Nobody expects to become a pariah when a major life change occurs. Yet that is exactly what two women shared at The Carrot’s new Coffee Friendship Club when discussing their experiences after divorce and becoming a widow.
In just three-and-a-half years, Bernadette Alseth’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, husband, and close neighbour died. To become a widow and a senior at the same time and also have her best friend distance herself was a shock.
“My closest girlfriend is so afraid of losing her husband she withdrew,” said Alseth.
This behaviour isn’t uncommon. Friends of victims of violence and people who have had loved ones die shy away. Staying close makes the potential for violence or death all too real. In an attempt to protect themselves, friends often drop out of a person’s life.
When Alseth found herself crying over the inability to open a jar of tomato sauce, she drove to the grocery store and purchased a can.
“I knew I had to do something opposed to the alternative of crying endlessly,” she said.
She set up a meeting with Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Ave, and launched a friendship group for people over 50.
“It’s different than a meet-up. I wanted to shake the neighbourhood tree and see if some new friends might drop in for socializing.”
Alseth explained the life changes left her embarrassed and vulnerable. Certainly not helpless, she brainstormed with Morin, hoping this friendship club might be an avenue to successfully navigate the changes.
Alseth has lived in the neighbourhood since 1997 and envisions people dropping in to chat, have coffee or tea, and attend shows or plays, shop, dine, and even travel together. Participants don’t need to live in the area.
“I want people who want to meet people,” she said. “There has to be other people cut off or alone just needing some new people in their life right here.”
Constance Williams, also isolated by divorce and unemployment, joined the conversation. Williams, a former Alberta Avenue resident, noted several things since her marriage ended.
“Single men are invited out to groups, single women less so,” said Williams.
One might assume solo adventure travel would make connections easier to create or find. Not so. Williams said she found it isolating, especially at meal times.
Proactive like Alseth, Williams refuses to wait for things to happen. While looking for work and to stay in contact with people, she volunteered at the University of Alberta, driving in every weekday from Spruce Grove for 18 months.
Alseth’s long-term goal for the club is to facilitate people finding a new tribe after they have lost theirs or been cut-off for any number of reasons.
“It would be great if it developed a life of its own with someone always showing up to greet newbies,” said Alseth.
Alseth will develop a database for participants willing to be on a contact list to find others with similar interests.
Starting November, the club meets on Wednesdays at 1 pm at The Carrot.
If you have an idea for a group or want to start your own group for a certain demographic, call The Carrot and ask for Morin.
COFFEE FRIENDSHIP CLUB
Wednesdays, 1- 2 pm
The Carrot Coffeehouse (9351 118 Ave)
Featured Image: Author Rusti Lehay (top right) chats with organizer Bernadette Alseth (left) and other members of the Coffee Friendship Club. | Supplied