Wearing a black and silver dress, with her hair in blond waves, Kellie Pickler took the stage in Nashville on April 22 as part of a star-studded tribute to the music of Patsy Cline. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was incredibly nervous right now,” the American Idol alum told the audience. “It’s the first time I’ve been up on stage in a while.”

Indeed, more than a year had passed since Kellie had performed in public. The former Pickler & Ben co-host, star of three Hallmark movies and SiriusXM radio host completely stepped away from the spotlight following the tragic February 2023 death of her husband, Kyle Jacobs, by suicide. During her return to the mic this April, Kellie paid tribute to the late songwriter by singing “The Woman I Am”—a tune they’d penned together over a decade ago. “The last time I was here in the Ryman Auditorium was with him on a date night,” she said, “and I know he is here with us tonight.”

According to an insider, the appearance was a major step for “still healing” Kellie, 37. “It’s been a really rough 14 months. She was isolating herself amid the grief,” the insider exclusively tells Life & Style. “Kellie may never fully recover, but Kyle wouldn’t want her to hide away. He’d want his wife out there performing, doing what she loves — and the fact that she gets to honor Kyle’s memory in the process is bittersweet.”

Inside Kellie Pickler and Kyle Jacobs’ Marriage

Kellie met Kyle at a Nashville bar, and the two eloped in 2011 after three years of dating. Aside from collaborating on music, the pair co-starred on three seasons of the CMT reality series I Love Kellie Pickler.

But then tragedy struck. On February 17, 2023, EMTs found Kyle locked in a bathroom at the couple’s house, dead at age 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Devastated, Kellie didn’t speak out about the incident until August, when she shared: “One of the most beautiful lessons my husband taught me was in a moment of crisis, if you don’t know what to do, ‘do nothing, just be still.’ I have chosen to heed his advice.”

Now, it seems she’s finally ready to take things off pause. In addition to hitting the stage again, Kellie has put the abode she once shared with Kyle up for sale. “There have been many nights she cried herself to sleep — a life without Kyle still doesn’t seem real sometimes. Kellie’s working at being at peace with it,” says the insider. “She sees reminders of him everywhere, but she’s definitely a lot stronger today. It’s one of the reasons she listed their home. Kellie needs to move on, which is also why she’s focusing on her career right now.”

Eventually, she’d like to move on romantically as well. “She hasn’t given up on love,” says the insider. “Kellie hopes one day to find a great guy, remarry and have a family. She’ll always cherish her time with Kyle, and is continuing to process his death, but Kellie is hopeful for the future.”