How many times have you heard: “You are so strong!”? Or seen memes that compliment a widow’s strength, like this one: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”? 

I didn’t realize until recently that all of the emotional exercise my widow’s heart has endured in the last three years has made me incredibly strong. 

A month ago, a friend of my husband’s asked me to lunch. I was totally blindsided. I was not looking to go out with anyone, having pretty much accepted that I’d live the rest of my life as a single woman. In fact, I have not gone out with anyone since Todd died nearly 3 years ago. But, he asked, and I went–no agenda, no expectations except lunch and catching up with someone who knew my late husband.

He brought flowers–blindsided! After lunch, blindsided again by how much I really enjoyed myself, by how much I missed companionship and how numb I’d become living alone. 

That lunch date led to shared dinners and evenings of TV watching, walks, and lots of conversation–an entire month of time shared together. I appreciated that he had known my late husband and told me I could talk about him anytime I wanted to (which I did). I also appreciated that having seen his mother deal with recent widowhood helped him understand me a little better. 

Yet, after a month, for reasons I can’t mention here, I decided to stop seeing him. We discussed the entire situation, and he agreed it was smart. I can’t deny that this decision was hard. It was. I can’t deny that it hurt. I did. But, after what I’ve been through losing Todd, the pain of not seeing this person anymore is like stubbing my pinky toe on the couch leg. It hurts, but it didn’t rip my heart from my chest. 

So this week, I realized that I am stronger than I have ever been in my entire life. Wise. Durable. I feel almost bullet-proof. Everything I’ve lived through in the last three years has made me an even better version of myself than I thought possible. I will miss the walks and conversation with this recent friend, but I’m still just dandy on my own. 

I also realized that even though nearly all relationships end badly, via death or some sort of a break-up, love really is worth the risks. 

I never thought I’d be able to say that again: love is always worth it. 

I never thought I’d have room in my heart for someone after my husband died. I would read other widows’ accounts of second chapters and scoff. But, after this experience, I see it’s totally possible. 

Even though we agreed to halt this fledgling relationship, I marvel at the idea that I could actually fall in love again. With this friend, I had started making room in my heart. I even decided after two weeks of spending time with this new friend that if I was “dating,” I needed to stop wearing my wedding band (and Todd’s band). THAT was a huge step for me! (I wear it on my right hand now–baby steps.)

The entire month was like standing at the threshold of a house, peeking inside, then stepping back, hoping to return again later when I was more certain of the foundation to actually go in. Before, I thought that door was locked from the inside.

I’m grateful for this recent (brief) relationship because through it I’ve realized that widowhood has taught me patience, empathy, and–most importantly–my own worth. The love my late husband gave me reaffirms my worth every single day.

I know how to flex this beat-up old heart muscle–how to guard it and how to open it (a little anyways) to someone. Plus, I am gaining the wisdom to know when to do each. That kind of emotional fitness is a valuable strength I never expected to gain in widowhood, the kind of strength that will help get me through another year.


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