Lessons Learned in my Grief Journey
The death of your spouse tops the charts as the number one most stressful event in life. I know. This happened to me when I became a widower two years ago.
I learned a lot in that experience. Here are some of the most important lessons I took away and help my widowed clients work through now.
Brain Fog is a Struggle
Mental confusion and a sort of brain-fog feeling are extremely common in grief. Things “ordinary,” non-grieving people do as a matter of course will not always make sense, or feel meaningful, to you. Just going through the responsibilities of daily life were enough to wear me out, much less think about the future. Be patient with yourself and understand this will be a long road adjusting to a new normal.
Given the emotional and physical toll a death can have on survivors, it’s far from the best time to make serious, irrevocable financial decisions. In particular, widows/widowers should avoid making a major career or housing changes during the first several months of the mourning period, if at all possible. As with many such blanket statements though, there are always exceptions. In my case, I had already made my plan to transition out of active duty quite a while before my wife Sarah passed away, but it may have appeared to others to be too soon.
Take Time to Grieve
Some things in life and in grief are not able to be fixed. They simply must be carried. Recognize that this pain and sorrow will be a part of you from now on, but also realize that the rest of your life will grow and adapt around your grief. It is part of you, but does not have to define you.
Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t allow it to consume you. What I found helpful for me was to set aside time to grieve as I remembered, looked at pictures, and embraced my sadness. This provided an emotional release instead of bottling it all up inside me. I was then able to move forward and get back to my day.
Lean on a Support Network
Understand that your friend and family relationships may evolve. Not everyone deals with loss and grief the same way and sadly that may mean people you were close to may pull back. Focus instead on leaning into those relationships that you are still close with.
Keep those dearest friends and family very close. Help them better help you by being specific in asking what you want them to do, and if you don’t know what to ask start with simple things. I found it helpful to have my friends take me on a weekly night out, a daily check-in phone call or text, or inviting me to join them in doing something for someone else.
Consider joining a local group for widowed spouses or talking with a grief counselor. I am so thankful for the support and help I found in talking with my grief counselor during the first year after my wife died. It made a huge difference to have a supportive third party outside of my family and friends to talk and vent to.
We regularly share helpful information, articles, and encouragement on our Wise Stewardship Facebook page for ongoing help and information. Other helpful organizations you could look into are GriefShare, Modern Widows Club, and Soaring Spirits International.
In my grief journey, I also decided to hire a fee-only financial planner to help me think through some of the financial questions I faced related to transitioning out of the Air Force, wisely using the small amount of life insurance I had received, considering launching my own business, and making sure I could still go ahead with my plans for an eight month sabbatical. His help allowed me to have the financial clarity which ultimately enabled me to focus on other things, and inspired me to focus on helping other widowed spouses as a financial planner.
Get Advice from a Professional
Financial mistakes are often made in times of unthinkable grief. You bury your spouse ― arguably the worst moment of your life ― and then your bank account may suddenly be flush with life insurance money. You might not have a clue what to do with it and everybody and their uncle is giving you advice.
It’s not unusual for a widow or widower to pay off some debt initially and start using the money for monthly expenses, basically draining the insurance windfall without planning for or even knowing where the money went. The brain fog and grief can make even financially savvy people have trouble thinking and planning through this stage.
Be careful about all the well-meaning but often incorrect advice. In this day of overwhelming information and opinion, it can be easy to get told wrong information. Get guidance from a professional, not an acquaintance.
The home page of my website says “Grief is hard. Sometimes determining what’s next is even harder.” This is especially true in the realm of adjusting to a new financial reality. That’s where a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner can help you think through all the questions you now face.
How Can We Help You?
Follow us on Facebook where we regularly share helpful information, articles, and encouragement on our Wise Stewardship Facebook page for ongoing help and information.
Servicemembers or military-related people can follow Military Life Planning page on Facebook for information more relevant to military life.
Interested to learn more about how we work one-on-one with our clients? Schedule a free consultation to talk with Daniel and get any questions answered.