My Husband Died...
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My husband passed away three months ago. He was living with Parkinson's and with Stage IV Liver and Colon Cancer. We were not feeling totally positive about his condition, but we also did not expect him to go into complete liver failure and pass away two weeks later. He was having cutting edge procedures. He (we) thought we had more time.
I am a 64 year-old woman who has been in a relationship since I was 13 years old. I have been as much of a care-taker as I have been taken care of. My husband took care of the finances. My husband took care of the business affairs. My husband took care of whatever end-of-life planning we had in place, which turns out, was not that much. He (we) thought we had more time.
I am now faced with riding the waves of my own grief amidst being swallowed up in mounds of paperwork and questions as I navigate my own learning curve with the life insurance, the social security, the annuities, the will, the business, the house, and the list goes on.
I am also faced with, perhaps for the first time in my whole life, not being taken care of by my partner as well as not having anyone to take care of. My children are grown and forming families of their own.
I am afraid to take the next step. Some days I feel like I can tackle the stacks of bills and other days I want to rip them all up, sell the house and the business and move far, far away!
Will I ever see a light at the end of this endless tunnel? Will I be able to “do this thing called life” on my own? How will I know if I am doing the right thing and making the right choices?
I can’t go back but not sure how I will go on
Dear You are Here Now and I love you,
I am so incredibly sorry that your person left his body. I am so incredibly sorry that in the space where his absence exists, there is a mile high clutter of logistics.
Let’s begin together, here.
Speaking from recent personal experience, when we are in big, fresh grief, there is too much brain fog to identify what help to even ask for. Don’t let that stop you. Think - right now - of a capable human being who loves you and may be willing to help with a logistical plan. Nothing complex; I’m talking about simplifying.
We can only do one thing at a time, and then the next thing, and so on, until no mound is left. I promise, the mound does dissolve when we keep doing one thing at a time. We just need a distilled list with simple instructions and phone numbers, etc., so there is nothing to figure out, only a task at hand.
Stop right now and call or text that person you're thinking of and ask: Will you please help me organize what I need to do logistically in the near future? If they say no, don't give it a second thought, just ask someone else.
My grandparents died around the same time as your husband. Both died quickly from covid, so even though my Nanny had been unwell for a while, it was also unexpectedly fast. As for my Papa dying, it was a complete sucker punch. Their deaths gutted me. They (we) thought we had more time.
Probate alone has been a monster for our foggy grief brains. When my two uncles and I sat down together, they handed me enormous stacks of paperwork from probate and file boxes where Papa kept insurance policies, bank statements, and God only knows what else, dating back to the early 80’s, along with countless envelopes scribbled with numbers. At first I wanted to collapse and cry on the floor, which is a perfectly reasonable response when your people die. Remember that.
Something kicked in inside me, though. I could see how much pain and fog my uncle was in. I wanted to clear the way for us and this was something I could at least begin to navigate. It felt relieving to steer the cluttered bus of paperwork because I had tried so hard to steer my Papa's healthcare bus away from dying, to ultimately find out that I wasn't in the driver's seat.
With a mound of logistics, I went piece by piece, using one notebook to make an ordered list and a pad of sticky notes to put dates on paperwork. I simplified everything as much as possible, listing requirements for banking, property, insurance, mortuary, anything that required handling, in the order things were due or needed follow up. I stacked all the paperwork according to priority so that when the thing on top was done it could move out of the stack.
I want you to have a navigator in your life to do this for you. You will sit beside them, only as a reference for questions that arise. You may or may not be able to answer the questions and that’s ok. There may come a point when you need an attorney to assist. My uncles found one to wrap things up for $350. One thing at a time, dear one, while you breathe. That’s all we can do.
When you call the social security office or anyone else on your list, here’s a script, should you need it:
“Hi. My husband died in February. He has always taken care of our affairs. I am now figuring out many things including ________ that I’m calling you about. Can you help me?”
As far as the business and the house are concerned, let’s not make any grief-drunk decisions, but there may come a time when you realize those chapters are complete. Maybe you do want to move. Maybe that business isn’t how you want to invest the days of your life.
After 53 consecutive years of being in relationships, you are now being invited — however gut wrenchingly — into an intimate and care-giving relationship with yourself. This does not mean that you are not still in relationship with your husband; love never dies. This only means that you have been waiting for you for a very long time. Read that sentence again. Part of the invitation here and now is to ask yourself several times a day, with gentleness and genuine curiosity:
* What is the most loving thing I can do for myself right now?
* What do I want (aka, desire)?
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is sleep late, eat pancakes, and not pick up the phone all day. Sometimes the most loving thing is get up early, talk a walk in nature, and find a navigator to begin the dissolution of the mound.
Now, about desire:
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell it to you straight. If you have been in relationship since you were 13 and raised children along the way, it is possible that you are wildly out of alignment with, or even recognition of, your own desire. Your desires are sacred. Real desires move us toward expansion and connection.
Many of us were raised to believe that the highest good is self-sacrifice, so we struck out into the world continually saying yes to relationship dynamics, invites, and projects that depleted us but served someone else. We sacrificed our desires to serve someone else’s. WE HAVE TO REWIRE THIS. The future of humanity depends on it.
You were born with a navigation system, that feeling in your body that “just knows”. Every time we sacrificed our own desires and longings to make others comfortable, we dulled our awareness of what our body was trying to tell us. You asked me, “How will I know if I am doing the right thing and making the right choices?”
Begin with this mantra: I participate with life only in ways that nourish and empower me.
(This is what authenticity is and it includes engaging with yourself, family, friends, business associates, the social security office, the Source of creation, and everyone else.)
The more small choices you make based on authenticity, the sharper your awareness becomes and the more you can feel - without questions - what the right thing is. It takes a little time to remove the gunk that’s on top of our authenticity from years of neglect, so know that, and let it be ok. Old patterns will kick back in (repeatedly). As soon as you see yourself doing things the old way, just course correct. No beating yourself up about it or giving up, just adjust.
Every day, consider the ways you care-took your husband and children. Feel the essence of all that love, remove any sliver of obligation, and pour it all over yourself.
I’m here and I love you,
Note: I am not a licensed physician or therapist. These letters are not intended to diagnose, treat, or offer medical advice.
This on demand event speaks precisely to what our friend above is currently experiencing. Register here for Women & Wills: Empowering Ourselves, with Liza Hanks, estate planner and attorney. Free event.
Header Photo: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash