Monday, June 15, 2015

Dealing with the unexpected. 'You can give in or you can find meaning'

"While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through." -- Sheryl Sandberg on the unexpected death of her husband.

By Julia Anderson
We sat next to each other by accident at an outdoor barbecue. Our small talk quickly turned to the details of her life. She’d been on her own for four years after her husband's unexpected death.

“The first two years, I woke up every morning cussing his name for leaving... for leaving me with such a mess,” she said, tossing her head back. “I drank a lot of tequila. Made some mistakes.”

Now at 57, she's getting a handle on the challenges both financial and family. One step forward, sometimes two steps back, she seemed to be saying. Her husband was a building contractor. During good times he bought mixed use commercial real estate. The buildings are older with both retail and residential space.

“Everybody thinks I’m well off,” said the woman. “They have no idea how tough it’s been getting over losing him and figuring out my financial situation,” she said. “And I’ve got a son who is addicted…I know he’s stealing from me.”

For her, there’s a lot to talk about.

I said, “Call the police on your son the next time he steals from you. It would do him and you a favor.”
She nodded. “It’s just been so hard,” she said. “I’m alone so much that I go out to eat dinner just to talk to someone.”

Lately she hired a property management company to handle one of her commercial buildings to get rid of a derelict tenant. It didn’t happen.
“You pay people to help you out but then nothing gets done,” she said. “I’m selling two of the buildings just to get rid of the headaches.”

“What are you going to do with the cash,” I asked.

She paused. “A lot is already spent on stuff I’ve got to fix at my house…maybe set up a bank trust for the rest I guess," she said. I said, “Be sure to check out the bank’s management fees on that arrangement.”
She said, “I suppose so, everybody wants a piece.

Like many of us, she’s struggled to sort out things. Her husband had been in charge of their business life and income.

“People just don’t know how hard this all is,” she said.

Maybe she could talk to a financial planning expert, I said, who on a fee-only basis could help her put together a plan that would give her some long-term income.

Ask your friends who might be someone to talk with, I said. Make sure they won’t try to sell you something for a commission. Make sure this is strictly for their best advice and nothing more.

We talked about how hard it is to lose someone who you relied on, someone that you loved and shared a life with.
I told her that I thought she was on the right track, that things would be OK.

She asked my name and told me hers.

I doubt that I see this woman again but I wish her well. Grieving and trying to get a handle on finances at the same time is not easy. But several women who I know have gutted their way through it. I’ve seen them get back in the game and move forward emotionally and financially. One step at a time.

The facts are that 35 percent of marriages will end with the death of a spouse, usually the husband. Women will spend one-third of their adult lives financially on their own.

With the recent sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page that "you can give in or you can find meaning. May we all find meaning.

For more:
Sheryl Sandberg’s Post on Late Husband Set Off Meditations on Grief, click here.
Organizing your finances after your spouse has died, click here.
A shocking death, a Financial Lesson and Help for Others, click here.
Why Women Need Retirement Planning more than Men Do. click here.

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