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The Life Transition Blog

After the Loss of a Spouse


My husband of fifty nine years died recently and I’m feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day decisions. I expected to feel the emotions associated with grief but I never expected to feel helpless. My husband took care of our financial life and I’m really at a loss. I don’t want my children to know how much this confuses me and I certainly don’t want their help if that means they take over. I should be perfectly capable of handling my own affairs. How can I get on top of things so that I can manage on my own? These are the words of one of my clients during our first meeting.

It’s not at all unusual for couples to practice a division of labor with one taking care of the finances and the other taking care of the yard, for example. That’s fine as long as both spouses are willing and able to do their “jobs”. However, if because of illness, attitude, capacity, or death one of them can (or will) no longer hold up his or her end of the bargain you’ve got trouble brewing. The very best way to avoid this is through “cross training”. In this way, one partner teaches the other his or her system for accomplishing the job. If that’s not an option, then at least each should document the process and the facts for the other. However, what do you do if the cross training or documentation never happened?

Well, the short answer is that it’s never too late to learn if you want to and don’t suffer from physical or cognitive complaints that make it too difficult. And, if you don’t want to or can’t learn then you can hire someone to take over the task on your behalf. There’s a middle ground too. Maybe it is too overwhelming to step in and figure out how to do something you’ve never had to do before, but you’re not ready to completely outsource it either. In this case, you can bring in a professional who can set up a system for you, teach you how to use It, and then check in with you periodically to make sure that you’re on track and answer any questions that might come up.

That’s exactly what my client did. She had me figure out her late husband’s system, bring it up to date, and then modify it to a system that made sense to her. Once we got to that point, it was easy for her to take over and maintain the process. At first we had a check-in meeting every other week, and then every month. At this point, I feel that she’s ready for a quarterly touch base but she likes the idea that I’m looking over her shoulder, “just in case.”

As the months have passed, new issues have come up. For example, while the bill paying is well under control, when it came time to deal with the annual income tax return my client became overwhelmed again. Then her car lease came to an end and she was having a tough time making a decision about whether to lease a new car, buy out her current car, or purchase a new one. We did the analysis together and I helped her negotiate her new arrangement.

Losing a life partner if tough is so many ways. It adds insult to injury to feel as though you can’t take care of yourself because of your loss. There’s help available, whether from family, friends, or qualified professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask!
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