Here's my list of things that I think widows should know about this new chapter in their lives:
1. You didn't die with your spouse. I know that it feels that way some days, but really, you are here and still breathing, so work on living. Go grocery shopping. Buy healthy food. Bathe (please). Wear decent clothes (if you have to fight too hard to stay out of the sweat pants, all day, every day, donate the sweats and buy yourself something comfy that looks decent). It's okay to have a couch/bed day every so often, just don't do it every day. Go outside. You aren't a mushroom. You need sunlight. It's important.
2. Other people's lives continue in a fairly normal manner. Even though it feels like your universe just imploded, other people might be sad for a moment, but on Monday morning they are going to work. They are making dinner for their families. They are attending scout meetings. They are caring for family members, and going out with friends. No one will be able to devote the same amount of time to caring for you that your spouse did... and to expect them to is to set yourself up for major disappointment.
3. This really sucks. That is the nicest, most socially acceptable word that I can come up with to describe a situation that you keep wishing is a nightmare, but instead is your new reality. There is no silver lining, no magical "positive" compensation to balance the suckiness of this time. It doesn't matter that somewhere in the world are people who actually have it worse than you do (have you seen the starving children in Africa?). Your experience, and your emotions matter. Don't let anyone marginalize what you are going through, because this isn't made less painful by comparing it to what other people are going through.
4. Misery and loss aren't a competition. We all lost someone we love. No one is unique in their love, and more tragically touched than any other widow/widower who ever existed. When those who have had this experience before you tell you that life eventually improves- believe them. They aren't just offering a trite phrase to make themselves feel better. The widows and widowers reaching out to tell you that the intense, horrible, all consuming feelings are going to become manageable, and eventually taper off enough for you to feel joy and pleasure again- we're reaching out because someone reached out to us and offered us hope. We saw others who experienced this journey who have happy lives now. Once we are in a positive place in our life, we want to offer you the same hope that got us through. It's hard to believe this in the beginning, but I PROMISE your future does hold joy.
5. It's not a silver lining, but do remember that now that your future plans have all changed, you have the ability to completely change the course of your life. Take some time, while learning this "new normal," and think about the things that make you happy and bring meaning to your life. Do you want to go back to school? Have you always wanted to volunteer? Do you enjoy traveling? It's so hard to come to terms with the knowledge that very little is the same as it was before you lost your spouse, and for me this was the denial phase of grief. I knew that my spouse was gone, but I didn't believe that my life wasn't going to continue exactly like it had... just minus my husband. It didn't. It couldn't. That was SO HARD, but once I quit raging at the universe and more time passed, I discovered that it was pretty nice planning new things for my future. This is a fork in the road, and you are now going down a different path. What kinds of things are you going to make sure are along this path? You get to chart a new map for your future. That might seem scary, but it's not bad, and you can make sure to include a lot of new experiences that will feed your soul.
You are still here, and you still matter. To quote Dr. Suess, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know, and YOU are the one who'll decide where you go..."