Lillian Lake photo

We spend most of our lives hiding behind a mask we have crafted over a lifetime. To the world, we show ourselves as we think others want to see us. We take their judgment into our hearts, and that is who we become. No wonder we don’t know who we are as we age!

From a young age, we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up”? We are rarely asked, “Who do you want to be?” and wait for an answer that allows the person to explore what that might mean or mean already.

And so it is that we hide behind our mask, our true feelings, often feeling shameful that our feelings don’t match expectations or experience.

With this in mind, I bring light to a little-spoken topic with the hope that it will spark conversation, and if even one bereaved partner feels seen and heard, I have met my goal.

Over the years, I’ve had conversations with recently widowed friends expressing the need for sexual intimacy and physical contact soon after their loss. I was uncomfortable and curious, and yet, for some reason, I wasn’t surprised, even though they each had very loving relationships with their life partners. I asked if they felt guilty, and they responded, “Yes,” but more than that, they felt confused.

Speed forward a few years as a bereavement group facilitator. Widowers would more easily speak of sex and dating. Widows would mostly not engage in the subject. Rarely would a woman express her need for physical contact. We all need to know and understand this natural response of needing intimacy after losing a life partner. It’s called Widow’s Fire.


Widows have long taken it on the chin about how widows should behave during bereavement. Men once wore a black armband for six months, but women wore black for two years and a widow’s ring. To this day, women are judged if they date too soon, but also, the felt but unspoken question—-“Isn’t it time you were dating?”

Needing intimacy is a trauma response. Following WWII, we saw a surge in births, and then again following 9/11. In those instances, we get the feel-good feeling of babies being born but not the story behind the deliveries.

A British entrepreneur, Nicky Wake, widowed at age 51, experienced Widow Fire and realized there was a need for an app that brings widows and widowers together who are not ready for a commitment but need a safe space for non-committal dating and no-strings-attached sex. The app is called WidowsFire, and it launched in June 2023. You need to show a death certificate to sign up.

Some studies explore this phenomenon and support its existence. Based on my experience as a friend privy to such conversations and as a grief facilitator, I believe Widow Fire is more than an intense desire for sex. I think it encompasses a spiritual aspect, too, and allows us to have these open discussions and explore our human connection and its complexity more deeply.

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