Before I lost my husband, I was vaguely familiar with the 5 stages of grief. Honestly, I think I learned about the stages of grief from some movie. So, when Todd died, I thought my emotions would have this logical and predictable progression from denial and disbelief to anger to bargaining then depression and finally acceptance. 

I’ve since learned more about grief theories (not from pop culture); I’ve learned that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler postulated that the stages of grief are NOT linear. I’ve also learned that before Kubler-Ross and Kessler, John Bowlby and Colin Murray Parkes theorized that there were four stages of grief, also complicated and recursive.

And, you know what? Theories and labels irk me. I mean, this is my life! Kudos to the experts for naming what I’m going through and then acknowledging that names don’t really matter because the grief journey looks like some crazy treasure map with no X-marks-the-spot destination. (Cue the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.”) I mean, any name given to my current phase is irrelevant because my phases are constantly in flux, being recycled until I die. 

In the first week alone, I realized that grief stages were like being at the back of a surreal crack-the-whip game. Being slung around has continued well into the third year. Not only do I move back and forth between stages and their accompanying emotions, but sometimes they tackle me in twos or threes, and it’s no longer a playground game but full-contact football. 

If I were to play with grief stage names, here they are: I skipped bargaining altogether. Also, I never raged at the heavens. I know people experience grief differently, and some feel anger at themselves, at the deceased, at God, at others. I didn’t. I just slowly grew annoyed with others: with advertisers who showed me smiling couples, with friends on social media who had the nerve to wish happy anniversary to their spouses, with anyone who never dropped by to hang out.

But now, I am angry. Now, I am pissed off at the unfairness of my circumstances. 

I am mad that I don’t get to share this last part of my life with Todd. 

I am mad that I still love Todd so deeply that I’m 99.9% sure I will never fall in love again and  remarry. 

(Although, I might not remarry because I live in a total bachelor desert, which I am also mad about, but not mad enough to move. Then again, I might not remarry because after nearly four years of independent living I don’t think I could tolerate living with a man, and even if Todd himself came strolling in my front door, he might not be able to tolerate who I’ve become.)

I am mad that I’m choosing to spend the rest of my days alone. 

AND, I am mad because the universe forced the choice on me so that my solitary existence has never been a choice at all! 

(And, hey IRS, I’m seriously ticked off at you for removing my qualifying widow status after 3 years and categorizing me as “single.” My husband is just not in the land of the living!)

Now, my inner narrative always includes some form of “this sucks.” Because it does. And yet, there is good stuff in my life, too: dogs, kids, hummingbirds, donuts. It’s amazing that life can be both part “this sucks” and part “coffee is a miracle.” But, that’s what all of the grief stages and their bffs–emotions–do best: pile on like a bench-clearing brawl.

Guess what? David Kessler has recently written about a sixth stage in grief: finding meaning (which Viktor Frankl wrote about in 1946). Just mentioning that here because old meaning-making has been pacing the sidelines, waiting to join the melee.



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