I’M WIDOWED – WHAT IN THE WORLD DO I DO NOW?

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Unsolicited telephone calls – yuck!

“May I speak to Frederic?” asked a strange voice.

“He’s not available. Who’s calling?” I replied.

The caller said “I’ll phone back at a more convenient time,” and hung up.

What should I tell unknown callers? My first husband, Frederic Jerry, had recently passed away. Since he went by his middle name, the request to speak to “Frederic” told me immediately that the caller did not know him.

Responding to calls was just one of the challenges I faced as a new widow, when I was least prepared to cope. I had to plan a memorial service, pay the mortgage, update insurance records, and file for Social Security death benefits. I didn’t know where to begin or what questions to ask. I was weary and lethargic.

But some things couldn’t wait.

I hope what I learned after my husband’s death will help you deal with some initial issues following the death of your spouse. These tips fall into three categories: 1) immediate, 2) business and finances and 3) emotional and physical health. I’ll address the Immediate today.

IMMEDIATE ACTION ITEMS

Obtain at least twelve certified copies of the Death Certificate, available free through your funeral director. If you don’t get these initially, you will have to pay for them later. To file for your social security death benefit, life insurance, and transfer account(s) ownership, a death certificate, your marriage certificate (which you can purchase from county records), and your spouse’s social security number will be required.

Communicate the passing. You might have a friend set up a call chain to notify family and friends of the death, and later of information about the service. Email communicates effectively and quickly. You may publish an obituary (see next point). The website, www.caringbridge.com, provides another point of contact for friends.

Consider the pros and cons before publishing an obituary. To prevent burglary, the mortician recommended I not put a notice in the paper or online. Thieves watch for homes that will be empty during a memorial service. If you do publish information in a newspaper or broader forum, ask a friend to remain in your house during the memorial.

qtq80-fb4BzMPlan the service.  A pastor or priest can give you ideas about service length, form, and music, but you may wish to incorporate your spouse’s wishes into your own way of honoring him or her. I appreciated my pastor asking “What do you want from this service, Carol?” ensuring the service reflected our faith and my desires clearly.

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One of the photos I delighted in most was put together by a tech-savvy friend. It still makes me smile because of Jerry’s and my faith in the God of the resurrection and the hope of heaven. In it, a joyful Jerry is embraced in the arms of Jesus with the words “Welcome Home, Jerry”.

Question: If you are now, or have grieved a loss in the past few years, what has been most meaningful in helping you along the healing journey? A person? An action? Counseling? Children? I’d like to know.

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Saying Goodbye

“I’ll see you after your surgery, honey,” I said, tears streaming down my face as I kissed my husband’s goodbye-rosessweet face. “And if God takes you home, I’ll meet you later at Jesus’ feet.” He leaned his face up to meet mine and we kissed … long, soft, tender. I felt like we put all our love into that kiss, knowing it was likely our last.

Saying goodbye may be one of the hardest things we ever have to do. Whether it’s a parent whose child is brain-dead because of one hit on a potent drug, a child whose parent or sibling is dying, or a spouse whose partner is on his deathbed, you feel like your heart will simply burst inside your chest. If your loved one has been ill, you’ve done all you can–you’ve expressed your love and appreciation, you’ve advocated for her, you’ve sat and held his hand for hours, knowing how important your presence and touch are to your loved one.

If you’re a person of faith, you’ve prayed with and for your partner and may have encouraged her with the promises of God. If not, perhaps you’ve invited a chaplain, pastor or priest in to address your partner’s need for peace with God. Here are a few other recommendations from hospice workers and physicians.

Ask if he needs help to resolve unsettled relationships. When my father lay dying, a young hospice worker asked, “Is there anyone you need to make things right with before you go?” While it’s not always possible to restore broken relationships, this is a good question to ask to help loved ones resolve outstanding issues.

Think of how you feel, and say it. Often. Repeatedly. Hospice workers say those who are dying sometimes have an uncanny ability to choose the moment of passing. You may or may not be present when the transition occurs, so don’t wait for the last minute to share your thoughts and feelings. One woman shared that her mother passed while she stepped out of the room to use the restroom.

Give them permission to go: Sometimes our loved ones want to stay for us … but there comes a time when we need to release them, let them know that however much we will miss them, we will be ok.  Two days before Dad moved into eternity, my brother assured him, “We’ll take care of Mom. And each other. We’ll be all right.” This seemed to set Dad’s mind at ease.

My mother-in-law had been in excruciating pain following surgery. Although she was in a coma, we knew she could probably still hear us. We all spoke to her. Jerry was last. “Mom, it seems that if God was going to heal you, He would have done it by now; so if you see Him calling you, go to Him.” Instantly, her heart stopped! Even the nurse gasped.

Often, your presence is more important than words. Show up. Be there. If you can, give a foot or backrub (Dad loved head rubs). Your loving touch speaks volumes.

gloryThe God who has led you and your partner to this moment knows your pain, your loss, and has promised never to leave you nor forsake you; and one day in His presence you and your loved one will again be reunited, to enjoy life eternal with Him.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died…Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17b-18 (NLT)

Additional resources:

https://www.caring.com/articles/how-to-say-goodbye

https://www.caring.com/reflections/david-kuhl-reflection

 

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CAREGIVERS: SUPPORT, SELF-CARE, AND COMMUNICATION

caregiver-wordsWith a critically ill partner, your life may begin to feel like a circus. While your focus is on caring for your spouse, you may also be raising children, paying bills, trying to hold down a job, keep your children fed and in clean clothes, and communicate with people who love and are praying for you. You may be exhausted, physically and emotionally. How can you maintain your equilibrium?

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” I Peter 5:7 (NLT)

SUPPORT and SELF-CARE:

  • SAY YES when people offer to help. Saying “no” takes away the blessing they receive by helping and leaves you isolated. The Body of Christ is to support and care for each other, so don’t try to go it alone. Perhaps someone can grocery shop for you, or sit with your partner while you take a break. Perhaps a friend can drop off and pick your children up from school. One of our friends organized the files and contacts I had started while in another state for treatment.
  • CARE FOR YOURSELF: Jerry’s doctors told me, “You need to continue to have a life so that you can go on if he does not survive.” I rarely left the hospital except for meals and nights; but when I could I went to church, and once or twice I saw a movie or had dinner with friends. As critical as your presence is, you also need some breaks in order to remain healthy and able to continue the fight. Caregivers are prime candidates for becoming ill themselves.
  • JOIN RELEVANT SUPPORT GROUPS: Many hospitals offer support groups for patients and their families, e.g. groups for cardiovascular health, cancer, caregivers, and organ transplants, among others. Check online for “support groups” in the hospital where you are receiving treatment. Our liver transplant group was informative and helpful, sometimes even more so for me than for Jerry, as it helped me understand more of his illness, symptoms, and needs. The hospital may have a social worker who is available to talk with you when crises occur.
  • COUNSELING may also be helpful for you as you process the illness and the “what ifs” that may face you.

ADVOCACY: At one point, my husband was placed in a room with another man who had a different infection than Jerry did. I fought to get him moved; when the hospital administrator said their protocol said these two infections could co-exist, I exploded. “I’m fighting for my husband’s life and don’t care a bit about your protocols. You move him!” They did. Speak up!

COMMUNICATION:

  • SAY IT NOW: Live and speak in such a way that if your partner survives, he is encouraged by your loving concern; and if he dies, you need have few regrets about things you’ve left unsaid. We have no guarantees about any of our lives, so this challenge is for all. Express your love,  appreciation, admiration and respect, while you still can.
  • UPDATES: When your spouse is ill, friends naturally want updates on his or her condition, at a time when your energy and focus are at their lowest. My nephew suggested I build a phone chain so that, if I called one person, that person would call three more, and so on. I listed the names and phone numbers of those I wanted notified quickly in the event of a crisis (and there were several) or death; and communicated that “org chart” to the people on it so each had the number of the persons I asked them to call.
  • I also sent emails regularly to a large distribution group of family and friends. This helped me reach out for prayer and support, and also allowed me to process my feelings as I wrote. Benefits included a great deal of prayer support and love, even from a believer (a stranger to me) in another country who told me of her experience with a transplant and offered prayer.

stephens-ministersYour church may offer Stephens’ Ministers. These trained laypersons are willing to walk with you through any difficulty, including illness or loss. Receive the help available in the spirit of love in which it is offered. And remember, “…He cares about you.”

Additional Resources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/barbarastanny/2011/09/13/6-things-to-do-before-your-spouse-dies/#7649232e6c3f

http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-for-Death-of-Spouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Loss: Finances

Finances can be an extra stress during a loved one's illness

Finances can be an extra stress during a loved one’s illness

Picture this scenario: your husband, who has always taken care of the finances, is failing in health. You appreciate his hard work and “caring” for you; however, the thought of his death is frightening for more reasons than one. You don’t know how to write a check, fill the car with gas, or how much is in your bank accounts. How will you pay for his medical care? Will you, possibly a senior, need to get a job after your husband passes away? Does he have life insurance? Investments? In whose name is your home? Automobile? Does he have a power of attorney and is that either you or someone you trust?

Communicate with your partner: Ask about his wishes, and ask about the finances. If your husband is already too ill to discuss these issues, find out who has the information–a child, an accountant,  financial advisor? Some partners may not wish to discuss finances, or the possibility of death. Explain why it is important that you understand. Help him see that by filling you in he is preparing you for such a time as you may be alone again. And you may need to adjust your budget if one or both of you is unable to continue working during the illness.

My friend Joyce says that discussing even “Funeral and burial preferences, no matter how unpleasant … makes it so much easier when the time comes … to whom do you want your personal items to go, i.e. jewelry and family heirlooms. It’s surprising how many people in the family will fight over little things, so a hand written note of your wishes could save a lot of hard feelings.” (Note: a handwritten note may express your wishes but may not be legally binding. Update wills and trusts with your attorney. Experts suggest you review your powers of attorney, beneficiaries, and other relevant documents every three to five years, when you can confirm or adjust your wishes to account for relevant life changes.)

Care Needed: Will your loved one be in the hospital, a care facility, or at home? Can she get the care she needs in your home town or do you need to move to another area for the appropriate treatment? Jerry and I were referred from our home in California to Florida, with the expectation that he would receive a transplant sooner there. With three major transplant centers in Northern California, the need and demand are very high, whereas several factors increased the possibility of receiving a transplant sooner in Florida. Among these were an aggressive donor recruitment program and the lack of a helmet law for motorcyclists. So we moved, expecting to be in Florida three or four months and instead, stayed eight.

Insurance Coverage: Check your insurance documents carefully. In addition to medical costs, it may cover home health care, hospice, or living costs in the event you need to relocate for treatment.  There may be a provision for disability coverage, either in your insurance policy or through the ill partner’s employer. We had a $10,000 living allowance which carried us for seven of the eight months we were in Florida.

Billing: The hospital, facility or hospice should bill your insurance first, rather than sending invoices directly to you. Hospitals and insurance companies have negotiated rates for services, generally much lower than the billed amount. I recently had a minor surgery bill for $40,000, for which Medicare paid about $4500. It’s helpful if you can deal consistently with one insurance rep, who will know your situation and not require you to explain from the beginning each time you call.

Bank accounts and credit cards:  If you have joint credit cards, you may wish to apply for a card in your name only, then cancel some of those with both names. You may have more difficulty qualifying for a new credit account as a solo wage-earner, so it is helpful to have this in advance.

Financial Documents: Do you have access to all bank accounts, pension information, contacts for insurance, taxes, investments, and employers? Do you know where financial records are kept? How about your spouse’s PINs or passwords?  Joyce remembers a pastor who told couples he married, “You are marrying this person for the rest of your life until one of you lays the other in the arms of Jesus”.  Loss is  inevitable.

With your husband or wife ill, you may not think clearly to make major decisions. It can be helpful to find someone you trust, whether a counselor, family member, wise friend, or financial consultant, to help you process the issues you face and make wise decisions.

“Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19 (NLT)

Additional Resources:

http://www.360financialliteracy.org/Topics/In-Crisis/Medical-Crises-and-Illness/Financial-Planning-When-You-Have-a-Chronic-Illness

https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/survivorship_facing_terminal_illness?akredirect=true

Preparing for Death of a Spouse: Using Family Medical Care Leave

hospital bed 1My late husband was critically ill. Because of a tracheotomy in his throat, he couldn’t speak for the last two months of his life. Touch became even more important than it had been. Knowing I was there, holding his hand, talking to him, being quiet with him, helped ease his sense of isolation. One day my brother was visiting and encouraged me to go back to my apartment for a much-needed nap. He would stay with Jerry. When I returned about two hours later, I saw my husband, lying in his hospital bed, eyes closed. My brother, sitting at his side reading, was holding Jerry’s hand. That image is indelibly stamped on my mind.

I was blessed in being granted an eight-month leave of absence (quite a bit more than required by law) to care for, advocate for, and be with my husband during his illness–treasured time for both of us. You, too, may be eligible for unpaid Family Medical Leave (FMLA) if your spouse is seriously ill.

FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (FMLA)

“FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;man in wheelchair
  • for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.” https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

For additional information and eligibility requirements, see https://www.thebalance.com/family-and-medical-leave-act-fmla-2058514?utm_term=what+is+family+leave+act&utm_content=p1-main-1-title&utm_medium=sem&utm_source=google_s&utm_campaign=adid-b2d52b33-ace1-4b0c-a162-3a3e8c075923-0-ab_gsb_ocode-4573&ad=semD&an=google_s&am=broad&q=what+is+family+leave+act&o=4573&qsrc=999&l=sem&askid=b2d52b33-ace1-4b0c-a162-3a3e8c075923-0-ab_gsb.)

While a 12-week Family Medical Leave is generally unpaid, the Leave Act protects your job and requires that your group health benefits remain intact during its duration. Discuss your options with your employer’s Human Resources department. Perhaps you can use some of your sick time for pay during the Leave. Your employer may allow you to work from the hospital or home on some days. If you can’t afford to take unpaid leave, can you arrange for others to check on your spouse during the day?  Talk with his caregivers about effective ways to communicate if you continue working during your loved one’s illness.

This is a difficult, challenging time. I treasure the scripture found in Psalm 56:8:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” (NLT)

If God collects our tears, records them in His book, how deeply He must love us.

Next week we’ll discuss financial issues.