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.
In other posts (actually: several), I’ve mentioned how interacting with grief-oriented groups seems to be the key to healing in the short term. I think this is because of the “relief” you find among kindred spirits and with the ability to vent your feelings freely and without judgment – getting a compassionate, understanding reception.
As I put it to a friend in one such group on Facebook, Widowers Support Network, it’s the ability to see that yours are not the only footprints along the path, coupled with the ability to tell others of the scenery along the path that makes the trek less scary; less painful.
If you have not, seek out a group. There are “live” groups you can join and physically go to – check with your church or local hospice. If that’s not for you, try the groups on Facebook – type “widow” into the search box (“widower,” if you want to be more specific) and select “Groups” as the filter and you’ll find several. Some are simple support groups where you can talk to others in similar straits and vent to a compassionate audience. Others are “dating” groups where you can do the same and seek companionship if such is your desire. Some are widows OR widowers; others are widows AND widowers. Regional, religious… you’ll likely find a group that will fit your needs. Most are private groups (all I have seen are, but, as Fats Waller so famously said: “One never knows, do one?”) and will require you to request to join, answer a few simple questions, and commit to following the rules before they’ll let you in.
For widowers, I *HIGHLY* recommend Widowers Support Network. My involvement there has helped me immensely.