I can’t imagine trying to choose a headstone or a casket in the trauma that comes with death. I have great respect for people who are able to think clearly enough to make those choices. I wasn’t ready. In fact, I have waited 32 months to order a headstone for Todd, and I’m glad I didn’t rush.

We buried Todd on the farm next to his dad and mom–the three of them dying in a single, horrible 18-month span. We didn’t use a funeral home. We didn’t have to. (Most states have no laws requiring a funeral director to be involved at all.) Todd’s brother built the caskets. Todd ordered a twin headstone for his parents a few months after we lost his mom. I’ve waited a whole lot longer to order his.

I’m not sure why it took me so long, but I know I just haven’t been ready. I’ve thought frequently about what I wanted on the headstone and even took notes to share occasionally with loved ones. Maybe the delay was getting my heart and my head to agree to accept his absence.

But, this summer something just clicked. Collectively clicked–I had been planning to shop for a headstone this summer when my sister in law brought the topic up for discussion because her daughter had been thinking the same thing. Others had been talking about his headstone, too. For all of us, it was time.

His grave was far from unmarked.  The day after his burial on the farm, my sister and niece helped me collect and stack heavy, flat rocks from the creek on the farm to build a cairn to match the ones for his mom and dad. A few weeks later, a friend sent a miniature disc golf basket that I anchored next to the cairn and then clear-coated to keep away rust. It has collected quite a few miniature discs (think: small frisbees) signed with memories or promises. But, we all knew he needed something permanent, something with his name on it.

With the help of the same monument company that created Todd’s parents’ headstone, I chose blue granite. The family helped choose the right words and images to memorialize Todd with. After three separate proofs and taking a few weeks to get it exactly how we wanted it to look, I went to the monument company and wrote a check, which no longer bears Todd’s name–those ran out three months after his death, for the deposit. The headstone guy told me it was almost exactly three years to the day that Todd had ordered his parents’ stone.

And, now we wait for the rock to ship and the artists to do their work.

It feels like we’ve bought him an enormous present, and I’m actually excited about giving it to him. Maybe we’ll have a big party to celebrate him on the day the headstone is placed.

It also feels like an accomplishment. And, I’m glad I waited to get this exactly right.



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