"You have your family, but to know that you're not forgotten makes a difference," she said.
Political leaders paid tribute to the coal industry and coal miners, saying West Virginia produced the energy and steel the fueled the industrial revolution and continues to make modern America run.
"We are everything that is good about West Virginia," said Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who was governor when the disaster occurred.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said most West Virginians -- and most Americans -- just don't understand coal mining, coal miners or coal-mining communities.
"I think we stand in awe of you, as families, as a community, as a profession, a hidden, dangerous, marvelous, awesome profession called being a coal miner, taking care of the needs of the world, and sometimes sacrificing, in the ultimate sense," Rockefeller said.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the families that the Upper Big Branch deaths never should have occurred.
"We're not going to let this pass," Solis said. "Our work is not done. We all have to work harder for miners and their families, because you provide so much to us."
Tomblin said he would "do everything humanly possible," but that "only the good Lord knows" if other mining families would have to suffer through a coal-mining disaster.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., agreed with Tomblin's assessment.
"I yearn so much for the assurance that the work we're doing in Washington will give the confidence that this will never happen again," McKinley said. "But, as we've all learned, in many respects, it's out of our hands. But we can do whatever man can do."
Shirley Whitt, whose brother, Boone Payne, died at Upper Big Branch, said she didn't know if mining disasters are always preventable.
"I think there are a lot of precautions you can take, and I also think there are a lot of dangers," Whitt said. "People are people, and no matter how much you try to do things right, things are going to happen."
But Hattie Morgan, whose grandson Adam Morgan was killed in the mine, said the deaths could have been prevented and that someone should and will eventually be punished.
"I'm just glad they're finding some answers," Morgan said. "The hard part is not knowing what is going on. I know it's not going to bring them back, but I just hope they find out what happened, what caused it."
The passing of a year hasn't eased the family's pain.
"It's just sad," said Deborah Griffith, William Griffith's daughter. "It doesn't feel like it's been a year."
The Griffith family was the first among at least nine Upper Big Branch families to file wrongful death lawsuits against Massey Energy, and they also pursued -- but lost -- a federal court case aimed at forcing a more public investigation of the disaster.
William Griffith's son, William James Griffith, said he had moved back to the region from Georgia because he had decided to get a job mining coal -- until Upper Big Branch.
"My dad got killed," he said. "That's the reason I'm not a miner. After all this happened. I'll never set foot in one."