BACKGROUND: To examine the effect of time on suicide after bereavement among widowed persons. METHOD: The data were extracted from Swiss mortality statistics for the period 1987-2005. The time between bereavement and subsequent death, specifically by suicide, was determined by linkage of individual records of married persons. The suicide rates and the standardized mortality ratios in the first week/month/year of widowhood were calculated based on person-year calculations. RESULTS: The annualized suicide rates in widowed persons were highest in the first week after bereavement: 941 males and 207 females per 100,000. The corresponding standardized mortality ratios were approximately 34 and 19 respectively. In the first month(s) after bereavement, the rates and the ratios decreased, first rapidly, then gradually. Except in older widows, they did not reach the baseline levels during the first year after bereavement. CONCLUSIONS: The suicide risk of widowed persons is increased in the days, weeks and months after bereavement. Widowed persons are a clear-cut risk group under the aegis of undertakers, priests and general practitioners.