Recently, I found myself at a social event.

Ok, it was a bonfire.

Actually a keg party around a bonfire.

I had a legitimate reason to be there–the party was for a friend’s birthday and I went with my sister-in-law, and, well, that’s how birthdays are celebrated in this part of the country.

At first, it felt great to be out of the house: I felt celebratory for having made it to the weekend and a tiny bit hopeful at the chance that someone interesting might be there, someone who could make my heart flutter again. Then, I opened my mouth.

Now, I am not famous for being a conversationalist. But, I surprised even myself when every single word that came out of my mouth in a two-hour span circled around Todd. Every. Single. One. I talked about him with my sister-in-law and her husband. Talked about him with my nieces and their friends. Talked about him to complete strangers.

And, the entire time I stood around the bonfire, trying to seem normal, I missed Todd deeply. I mean I missed the whole joyous, mind body soul full to exploding, life is PERFECT, skinnydip if you want, turn up the music, helovesme!, Todd experience. Bonfires were a regular event at Todd’s family farm, where we used to live. Bonfires and campouts and long days in the sun at the pond. The pond where he asked me to marry him, where we held our wedding, and where he’s buried.

I held back tears on the way home, looking out the car window at the stars in the clear, un-light-polluted sky, the same stars that shone over the farm’s pond. I felt so very grateful to have had his love in my life, and at the same time, homesick for our past. I also felt defeated–who in the world is going to want to talk to me if all I can talk about is Todd? I mean, what if one of those strangers at the bonfire had been a prospective more-than-a-friend person? All I would have talked about would have been my late husband!

<Insert photo of me lugging around a giant suitcase of emotional baggage>

It’s going to take Captain America himself to carry and unpack that baggage because here’s what’s inside: my entire being shot through and through with Todd. I connect nearly everything to Todd–people, places, events, music, dates, things, experiences. Everything.

Even the smallest of things connect me to Todd. Hand me a straw at a drive-through window, and I think of him–he never used them. He wasn’t trying to be ecologically conscious. He said he never could get enough liquid through one to make for a satisfying swallow. I have a stash of unused straws in our truck, in case you’re ever riding with me and need one, by the way.

I don’t narrate all of these subconscious connections to whoever might be with me at the moment. I don’t get a straw at the drive through with my daughter and tell her for the hundredth time, “Hey, Todd never used these things.” But, I am aware that’s what I’m thinking.

Here’s the thing: I’m still in love with him. Even though he’s been dead for 17 months, I’m still in love with my husband. He will be a part of who I am until I draw my last breath.

I’m not ready to stop making these connections or talking about him. It’s not something I can just turn off. I don’t want to stop wearing my wedding band. I might be widowed, but I’m not single. I’m still his wife, and I don’t know if my heart will ever be ready for anyone else, even Captain America. Since his death, I’ve learned that my grief isn’t so much a journey through as a living with. I’m learning to live with the love that remains in my heart for him, even if he isn’t here to feel it, just as I’m learning to live with the emptiness caused by his absence and all of the unwanted changes that have come with it.

 

About 

Sue Leathers is an English teacher and mother of two daughters, 19 and 22. 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 not feel alone by sharing her experiences here.

Sue can be found on Instagram: @susanjanie