I moved this month. Over three weekends, friends and family helped me move furniture. I’ve moved slowly, taking a few boxes at a time to the new-to-me house, extracting myself from the home I had with Todd. It might have been a slow move, but between moving and teaching high school and college classes, I’ve had little time or desire to think or write. Honestly, I’m exhausted. However, before my move began, I volunteered to write a self-care blog entry. I thought, Hey, since people always tell me that I seem to be doing well and seem so strong, maybe I have something to share.

What was I thinking?!  How have I taken care of myself for 11 months?

Mainly, I’ve muddled through, doing what I felt. Self-care by accident.

Role models

And, I’m really not strong. I’ve been relying on Todd, using him as my role model. After his early forced retirement from a downsizing newspaper, he didn’t wallow in self-pity. Okay, he did spend that first unemployed afternoon sipping bourbon and reflecting on his career. I can remember only one day coming home to find him still in his pajamas, but he had finished a load of laundry.

Todd didn’t let a forced early retirement keep him down longer than one day.

He just stayed busy.

He made a mental list of things to do every single day and he did them. He took care of his mother, did laundry, cooked, (he was never fond of making the bed), grocery shopped, organized disc golf tournaments, played a hella lot more disc golf, took one brother to doctors’ appointments, and worked on the farm with his other brother. He never stopped imagining what he might do or become next.

Two weeks after Todd died, I got up and showed up at my job. I needed a reason to get up in the mornings, and Todd had shown me how. It wasn’t easy, and the first weeks back I was shaky. I cried a lot. But, I haven’t spent a single day in my pajamas, except after hip surgery. I’ve not kept busy as a way to ignore emotional or spiritual work; some days, visiting his gravesite was my reason to get out of bed.

Staying busy has carried me through 11 months as if I’ve been riding in a canoe down the Green River, Todd in the rear navigating with his paddle so all I have to do is dip mine in occasionally for a little added forward motion. Rough water? I paddled harder.

After I went back to work, my dad told me he knew that work would be healing for me. He confided in me about how he had dealt with my mother’s death when I was a toddler. He said one day he found himself in a bar, took a look at the sad men drinking around him and realized that he had to do better for me and my infant sister. He, too, had to get back to work. I didn’t know that he had been my earliest role-model. For my dad and Todd and me, staying busy is self-care.

Serendipitous self-care

Self-care, soul care: both sound like they require self-discipline or consultation with a life-coach, but they don’t. Self-care is about having a reason to get out of bed, about doing what’s best for you, widowed or not. Sometimes it’s random, unplanned, accidental.

Sometimes it’s using a to-do list. The list of self-care items for September offers suggestions for healing body and soul: Say yes. Say no. Drink wine. Eat ice cream. Eat healthily. Exercise. Play with a dog. Dance. Sing. Paint. Read. Help others. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. I can check off some of the list by sheer coincidence, but some items I can’t say I really want to do, nor can I write a blog about having some pretend Self-Care Epiphany regarding how much wine I drank last fall or why I gave up reading for months. I can write, though, about being busy with my own list.

And today, my self-care list says I’ve got a father to see and a gravesite to visit.

Endnote: I didn’t do any of my list today. I have caught a cold and performed some self-care by taking a long nap, seeing Todd in two dreams, and drinking hot tea. I didn’t shower, but I did get dressed, and I called my dad instead of visiting him in person. Good enough for today.



Sue Leathers is an English teacher and mother. She had a huge crush on her husband Todd Kleffman, a journalist, when she was in high school, and she'd save his columns and stories. Decades later, she and Todd found each other through Facebook. He was the love of her life, her high school crush, and she was his biggest fan. She lost Todd in October 2017 to a heart attack. She has found solace in Hope for Widows and in writing of her own journey, and hopes to help other widows by sharing her experiences here.

Sue can be found on Instagram: @susanjanie