Thursday, January 19, 2012

Proactive, Not Reactive

Are you a member of The School of Hard Knocks? Yeah, me too. This blog will be updated on an as I can basis. Grief is funny business; at least it is for me. For every few good hours or even a good day, the grief crashes down and covers me...sleepless nights, lack of appetite, lethargy. I tell you this not for sympathy but to explain why the posts aren't more regular. IOW, most days, I'm doing the best I can. Also, these are my suggestions based upon what has happened to me where I live. For professional advice, consult a professional in the area of need or where you live. Each state differs so check with professionals in your state.

I'm working on putting this information in a more coherent order but for now, it's going to be rather hodge podge. Still good information though, don't despair. 

The purpose of this blog is to be proactive, not reactive; to give information, based upon my experience, on how to prepare for being the spouse left behind. If you're single, you still need to know this information; knowing what I've experienced will save your heirs a boatload of money, emotional energy and their life's quota of bad words -smile-.

Please go to your library and check out some books on finances such as Paul A. Tucci's new book, The Handy Personal Finance Answer Book - Your Smart Reference. It's a good book but not infallible; his section on vehicles isn't correct; at least, it's not correct for where I live. So, read, research and check the facts for your state. Yes, it's a lot of work but trust me, no one cares for you and your family like you care. Financial advisors, bank employees, so many cases, their care is in direct proportion to how much they get paid...if you're lucky. 

Also, based upon private e-mails sent to me, some of my information will be basic but needed. For example; you need to establish credit in your name, separate from your spouse. I cannot stress this have to have credit in your name! More later.

You and your spouse need a will, both of you...especially if you have children. A holographic will is acceptable in Virginia; check if it's acceptable in your state. 

Remember the three-ring notebook? That's where you're going to put important papers...

~ life insurance
~ health insurance
~mortgage/deed papers
~birth certificates
~marriage license
~any divorce papers from a previous marriage
~vehicle titles
~ social security cards
~ medical directives
~ power of attorney, if applicable 

This isn't an inclusive list; what else do you suggest?

Also, on a separate piece of paper, write down

*all bank account information - bank names, checking account numbers, savings account numbers, certificate of deposit numbers

I'm a big fan of the public library so take all the cards in your wallet, photo-copy them and put them in the cards, driver's license, etc.

Are you or your spouse organ donors? You should each know this about the other. If you're single, make sure your Executor or Executrix knows. BTW, an Executor is the name for the male whom you've named to handle your affairs after you're deceased and an Executrix is the name for the female. 

Okay, that's enough for now, certainly enough to get you started. Besides, I'm wiped out and it's time to shut down for the day.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Stages of Grief

Way back when, I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Parks and Tourism. I specialized in convention and visitor bureau development and geriatric recreation and worked various internships including senior centers. Part of the prep work for the geriatric recreation portion of my degree was taking geriatrics classes and in one of those classes I studied the 1969 ground breaking work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying.

"If you shield the canyons from the windstorms,
you would never see the beauty of their carvings.”

In it Ms Kubler-Ross describes the five stages of grief when we lose a loved one. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but not everyone goes through them in a prescribed order or even goes through each one. The stages are merely tools and no one, No One, can tell anyone else in what order to take them or even to take each one. It's okay to skip one, even more, but you need to let God and yourself tell you what to do. Others cannot tell you what you need or have to do; they can tell you what they did or how they handled their grief but it's still their grief and your grief is your grief. 

I think most Westerner's are uncomfortable with real emotions. Perhaps you've seen those foot ball games or commercials where men are naked, painted blue, hefting a beverage and screaming their heads off. Oh...that's okay -???- but a person sobbing in public or needing, yet again, to speak of their dead loved one, that's not okay.
Say whuuuttt?!

Some of us are so out of touch with God, ourselves, our emotions and feelings, we haven't a clue who we are as a person. Some of us have depths never plumbed; frankly, I am fearful of a skin deep faith because it's not if, but when, hard times come.

We seem to be comfortable with over the top emotions or emotions that require nothing in return, save perhaps a quick hug or pat on the back, but real emotions make most people uncomfortable. Real emotions are messy but real emotions are what help us cope and, more importantly, begin the healing process. That's something else...the healing p.r.o.c.e.s.s. . It's a process, meaning it takes time and, again, no one can tell you how much, or how little, time.

Anyway, time is irrelevant and as the Bible tells us a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day to God. Have you not experienced a day that fairly fled from sun to sun while another day dragged on for, seemingly, a lifetime?
There's an old saying, "grieve for three months for a parent, a year for a child and a lifetime for a spouse." Now do you understand why so many old portraits and photographs show women in black widow weeds? I'm not suggesting you grieve according to the old saying but I am suggesting you take your time; if need be, I'm giving you permission to take your time.

Remember this: it takes as long as it takes.

Subsequent studies are similar and say the stages are

shock - initial paralysis
denial - avoidance
anger - out-pouring of emotion
bargaining - trying to find a way out
depression - realization of the situation's reality
testing - trying to find solutions
acceptance - moving forward

but it was Swiss born Kubler-Ross who first introduced us to the stages of grief.
From my experience, grief is physical; dang physical as well as being a black hole that, initially, is totally overwhelming. It's all consuming and life is, at the very best, hard. Extremely hard and even breathing, at times, is all consuming. There are times I gulp air like a guppy and only because I realize I've not breathing. I've been holding my breath and haven't taken a breath in several seconds so I gulp air in an effort to restore oxygen to the organs and brain.

The few good hours, eventually, turn into a few good days which turn into a few good weeks, time or so I'm told and hoping. Time is the key, don't try and rush it, grief cannot be rushed.

Amongst the grieving, there's a lot of living yet to be done, especially if you have children or go to an outside job every day. Thank God, my job has always been taking care of Dave, the farm, the animals and myself but I'm still finding it hard to remember to put myself first. I still forget to eat three meals a day, to sleep eight hours a night and to do two things, daily, that move me forward. I try, but I don't always remember, to be gentle with myself. God knows there are plenty of folks standing in line to kick my fanny so remembering to be being gentle with myself is a Very Good Thing!

If you're a Christian and know someone who has lost a loved one, please, don't judge them. Don't tell them what they should, or shouldn't, be doing; don't tell them they are grieving "incorrectly" or "it's been xx amount of time, don't you think it's time you moved on?" If you're not a Christian, be tolerant. It's so easy for any of us to tell someone else what to do, but remember, when we're pointing a finger at someone else, we've got three fingers pointing back at us. While we're busy looking at someone else's life, telling them what to do, there are others looking at our lives and thinking we could be doing better as well.
This writing is being cross posted here and on the Thistle Cove Farm blog. There are so many things that can be done now  while you, and your loved one, are still among the living that will make it so much easier for those left behind when you die. Doesn't matter if you're the wife or husband, one of you will, more than likely, go first and, statistically speaking, it will be the husband.

Oh, you're not married? Guess what? You can still do some of these same things to make it easier on whomever you've designated to be your Executor or Executrix. It will also be less stressful, money will be saved and precious resources won't be lost during the grieving process...when one can ill afford to lose anything because losing something means you have less at hand to deal with an already overwhelming situation. What I write is meant to be helpful but use what you want and toss the rest. It's your life and your decisions; what works for me might not, for whatever reason, work for you.

Please, do not fret over any of this! If you don't have something or can't afford it, make do. The important thing is you get your affairs in

HOMEWORK - collect a three-ring notebook, lined note paper, plastic sleeves that are open at the top, plastic sleeves that can close at the top, section dividers, three-ring pen holder attached to the notebook and contained therein a pen, small calculator, small ruler, paper clips

Blessings ~ Kubler-Ross ~ friends ~ stages of grief ~ grieving ~ emotions ~ kindness ~ patience ~ gentleness ~

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Introduction...of sorts

We were in the midst of preparing and had been ever since Dave was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. In the first part of 2011, different doctors told us six months, one to three years, and the most heart breaking of all, especially in hindsight, was in May when our GP privately told me, “maybe Sept, no more than October”. The chance we'd share Thanksgiving, much less Christmas, was slim; but then Dave began making a recovery, of sorts. He gained the thirty pounds he'd lost in hospital as well as strength. Granted, his energy was still low but we were overjoyed with the weight and strength gain; he no longer needed me to help him shower and dress and, if he got hungry and I was out doing errands, he could heat up something in the microwave...a huge step forward! In hindsight, it's so easy to see how we put on rose colored glasses and tricked ourselves into believing what we wanted to to three years.

Those three wonderful October weeks at the beach are now the last wonderful memories I have of Dave. We had a very short period of time at home, less than two weeks, between the beach and his death and, almost always, spent most of that time talking. Talking about this and that, what we needed to do to get ready for the end, the paper work, hospice, banks, the farm, vehicles, friends, family, finances and, most importantly, heaven. Sometimes we'd just sit in the sun room, drinking something and enjoying the sunlight as it played across the valley. As much as talk was our friend, so was silence and we were both comfortable in the white noise that is silence. The dogs, some snuffling and others snoring, the cats purring in splashes of sunshine, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee...the comfortableness of being together. Of knowing we had this moment, this now, this memory in the making. 

Even so, with all the talking, I was left unprepared. We'd planned on sitting down and getting things “right” after I returned from a business trip. On the Tuesday before he died, Dave sent me on a business trip to tend to various things that needed attention. My trip would end on Saturday where I would celebrate, with family and friends, my parent's 60th wedding anniversary. The next day, Sunday, I'd head for home and, bright and early, Monday morning Dave and I were going to put together a notebook to help whoever was left behind. We both knew that would be me but we always rather danced around the end; it seemed gentler, kinder to us both.

At 11:30 Saturday morning, I received a phone call from Mom telling me the farm sitter was trying to get in touch with me. Long story short, Dave passed away, where he wanted, on our farm, about 11:00 and was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. I contacted Lynn at the funeral home, told her what had happened and asked her to make arrangements to have Dave's body moved to the funeral home. Lynn agreed and we made an appointment to speak by telephone the next day. There are times that living in a small community is a very good thing; Lynn and her husband David are so good at what they do; professional yet warm and caring.

Dave was gone and there was nothing I could do for him that I wasn't already doing so I made the decision to stay and M.C. Mom and Daddy's anniversary party, as they had asked. Was it difficult? Oh yes but, for me, it was necessary and the beginning of the end of the last gifts I could give Dave. When people ask Daddy about New Year's Resolutions, he always says, “if you're living the way you're supposed to live the rest of the year, you don't need to make New Year's Resolutions.” That's why I stayed to celebrate Mom and Daddy's 60th wedding anniversary; I'd done everything, within my power, for Dave during his life and he would not have wanted me to leave the party early. He was always big on doing the right thing and he taught me well by example.

If you're familiar with this post, perhaps you'll understand why I choose, at the party, to read God's love letter. During that sad, happy time it brought comfort to not only me but to the rest of the hurting people in that room. Aren't we all carrying around some kind of hurt or pain? There were people in that room who don't know Christ, who suffer from depression, who are struggling with finances, failing businesses, decreased faith and a host of other ills. Hearing how much God loves me/us, brought a lot of comfort to people that day; it was my privilege and God's gift to tell and remind them of His love.  

“I, the Lord God, can be trusted with your heart.”

Labels. They define us whether we want to wear them or not. For more than 22 years, Dave and I were together; the first six plus years as neighbors and the rest as husband and wife. Dave taught me more in those twenty-two years than I anticipate learning in the rest of my life. Does that sound strange? It does even to my ear but it's true. He taught me how to be his wife and, in turn, I taught him how to love again. Cathy, his first wife, died of cancer the year before I met Dave. For so many years, she was the love of his life, the love of his youth but, in the end days, I, as well, became the love of his life, the love of his old age and there was a circularity, a roundness, a rightness in all of that and it was good. No. Actually, it was great. Would God have asked me to die for Dave, I would have said yes. As it turns out, God tells me it's not my time to die; it's my time to grieve, to take care of me, the animals, the farm and, as much as possible, help others prepare. Thus, this new blog, Wife to Widow

One last thing...least someone think Dave and I had a perfect marriage, we did not. Our first days were spent learning each other's ways, getting to know each other. Even after six years of courtship, the early days of marriage were still difficult. Yet, we made the decision “through sickness and in health, for richer or poorer” meant we were a team and would stay the course. We were better people for having done so, the marriage was strong and unbreakable. I used to tell people Dave and I had “loyalty issues”, meaning neither one need ever worry about being betrayed. Ultimately, the glue that was our bond was our word, our commitment to each other and it was that bond that carried us to the end.

Please, tell others about this new blog; take a button for your blog and let's help each other. It's a frosty world, we need to reflect the Light that leads, and warms, the way.

"Knowing that when light is gone

Love remains for shining"

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning ~