention, he seems to have been forgotten.

If he could speak, I could imagine him saying, emitting a puff of dust: "What about me? I'm the one with the biggest problem."

What am I supposed to do now?

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