That I’m not the first to have walked the empty path of widowhood is not lost on me – the floors are well-worn. I personally have known many who have lost their spouses at various junctures of life. What was lost on me in the past was the pain and torment of having lost your life partner. I sincerely apologize to all those I’ve known with whom I didn’t adequately empathize. I simply didn’t know.
And therein lays a lesson to me and others walking the well-trod path of widowhood. They don’t know. They can’t know. They have nothing with which to compare this loss. When their advice and platitudes seem unbearable, remember this point: They. Do. Not. Know. Moreover: you cannot teach them, nor adequately explain what you are feeling for them to empathize.
It can be hard, but have patience. It’s far better to endure the irritation that comes of it than it is to burn bridges.
Here’s an analogy I’ve made to the grief of losing a spouse and the inability of those who know no such loss to understand why we are the way we are: Unless you’re standing in the middle of the swamp, you have only a vague idea of the monsters that live there – no-one outside of the widow’s or widower’s skin can understand how the loss impacts them personally. Even those standing in the swamp dealing with the monsters are dealing with THEIR monsters. Everyone’s experience is different.
I guess the point is that, though people will tell you that they know how you feel, or they understand, they really can’t. Widow(er) to widow(er) has the best chance of understanding; however, everyone came to where they are by different paths, each which imprints differences – some small, some vast – in the experience.
For those looking to comfort a widow or widower, you really need to understand this. Telling someone you understand where they’re at really doesn’t give comfort. Just talk to them. Be aware of their pain, but don’t avoid them because of it. And to those widows and widowers who take offense at the usual platitudes, keep in mind that the goal of the person is rarely to be dismissive. They really don’t understand, and only want to give comfort.