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Helping Widows After Year 1

We live in a culture that moves on from grief after the funeral. We sign up for a meal train, send a card, attend the funeral service if the person was really important to us, and then go back to our normal lives. It’s assumed that widows will have a season of sadness but then go back to their normal lives too. But as any widow can tell you, their old life died with their spouse. Everything changed. There’s no going back to normal.

Some people understand that year one of grief is hard. After all, it’s full of “firsts” without your person: first birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas; first anniversary celebrating (or surviving) alone; first vacation or first year skipping vacation because they aren’t there; the firsts go on and on. Eventually all the firsts are done, the widow has made it through and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. “She did it! She’s fine now” they think and move on from offering a lending hand or listening ear.

But what surprises widows (myself included) and their community is that grief doesn’t end at the 1 year mark. In many ways, grief has just begun.

There are many analogies for this, but two have really helped me.

The first year of grief entails coming to grips with “he died”. The second year entails coming to grips with “he’s not coming back”.

As hard as it is to experience the “firsts”, the seconds and thirds hurt too. The implications of “he’s not coming back” are vast, and continually unfolding. Year two forces widows to continue living forward even as their hearts long for a person whose presence is receding further into the past.

On a piano, there is a pedal which makes the sound softer. It decreases the volume of the keys in such a way that the tone remains soft no matter how hard the keys are struck. But lift the pedal and the full volume of the soars. For many, year 2 is like the soft pedal coming off.

God gives us the gift of numbness - there’s a shock that settles in us, keeping us from buckling under realities we don’t have strength to face. To face all of grief all at once would be far too much. But that numbness, like the piano pedal, eventually lifts, and the parts of grief that were quiet begin to roar. And so you head into year 2 with all the pain and none of the numbness, just as the very last people who helped carry your grief have finally moved on.

For some widows, year 2… or 3… or even 5 is hardest. Grief doesn’t happen on a schedule. It comes as it comes.

Which is why it’s important to care for widows beyond the first year. They desperately need care in year one, but they also need on going care. Long-haul care. They need to have people who will remember that there is a hole where a husband once was and that time cannot fill in the gaps left behind by a spouse.

Here are suggestions for caring for widows behind the 1 year mark:


There have been times when grief has hit very hard or life circumstances have become overwhelming. During these times, a warm meal or some freezer meals that I can pull out when needed have been so helpful. Cooking and grocery shopping can be so hard when struggling to get through the day.

Reaching Out

A few dear friends still text me on the 19th of every month to let me know they are praying for me. This simple acknowledgment of the day my husband died shows such care and intentionality. Reaching out over email, text or through hand written notes help a widow know she and her grief are not forgotten.

Sharing Memories

I love when people tell me their memories of my husband. Every so often someone sends me a card or message online telling me about his impact on them. Knowing he isn’t forgotten and being reminded of the impact of his life is a gift for me and my son. Sharing a memory of the one who died can brighten a grieving person’s day.

Sitting with Her

No one likes to be alone and one of the most alone places someone can go is a place where families are. Church and school functions are places where couples and families are. A couple might sit together watching their child’s performance - sharing smiles or stifled laughs over the cuteness in stage - or a couple might hold hands or whisper to each other during a church service. For someone who was part of a couple, but now is not, it can be incredibly lonely. Being invited to sit with friends helps a widow feel less alone and less like she sticks out in a place she used to belong.

Practical Help

Long after the meal train and offers of help come to an end, a widow is managing life on her own. Paying taxes, managing finances, navigating financial aid applications, handling household duties, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, making home repairs and replacing broken appliances, etc. It’s the work that two people used to do falling on one. Many times these things were done by the husband while he was alive. A widow has to figure out how to do them herself (and some may be physically unable to even if they have the time and desire to do it themselves) or find a trustworthy person to hire. Making decisions about something they’ve never done before and being easy targets for con artists make them vulnerable. Getting referrals from friends or having people give their time to do the tasks themselves removes a big burden.

Extend Invitations

Widows rarely fit into typical categories of people who gather together. They are no longer part of a couple and their family doesn’t look like others. This can make weekends and holidays difficult and lonely, with no one including them. Inviting them to holiday celebrations, family dinners, bonfires in the backyard or birthday parties helps them feel included and seen. Even if they decline the invitation, your thoughtfulness will be appreciated. keep inviting even if you get repeated nos. She may not yet be ready to accept an invitation, but by the time she is it’s unlikely she will receive any.

Bless Her on Special Days

A widow may not have anyone to recognize her birthday or celebrate her on Mother’s Day. Maybe her kids are young, they live far away, the relationship is strained, they are no longer living or she doesn’t have children. Dropping off or delivering flowers, sending a card or a treat in the mail, or simply texting her to say how much you care for her can help her get through especially hard days.

There are many other ways to care for widows beyond year 1. Be creative and intentional. The most important thing is to do something and remember that long after her husband is gone, she feels the repercussions of his absence every day.

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