I wish I had a book entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know as a Widow But Were Afraid to Ask” because sometimes I don’t know if I’m losing it or if I’m just being human. For instance, lately, I’ve wondered if it’s okay that my bedroom has become sort of a shrine to my late husband.

I moved into my new-to-me house in September, and I’ve had trouble unpacking. Mainly, I’ve been unsure about where to put things that belonged to Todd or where to hang pictures of him. I want to make this space my home, especially since the holidays are coming and my daughters will spend Christmas here, but I can’t separate myself from Todd. We were one, and now we is in me.

My attempts at decorating made me think to myself recently, Sue, your bedroom is becoming a shrine. You see, most of the pictures I have hung up are of Todd. On my bedside table are more pictures of him. On the mantle in my bedroom, I’ve placed a painting his disc golf brothers gave me in honor of him and two oversized pictures of him. I don’t want them anywhere else in the house; they’re too personal for the living room or den.

Is that normal? Am I trying to live in the past? Do my daughters think I’m a little crazy when they see my room?

While I’ve been struggling with decorating, an anthropology class I took in college has been popping in my head, in particular, the textbook’s images of treasured personal objects and flowers placed inside of graves. Finally, this morning, I discovered something to link those recurring images to, along with my bedroom shrine, as I listened to a TED talk called, “Good grief! What I learned from loss.” It was like finding a missing puzzle piece!

In her TED talk, Elaine Mansfield discusses the power that rituals have to help humans in times of transition. Mansfield mentions ancient burials as confirmation that all humans in every civilization have used rituals. I knew that, but it was hanging around in my subconscious as drawings from a textbook! I needed someone to put the pieces together for me: I’ve been thinking about rituals while I’ve been creating them for myself.

Rituals for grieving don’t end with a burial ritual. I’m not losing it. I’m just very, very human. and I’ve been creating what Mansfield calls personal rituals. 

The shrine of my bedroom, of leaving mementos with his cairn, of kissing his picture every night before I sleep and every morning before I head into work–these personal rituals are all helping me. They aren’t enabling me to live in the past–I will always love him. They aren’t helping me to progress–grief isn’t a linear road to travel. But, personal rituals are healing.

As Mansfield says, “Ritual soothes and heals more than I could ever imagine….Through ritual, our grief becomes entwined in love.”

I didn’t know people who have lost loved ones do this sort of thing because most people don’t openly share this kind of personal information, and I don’t have a Widowhood for Dummies manual to consult. But, I do have Hope for Widows, a wonderful resource to turn to for support and affirmation. Here, I’m able to share with you the healing power of personal rituals, and together we can affirm each other’s experiences.


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