For widows, the death of a husband is one of the most traumatic, life changing events. Not only does it rock you mentally, emotionally and physically, but it’s devastating tidal waves leave many wondering about their future. All losses are significant and the circumstances surrounding each loss are as unique as those left behind. While we are speaking generally about widows, much of what follows is certainly relevant to life partners or significant others, encompassing the death of any lifelong loved one, as all these losses lead down the same path of grief and forced changes.
After making the immediate and necessary decisions for final arrangements, it’s recommended to let major decisions wait, if possible. After this kind of loss, no matter whether sudden or expected, there is a numb period – a lost, shocked, unable to think clearly phase – like a “deer in the headlights”. Traditionally, we have heard this period referred to as “widow’s brain” and it is a direct result of the body’s reaction to the reality and grief of catastrophic loss. In rare cases, a recognized medical condition known as “broken heart syndrome” has been so extreme as to result in sudden death of the one left behind.
Kathleen Rehl, a former financial planner, now a noted speaker and author of “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows”, describes well the vulnerability following the loss of a spouse. Too many make unnecessary, irrevocable decisions acting immediately on important matters. Many of these major life decisions – like selling the house, leaving a job or other significant financial decisions can and should be delayed. One helpful way of looking at this is to recognize that in the early grief phase they will be vulnerable to multiple sources of advice, ranging from well-intended friends and relatives to those with less benevolent motives. This is a very good time to put on the brakes and do nothing without the most trusted and professional support.
Though most women today are in the workforce, many are still not well prepared to handle financial issues. Studies show that many women are less prepared than their spouses for financial decisions requiring knowledge of where records are kept, why the money is in brokerage account(s) and income distributions from retirement accounts. Surveys have also shown that many women need financial triage upon the death of a spouse. Of course, it is appropriate to be concerned about financial security and future decisions. This is where having a professional fiduciary can help bring compassionate confidence to a potential lack of financial knowledge and temporary vulnerability.
Next week we will continue with some tips and a list of things that need to be done “after the dust settles” for grieving widows. Though we believe it’s best to hold off on most big decisions, there are a number of items that frequently require immediate, less stressful attention. Every situation is unique, but there are some common things to focus on that may help overcome a helpless, not-knowing-what-to-do feeling. It’s also good just to know there is help for you, your family and your future in these circumstances.
Have a great weekend!