Making new friends and preserving personal history

  • Out to lunch with Robin, a good friend from our high school in Minnesota. We know and share much of each other's personal histories.

    Out to lunch with Robin, a good friend from our high school in Minnesota. We know and share much of each other's personal histories. Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted11/20/2021 7:00 AM

One of the transitions many bereaved people face is a big change in social life.

This may be a combination of circumstances, including no longer being a couple in a couple's world, or retirement, or COVID-19 isolation, or a move to a smaller house, new neighborhood or even a new state -- many changes after the death of a spouse or loved one.


This is a big challenge. One, among the many, is making new friends.

Now, that's a nice thing but also a challenge, because your new friends only know you in your current place and situation. They don't know much about your personal history.

Once a friend told me that when her dear mother died, she lost the one who knew her best. She said she lost a big part of her personal history, in the sense it was largely unknown to the people around her, or to new friends she had met.

Well, I just had such an experience. I joined a wonderful women's group six years ago after I retired and my beloved Baheej had died. So naturally they only really knew about my current life, but did not know much about my work and who I am.

And then, about a year ago, I transferred to a new chapter of the same organization, to PEO chapter JM. Members there had a wonderful game at a recent meeting. It's called Life in a Hatbox. I was one of the two presenters. Such a nice idea and opportunity for a "newbie" to tell about where you came from and a few things about your personal history. It was great fun and a unique opportunity. I recommend it to any other group as a program.

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Basically, you put some objects that relate to your childhood or background in a hatbox or any box, and then show them to the group, pass them around, and tell the related part of your personal history. Sort of a "show and tell." I used a lot of framed photos I just took off the walls at home. Then people ask a few questions or make comments on points that resonate with them.

It was the first time for a long time anyone was interested in such matters in my past. This was nice.

So the point is: Instead of sending "thoughts and prayers" (which are well intentioned, of course) or a sympathy card, it is better to visit or call the bereaved with a few words more personal. Take time to ask your friend or relative a little something about their own life or past, or the life of the person who died. Or tell a little story of remembrance of your own. It will be appreciated.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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