21ST CENTURY RELATIONSHIPS: Why Is Everyone Avoiding Me Now That I’m A Widow? Because people have an atavistic fear that bad luck is catching, and because they feel awkward and don’t know what to say. In prior eras, institutionalized mourning rituals — and the sheer commonness of premature death — made this somewhat less pronounced. Now such things are unusual, and people have no template on how to act.

You see a similar phenomenon when you or your spouse is sick. When Helen had her heart attack, I noticed a lot of people withdrew, while many others asked questions which mostly seemed aimed at reassuring themselves that something like that couldn’t happen to them or theirs. It’s just human nature, but if you know someone who’s sick or widowed, try to reach out to them. You may worry about intruding, but odds are they’ll appreciate it.