It’s been a little over 10 months since the passing of my wife, Heather. Shortly after she passed, I honestly believed I would be able to write an article such as this, espousing the newfound perspective and knowledge I had gained having gone through such a situation personally, without any trouble. I imagined I would have all the answers, both professionally and now personally, and be able to help others who might face a similar situation in their own lives. I felt like I would be able to create a road map, a blueprint, for those who found themselves in the same boat down the road.
What I Learned
What I’ve learned over the past 10-plus months, however, is how naïve that thought process was. I’ve learned that there is not a blueprint or road map for dealing with the loss of your spouse, your person, your best friend. It’s impossible. It’s not all black and white, as I generally prefer things to be. There is an overwhelming amount of gray, and the gray, in all aspects of life, is what makes things hard. Black and white leads to easy decisions based on a set of criteria. Gray leads to a deeper and more introspective thought process, which can, at times, take your mind places you didn’t know existed. It can also, at times like this, derail an entire day.
During this time of loss, there are certainly a number of important financial considerations to be made, but before we get into that, I’ll share a few things I have learned in this process that only come from experiencing it firsthand:
- Do not feel rushed to do everything at once. Your first concern should be your own well-being and that of your family, particularly if you have younger children. I think many people, when dealing with the loss of any loved one, feel like there’s a need to get everything wrapped up quickly. Some issues will be more pressing and time-sensitive, but most do not have to be dealt with right away. Take your time and work through these issues at your own pace. It will be different for everyone. My electric bill is still in Heather’s name, as an example (sigh).
- Know who’s there to help…and ask them for it. As I began dealing with things after the funeral, it quickly became evident not only how much there was to do, but how little energy I had at the time to handle it all myself. Cooking meals, cleaning the house, thank-you cards, work issues, taking care of kids, and so many other responsibilities of just normal day-to-day life can feel like an enormous weight bearing down on you when you’re dealing with such a loss. I am not someone that likes to admit he needs help, but I needed help. Admitting that was awful; the response was incredible.
- Be slow to act. I realize this may sound a lot like number one but trust me, it’s different. In the weeks and months after Heather passed, I had several, what I believed to be at the time, epiphanies about what I should do with the rest of my life. I was searching for direction and new meaning as my entire world had changed, seemingly overnight. Looking back, some of the craziest thoughts I’ve ever had seemed like rational, logical ideas at the time. At one point I was certain I needed to get into politics! (Can you imagine?) Had I acted on many of those thoughts, I’m certain I would have regretted it. Thankfully, that phase passed over the course of a few months and I (and my children) were left relatively unscathed in the process. 😉
- Give yourself some grace. At some point you will feel like you’re ready to move forward. When that happens, there’s a good chance you will be right and wrong at the same time. There will be things you’re ready for and things you’re not, and the hard part is that you won’t really know which is which until you try. It’s okay. Others cannot truly understand what you’re dealing with, but they will generally give you grace when you struggle with something, and you should do the same for yourself. At this point in my grieving process, I don’t believe the pain is less or that it will ever go away, I simply believe I get stronger and better at dealing with it each day.
A Bit of Advice
I’ll close by offering a bit of advice for those fortunate enough to not have had to deal with the loss of a spouse to this point in their lives. One thing I recognized early on in this process is the value of having a “me” in my life, and by that I mean a financial planner. I was fortunate in two major ways that I do what I do for a living.
First, I took my own advice and had properly planned for such an event. Some days I still can’t believe that this has happened to me, and I know I never truly believed it would ever happen when I took the steps to protect against it. But it happens every day. Please don’t convince yourself that you’re different and it doesn’t happen to people like you. It does. Be prepared. Buy the insurance, draft the Will, make sure those you love are taken care of so that they can focus on what’s important, the loss of you.
Second, I had a “me” there when the unthinkable happened. When one of my clients loses a spouse, I am usually the person to step in and assist them with all matters financial, and make sure things get taken care of so that they can focus their energy on other, more important aspects of their loss. Even though I knew what needed to be done, I did not want to deal with it at the time of Heather’s death. There were more important things on my mind. Thankfully, my team was able to provide that assistance to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Do You Need Our Help?
Losing my spouse was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, and while no one can truly ease that pain, there are ways to ease the burdens that go along with it. Our team is well versed in dealing with these situations and the financial steps that need to be taken after a loss. If you or someone you know is facing a similar situation, or would like to take steps to protect against the unimaginable, please know that we are here to help. Call (248) 220-4321 or email email@example.com to schedule a confidential consultation.
Justin Williamson is a senior partner and co-owner of Center for Wealth Management, an independent, fee-based wealth management company in Troy, Michigan. Justin has been serving clients in the financial services industry since 2001. He spends his days helping his clients pursue their financial goals and make the best decisions for their families so they can spend time on what they love and experience financial independence. Justin is known for his dedication, integrity, personal touch, and ability to simplify complex issues. Justin specializes in serving engineers and other professionals who are close to retirement or recently retired and helping them maximize their benefits and create a retirement plan they can rely on. He is a seasoned public speaker and presents at numerous corporate events each year on retirement planning, Medicare, Social Security, and other financial topics. Justin has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration majoring in Personal Financial Planning from Central Michigan University and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® (CFP®).
Outside of work, Justin enjoys spending time with his family. He lost his wife of 18 years, Heather, to brain cancer in 2020. He and his son, Carter, and twin daughters, Jaden and Kelsey, work to honor her and make her proud each day. You can find him coaching baseball, softball, and basketball, and spending time at their family cabin at Higgins Lake. Learn more about Justin by connecting with him on LinkedIn.