“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.
Plan 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.
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.