1. Remember she was your friend before she was a widow.
Or even if she wasn't, her widow-ness shouldn't surpass your friendship. Look at her as a friend first and a widow later. Way later, if possible. Don't try to put yourself in her shoes. Chances are, you'll make an ass out of yourself. Instead, treat her like you always do.
2. Address her the way she chooses to be addressed.
I remember planning for my wedding and how stressful it was addressing envelopes. Miss, Mrs, Ms - why are there so many? Typically, modern etiquette rules for Ms. if you are unsure or if she is an older unmarried woman. Feminism was trying to replace the Miss/Mrs situation with the Ms, but instead folks just added it as another option and confused things more. It was a good idea (I mean seriously, why do dudes only have to deal with ONE but we've got THREE to choose from), but it can be hard to predict who prefers which title. If you're good friends with your widow, you probably know how to approach this. Here's a hint - if her Christmas card comes with a return address of "Mrs. So and So" you should probably address the wedding invitation in kind. I was really persnickety about this in my earlier days, to the point where most people know to put Mrs on anything being sent to me - I always said "I earned my R!" Not all widows feel the same. If you're unsure, it probably wouldn't offend her if you asked how she preferred to be addressed.
3. For goodness sakes, give her a plus one.
As you might have guessed, weddings can be tough for us young widows (which may be where the unsureness around inviting your widowed friend stemmed from in the first place). It's not that we're not happy our friends are finding love and getting married - we are! - it's that we also remember being happy with our spouse and how much we miss them. It's also that weddings are typically an event you would attend with a spouse, you would dance together, you would have fun together... you know. And now the spouse is gone and it's just another event to attend alone. Don't put your wedding in that category, friend. Seriously. Let her bring a plus one. Once, I was told "Only the married people get a plus one." It hurt. Okay, I am married - kinda. I didn't choose to be NOT married and neither did he. If all my friends are married and getting a plus one, and I am the only one who isn't, well that just sucks. Yes, I can't wait to be surrounded by happy couples so I can drown my grief in your open bar. Why don't you just give her a great big neon flashing hat that says "CAUTION: SAD LONELY WIDOW" while you're at it? Don't be cheap - pay for the extra plate and let your girl bring someone, whether it be a new romantic partner, a fellow widow to help her deal, or a girlfriend to keep her company during the slow dances - don't make her be the only adult woman without a date.
4. Speaking of guys, include her new guy.
If your widowed friend is dating again, don't exclude her new partner. Whether you think it's right for her to be dating or not, it's shitty of you to pretend her new partner doesn't exist. Plain and simple. Oh, they haven't been together that long? Well, see above. Give her the plus one and let her choose if he will be her date. You don't really like him? Well, I'm sure you don't like everyone attending your wedding either. Hell, you probably don't like a portion of the people IN your wedding. As the bride, chances are you won't even have to spend more than 5 minutes with him. And if you know his name, don't put "Guest" on the table card. If she RSVPs me and Joe are coming, the name card should read Friend and Joe, not Friend and guest. Don't be a douche.
5. Don't make it weird.
Sometimes people can be overly sensitive about widow stuff. Don't go out of your way to make it weird. Don't call her up and talk all cautiously. You know the voice, "Oh... heyyy.... sooooo... I'm getting married and..." Everybody knows her husband is dead. It is no secret she is a widow. Don't act like you're keeping something from her when you're trying to talk to her. Want to ask her how to be addressed or what her new beau's name is? Ask. "Hey, do you care what title you get on the envelope?" "Hey, is Joe your plus one or are you bringing someone else?" "Hey, what's your guy's name?" Are all better than "So, I don't want to be weird or anything but... since you're husband isn't here..." Be upfront, be real, don't be weird.
6. Let her take a breath if she needs to take a breath.
There have been multiple times I've had to step out of weddings. Like I said before, although I'm happy for my friends, weddings are tough. I love weddings, but they can be a real widow ass kicker. Sometimes, that song will come on and she can't get out of the dance hall fast enough before tears erupt. Sometimes she cries a little harder at the processional. Sometimes she needs to go for a walk during the oldest couple dancing tradition. Sometimes she needs an extra drink. I am thankful that the vast majority of the time I've experienced that "Need a moment" moment, people have been supportive. Don't be upset or offended if your widowed friend needs to take a breath or needs a second to pull herself together or if you happen to catch her looking kind of sad when you glance her direction. Let her handle herself her way and be respectful that even though she loves you, she might be hurting a bit, too.
The nicest thing that anyone ever did for me pre-wedding was ask what song to avoid playing. I am super attached to our wedding song and most everyone knows it. Especially right after Jonny's death, I couldn't hear our song without completely losing my shit. It was so very kind of a particular bride to ask me. No, I don't expect that treatment and no, I don't include that as an etiquette step, I was surprised and grateful when she asked and I assured her not to change any plans because of me because I would handle myself fine. But it was a very considerate thing for her to do and I will never forget that someone spared a thought during planning their special day on my feelings. Oh, and no, she wasn't weird about it, she was just like "Hey, what's your song again? I'm going to put it on the no play list because I know it's hard for you." And I was like, "You don't have to do that but our song is..." and she was like "No, it's fine, I just don't want it coming up randomly it's not part of anything for us so it doesn't need to be played at all." Very thoughtful.
7. If your friend is a military widow and your wedding is on Memorial Day, don't be pissed if she bails.
Seriously, this one should not even have to be stated, but as Memorial Day really is a beautiful long weekend perfect for weddings, I couldn't leave it out. If your wedding is on Memorial Day and your friend declines or bails out early, you have no right to be pissed. Chances are she is going to a cemetery (or urn, wherever it's located) to spend some time with her husband, or partaking in some other grief related ritual. This tip also applies for any special dates; her anniversary, her spouse's birthday, her spouse's angelversary... if it's a tough day for her, she has every right to grieve and deal with it her way. This doesn't mean don't invite her, of course. Maybe she'll like having something to celebrate and spending time with friends to keep herself occupied. Just don't be pissed if she declines or leaves early.
I hope this helps for brides who might have some concerns about inviting their widow friends. Widows, did I leave anything out? Drop me a comment to add your tip. Think one of mine is great or unfair? Let me know. Want to share your own experience? I'd love to hear about it!
Photo: Creative Commons Rebecca Shiraev