After my fifty-four year old husband died suddenly in 2000, I tried to handle all the responsibilities the two of us shared over the twenty-eight years of marriage. John having been a financial officer for a major insurance company handled the finances while I dealt with the miscellaneous tasks related to maintaining the house. In the weeks and months that followed the funeral, I struggled with taking on all the decisions and responsibilities on my own plus the stress of a new job.
In the following excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, I realized support was all around me, I just had to open my heart and let it in.
After John died, I called our attorney about selling the house. I told him I was worried about paying the mortgage, all the monthly bills and the additional home improvement loan we had taken out for the remodeling project. He advised me not to make any major decisions for at least a year. A close friend of John’s, he warned me to be careful, that there were men out there looking for young widows like me with a good job and a beautiful home. I took his advice and committed myself to staying in the house no matter what, but the financial responsibilities continued to overwhelm me.
During all our years together, John had handled the finances, balanced the checkbook and paid the bills. I just left the Visa slips on the desk and magically the balances were paid. As the bills and credit card statements rolled in after the funeral, I knew I had to face the piles on the desk in the computer room. One night, I decided to tackle the bills. It took me five tries to walk into the empty room. I pulled out the desk chair where John usually sat and shuffled through the envelopes. I ripped open the mortgage statement. When I flipped through the checkbook John’s handwriting jumped off the page. The phone rang and broke the silence in the room. I tried to wipe away my tears before I lifted the receiver. Al’s voice came on the other end of the phone. The minute I said hello, my brother-in-law knew something was wrong.
“Hey, Di, are you okay?”
“No. I’m really struggling with all the bills and paperwork that’s piling up.”
“Di, just leave it for now. I’ll come down and help you sort things out tomorrow night. Once you get a system figured out, it’ll be easier.”
I wanted to handle everything myself, not bother others, but I gave in to Al’s offer. After I hung up the phone I stared at the open checkbook register in front of me. I picked up a pen. On the transaction line I wrote, “Sorry Sweetheart, I’ll try again tomorrow.”
In the morning I felt more settled and decided to run some errands. The bank was my first stop. I pulled into a spot in the Wells Fargo parking lot and slammed the car door behind me. My stomach rolled as I stood in line waiting at the customer service counter. The woman greeted me with a smile. I told her my husband had just died, and I needed help with our accounts. She said she was sorry about my husband and guided me into a little cubicle where a woman dressed in a red suit sat behind a desk. Her name plaque read, “Carol Reed.” Her kind smile and soft voice put me at ease. She asked what she could do for me. I handed her a registered copy of the death certificate. After studying our accounts on her computer screen, she changed the account information and set up a money market account for John’s life insurance check.
After Carol explained the account information she guided me through the automated phone banking system and gave me the name of a financial advisor to help with the investments. Carol handed me her card and told me to call anytime if I had questions. Back in the car I studied my list of errands. They all seemed so pointless. With the needle on my fuel gauge hovering over “E” I decided to stop at the gas station and leave the other errands for later. Standing in the sun, gas fumes whirled around my head as the numbers flipped over on the gas pump. Exhausted, I clicked my seatbelt in place, pointed the Probe toward Afton and headed home. I felt blessed to have met Carol. Just knowing I had her phone number put me at ease and inspired me to keep going.
Updated: December 27, 2014