An unpleasant reality for many of us who are married or in a long term relationship will be the likelihood of facing the death of a spouse or partner. Women tend to outlive men so we usually think in terms of widowhood. Interestingly, recent longevity studies show a chance in this accepted pattern: men are closing the longevity gap.
A study released a few years ago on trends in the United States reports that over a ten year period expectancy for males grew by 4.6 years while the predicted lifespans for women rose by less than 3 years. Women still live, on average five years longer than men, but that gap is narrowing. The point is becoming a widow or widower is a life experience that may confront just as many men as women in the years ahead.
I have been asked to address the topic of losing a loved one. It is a subject fraught with intense emotions and life altering consequences, but one I don't feel adequate to address on my own. A guest post submitted a few years ago continues to resonate with me. It deals with this subject from the perspective of a person who can speak about it from first-hand experience, I have posted it here for you to read and consider.
If you are single you might find some value in the author's words, too. You undoubtedly have friends who are married. These suggestions may give you a little guidance in helping a friend through this process.
4 Practical Ways To Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse
Denial Won’t Do, Warns Author-Widow
“I picked up the phone and there was no dial tone. If the phone was dead, Ralph’s voice would be gone forever.” Through her panicked daze, after having sunk to the floor with her spirits, she realized the phone jack was unplugged. She plugged it in and heard his voice one more time through the answering machine. It would be the first thing she fixed around the house without Ralph’s help in decades.
“There were many moments like that in the year after his death. One of the things I had to learn was to find help from many people, whereas for most of my adult life I had the help of many in one man,” says Zirkelbach, author of “Stumbling Through the Dark,” a memoir about an interfaith couple facing one of life’s greatest spiritual challenges.
Loving couples wince at the thought of losing their spouse and may even deny the idea despite a terminal medical diagnosis, but accepting the possibility helps in preparing for the years that follow, says Zirkelbach. She offers the following tips for doing that:
Consider the best way for all loved ones to say good-bye: Ralph’s family comes from an evangelical Christian background, whereas Thelma is Jewish. Memorial services are designed for the surviving family and friends, and Zirkelbach held a service at her synagogue, which was filled with friends and colleagues. “Make sure you do all you can to best say goodbye in your own way, which may include your religion or some other ritual,” she says.
Take stock of the necessary services you’ll need to replace: In many ways, Ralph was an old-fashioned Midwesterner who was a handyman around the house, moved heavy boxes, dispensed with unwanted critters like cockroaches, and acted as a one-man security system. He also provided smaller services in which a companion can help, such as fastening necklaces. Since Ralph’s death nearly eight years ago, Thelma has hired her current handyman, air conditioning technician, accountant, financial advisor and attorney.
No matter how independent you are, accept the fact that you may need emotional support: Soon after her husband’s death, Zirkelbach joined a support group for widows and widowers and found solace in the company of others who had loved and lost. At one point, the group leader connected with members by saying they were blessed to have loved someone enough to mourn them. “His statement turned grief on its head,” she says.
Nurture your spiritual life: “I have become ‘more Jewish’ during my widowhood,” she says. “When I was a child, Judaism was part of the background of my life, like the Muzak you hear in elevators but don’t really listen to.” Now, however, religion has moved to the forefront of her life, and she adds she is thankful for the strength her faith has given her. “Yes, in spite of loss, I have still found joy in living,” she says.
Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this guest post.
It's a difficult topic that does need to be discussed. The topic is usually avoided as unthinkable but it is the reality for half of everyone in a long term relationship. As a man I tend to think it'll be me that goes first, and statistics back me up, but my father out lived his wife of 50 years so I know that I may indeed be the survivor. Thanks for this.ReplyDelete
My dad outlived my mom by 5 years...not what we expected at all. I think the author has done a good job with this summary. Her book is excellent.Delete
In the back of my mind I think I have planned for the possibility of being alone, but of course there is no way to anticipate the solitariness.ReplyDelete
You are so right. We can plan, read, and prepare ourselves. But, the reality is at another level.Delete
This is a great post. My parents were married 63 years and Dad took care of everything exclusive of housekeeping, and meals. After he died my sister and I knew Mom had limited exposure to her finances, but we had no idea she did not even know how to set her digital thermostat or access her stored phone numbers Dad had programmed into their phone. Unfortunately her mantra is not I can do it, it's is I will call one of my daughters and they can do it for me.ReplyDelete
Learning the necessary information of a shared life, whether financial or basic housekeeping functions, is so important to learn beforehand. We all assume we have the time to learn what we need to know or someone else will take of it. That is a risky strategy.Delete
Hi Bob! This is indeed a very important subject but thankfully I'm not qualified to write about it--and hope to never reach that point. However, I was surprised that your guest post author avoided a topic that I believe is essential for women, and that is one of financial awareness. So many women I know let the husband take care of the finances. Then, should the spouse die they not only have to deal with the grief and sadness, they are also overwhelmed with the finances. IMHO all women need to be far more financially aware than we are so that should we need it --either through death or divorce--we can do what needs to be done. ~KathyReplyDelete
Your point is important and absolutely true.Delete
In defense of the author, she was writing about the emotional aspect of losing her husband and how she dealt with it. But, I am sure she would be the first to agree that knowing the basics of a shared financial life is crucial. It doesn't take long for important things to be neglected or pass unknown and cause financial woes.
Both my mother and mother-in-law took care of the finances in their households. They both passed away before their husbands leaving the men needing to learn fast about their accounts, monthly bills and the statuses of such.ReplyDelete
Lack of understanding of finances is completely non-discriminatory: either sex can be in a pickle.Delete
It took me awhile to comment on this. This is my reality and eventually with a lot of help I found my way out of the darkness. I made no financial decisions for a year. I felt my mind wasn't working clearly. I always handled all the money so no harm done. Nothing prepares you for the emptiness you feel. But there is a new life waiting.ReplyDelete
I just want to say if you stil have your life partner cherish every moment and don't waste time arguing about the small stuff. If you both really want to do something do it now. Life is a lot shorter than you think.
Your message is probably the most important so far. Life offers no do-overs and seems to pass in the blink of an eye. Love the one you are with, fully, completely, and actively.Delete
Not only is it necessary to have a knowledge of handling month-to-month finances, the surviving spouse will likely see an income cut. One social security check will disappear as well as possibly a pension check.ReplyDelete
Very true. The death of a spouse or partner will not result in a 50% reduction in expenses, but could easily drop the income by even more than than. Thanks, Karen.Delete
My first husband passed away before I was forty. It was unexpected and I had not prepared for it, especially at such a young age. Grieving took a long time. On the practical side, though, I was well prepared in that we had had an egalitarian relationship. We both worked, and we shared all the tasks of living equally (money management, cooking, childcare, house maintenance, etc.). The big financial hit for me was having to pay for daycare for our three children under 8 on a single income.ReplyDelete
I am aware of how expensive daycare is today for just one child. Three must have been almost backbreaking, even decades ago.Delete