7 Lessons COVID Taught Us about Helping Widowed Friends and Planning for Our Own Futures

By now, it’s a cliché: the past year has been incredibly hard.

Every single one of us has experienced some form of loss—a job, a sense of control, a routine, a family member, or a partner. And this collective loss has impacted how we approach death and grieving.   So with this newfound perspective, and in honor of International Widows’ Day on June 23, here are 4 lessons we learned this year about how to support our widowed friends, and 3 ways we can plan for our own futures.  

*Note: The language used in this article mainly focuses on heterosexual couples where a woman has lost a male partner, but we recognize widowhood can take many forms across gender, sexual orientation, and other circumstances.

4 Ways to Help Grieving Widows

1. Understand the Pervasiveness of Widowhood

The stereotype of a widow being a very old, sad woman is long gone. Gone, too, is the notion that widows are fairly uncommon. Last year in the United States, there were nearly 14 million widowed persons (men and women)—and nearly 12 million of those were women. There are also 1 million new widows each year. Here are a few more stats on the state of widowhood:

  • In the US, women live an average of 5 years longer than men.
  • Two-thirds of all married women become widowed at or after age 65.
  • Half of widows over age 65 will outlive their husbands by 15 years.
It’s likely that many women you know in those demographics may have lost someone. And with COVID-19—which The Global Fund for Widows described as the “Widow-Making Machine”—widowhood has become even more commonplace since men have died of the disease in larger numbers than women.

Simply recognizing how widespread widowhood is can help you better empathize with those who have experienced this type of loss.

2. Recognize the Indicators of Grief

Over 50 years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified the five stages of dying in her book, On Death and Dying. Kübler-Ross and her protégé David Kessler later wrote On Grief and Grieving, in which the original stages of death were similar to those experienced by people grieving a loss.


You may have heard of these stages of grief:

  • Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
  • Anger: that someone we love is no longer there
  • Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
  • Depression: sadness from the loss
  • Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss
  • Meaning (added in 2019 by Kessler): deriving purpose from the loss

While it can be incredibly helpful to know where someone might be in their grief, the authors make it clear that the stages are “not a method for tucking messy emotions into neat packages. They don’t prescribe, they describe.” Each person grieves in their own way, and to think that anyone will follow a simple, 6-step, linear process can be not only inaccurate, but also unfair and even harmful.


Grief is messy and complex, and we often recycle through the many emotions and stages of it. By acknowledging this messiness, you can feel better equipped to support your widowed friends when they don’t follow the healing path you might expect.



3. Be Mindful of Your Words

A widowed friend may not be able to process everything you say in the early stages of their grief. But that doesn’t mean what you say doesn’t matter. The graphic below shows a few helpful phrases when you’re not sure how to help or what to say:


Phrases to use when supporting widows


To sum it up, acknowledge their grief, create a safe space for them to share (but don’t expect them to), provide specific and actionable support, and normalize whatever they may be feeling.


4. Remember that Grief is Cumulative

Since March 2020, we’ve been confronted with death in a more visible way than perhaps ever before. At least 3.8 million people have died of the disease. On top of that, many have lost jobs and income, social support and networks, and other freedoms.


Each of these losses can compound, and if someone hasn’t fully gone through the grief process with a previous loss, they may take a shortcut—what’s called a “false bridge” in their healing journey. What then happens is that pent-up grief will likely rear its head during a future loss.


Sometimes when people fall apart during a “minor” loss, it can just be the cumulative effect of all those previous false bridges they may have taken. Again, grief is complex, and the path to healing can be long and winding.


3 Ways to Better Prepare for Your Future

Although the COVID-19 death toll is staggering, it was still only the 3rd-leading cause of death in the US in 2020. Despite the recent decline in Covid deaths, heart disease and cancer were still at the top. And other other causes like drug overdoses and suicides are on the rise.   So that door that opened last year? The one that helped you see just how precious and short life can be? Keep it open, and use what you’ve learned to prepare for whatever life may throw your way.

1. Start the Money Conversations Now

If you manage your household’s finances, make sure your house is in order. Here are a couple of items to make sure you’ve addressed:
  • Writing a will
  • Determining power of attorney and medical power of attorney
  • Sharing resources like accounts, passwords, and calendars
  • Having insurance policies in place for life, disability, personal property and liability

If you aren’t currently involved in your family’s finances, start that conversation as soon as possible. Ask questions about each of the items above:
  • Do we have a will?
  • What accounts do we have, and how do I access them?
  • What do our life, disability, property, and other insurance policies look like?
  • Where and how do our bills get paid?

While these may be difficult conversations to have in any circumstance, starting them before they’re absolutely necessary will help you and your loved ones feel more prepared for any scenario.  

2. Take Steps to Plan Your Legacy

Planning your financial legacy will help you and your loved ones not just in the future should anything happen to you, but also now as you clarify and communicate what’s most important to you. A legacy often refers to a gift, such as an inheritance, a family business, or property in a will. But it’s not always limited to tangible items. They can also include intangibles like:


  • Helping the next generation learn about money
  • Establishing a scholarship fund for a cause you care about
  • Exemplifying good financial habits

One way you can start planning your own legacy is by answering the following questions:


  • What does it mean to me to leave a legacy?
  • How do my loved ones see me today?
  • What am I doing today to leave behind a legacy?
  • What do I want to leave behind financially?
  • What ideas or values do I want to leave behind to my loved ones?

By reflecting on these questions, you can feel peace of mind that what you’re working toward today can have a lasting impact on those you care most about.

3. Get Support from a Specialist

Financial advisors and financial coaches can help you with both getting your house in order and planning your legacy. In fact, many of Willow’s financial life coaches specialize in helping widows navigate their new financial situation and the emotions that come with it. From helping you manage day-to-day financial decisions, to increasing your financial confidence and assurance, and eventually putting longer-term strategies in place, coaches can provide you with personalized education, guidance, and self-care practices.

But getting things in order and knowing what you want from your money doesn’t only need to happen during big life events and transitions. Financial life coaches can also help you be better prepared for any financial situation life may hand you.

If you or a friend are looking for support as a widow or just want to get better prepared for your financial future, you can get matched with one of these specialty coaches and get a free 15-minute consultation here.