I don’t remember October. I think I wished it away because it is the month in which my love died and because it felt like the unofficial start of the holiday season, which I had been dreading. I didn’t even set candy out for trick-or-treaters. To be honest, I was not motivated to do much but make it to November.

However, I do remember talking about the holidays with some coworkers the Friday before Halloween, and one of them said she was putting up her Christmas decorations that weekend. “This early?” I asked. “Wow. I just don’t enjoy the holidays anymore” –because that was my truth. She answered compassionately, “Holidays probably will never be the same for you.” Neither of us said anything for a few seconds, and I appreciated that she understood me.

Then, she went on to explain that, for her, holidays reminded her of the only happy moments she had in a childhood otherwise filled with the abuse of her alcoholic father. Christmastime was her favorite time of year. 

Wow. She had spoken her truth, too, and I could clearly see her point of view. We both held pain in our pasts, but my grief doesn’t get to negate her joy in the season.

Not that I have been intentionally selfish or Grinchlike since Todd died. I’ve bought presents. I’ve cooked dishes to share at our family holiday dinners….all on autopilot. My brain has been operating in trauma-mode. I have been surviving. I’ve floated through each holiday season, not really feeling anything. 

This year, though, most of the emotional fog has lifted, and I’ve been coming back to my coworker’s truth. She showed me the core of what I have been unable to do the last three years: enjoy contributing to someone else’s happiness during holidays. And, honestly, this season I’m a little better. My heart is warmer. I’m not going through the motions anymore, and I’m not dreading it all as much as I thought I would a month ago.

Since my coworker told me her story, I’ve been thinking: the holidays won’t ever be the same, but I’m okay. Moreover, I can feel joy again. So this year, I am planning to do a little more decorating, not for myself, but for my family. I’ll bake cookies like I used to and give them to family, friends, and neighbors. I’ll hang outdoor wreaths and lights for other people to see as they drive by my home. 

Remember the scene when the Grinch’s heart grows three times bigger? Yeah, that could be me, only it’s taken three long years. Slowly, my heart has been healing. 

I’m grateful I have a big ol’ extended family to share the holidays with, whatever those days might look like during the pandemic. I know not everyone is so lucky. I am also thankful that this year I am able to see more clearly what had been hidden in a fog since I lost Todd: the magic of the season in other people’s faces. This season, I hope that your heart continues to heal and your fog lifts, even just a little bit, so you can see that magic, too.


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