Newly Widowed Checklist

In partnership with the Liz Logelin Foundation, the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation has created a checklist for the newly widowed, or the friends and families of people who have recently lost a spouse.

There are a few things that we wished someone would have told us as we waded through the paperwork that is necessary when someone dies. This list is not an all inclusive road map, is not intended to be used as legal advice nor should it be considered a substitute for a meeting with a duly-licensed estate attorney, but it will provide you with some tips that may make things easier in the weeks and months ahead.

  1. Allow people to help you. They want to, and you will need them. Ask them if necessary.
  2. Write things down. Your memory might be unreliable for some time.
  3. Delegate. Many of the next items on this list can be done for you by someone else.
  4. If you have a life insurance policy, contact your agent or company immediately. This will insure that you have funding for the funeral expenses, the funeral home often will coordinate with the life insurance company. Check with your employer regarding whether you have a bereavement leave benefit available.
  5. Check with your spouse’s employer to verify whether there is a company sponsored life insurance policy in place for your spouse, obtain the current information regarding any applicable 401K accounts, and check the status of your health insurance if your family was covered by your spouse’s employer. There may be a grace period when you will still have coverage, but you will want to find out the exact date that any changes in coverage will apply. If you have joint investment accounts or investment accounts held in your spouse’s name these will need to be addressed.
  6. Get at least 5-10 certified copies of the death certificate. There are many agencies that will require an original document when they are notified of your recent loss. You will also need to carry a death certificate (and your child’s birth certificate) with you if you are traveling internationally with a minor child. Be aware that you are charged a fee for each copy of the certificate that you order.
  7. In you live in the US, notify your local Social Security Office and have your spouse’s social security number on hand. *Warning: Many of us were horrified when we discovered that there was a one-time death benefit to surviving spouses of $255. Obviously this amount does not come close to reflecting the value of a life. If you live outside of the US, please check the Liz Logelin Foundation resource page or contact the LLF for assistance with finding the social services information that applies to the country in which you live.
  8. Have someone help you sort through office paperwork to look for personal accounts, outstanding appointments, upcoming trips that may need to be cancelled, or anything that must to be dealt with before a cancellation charge applies.
  9. If applicable, locate your spouse’s cell phone. Please note that you may want to preserve their voicemail message in another form, as it may be deleted accidentally if the phone malfunctions or the service contract is ended.
  10. Make a complete list of your spouse’s credit cards, debit cards, phone cards (checking their wallet is a good place to start), business expense accounts, and any other open account they may have. Each of these institutions needs to be notified of your spouse’s death, and many will require a copy of the death certificate to validate your request to close the account. Also ask each company whether there is any applicable insurance that pays off the account in the event of a cardholder’s death. Check auto loans, credit cards, and mortgages for this type of insurance.
  11. Keep an open file within easy reach for your health insurance in case there are expenses associated with your loved one that are yet to be paid. You will also need to call the insurance company to inform them of your spouse’s passing.
  12. Check your utility bills to be sure all of your utilities are in both of your names. Most companies require your name to be on the account before you are able to act as administrator of the service. One thing to be aware of: companies often have to shut the service down and then restart it in order to change the name on the account.
  13. Make banking changes, but you will need to do this after you have a death certificate in hand.
  14. Cancel any recurring membership fees or annual magazine subscriptions that apply only to your spouse, and adjust any that applied to both of you.

Make changes to emergency contacts as necessary. The children’s school contact form is especially hard to change, but also vitally important

Rock in an Ocean of Change

“There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside Thee: neither is there any rock like our God.”  I Samuel 2:2

One of the things that I so loved about my husband Bob was that he was as steady as a plow horse.  If he said he would do something, he always did it.  He was dependable and trustworthy.  He was my rock and I leaned very heavily on him.  He was my picture of Christ on this earth.

Now that Bob is gone, I miss having someone to lean on.  Now I am the one in charge and I do not like that.  It was so very easy for me to follow my husband.  His track record was excellent.  He always knew what to do and when to do it.   The paths he led us on were the right ones.

Never did I ever have to wonder if I was going to be taken care of.  Bob’s prerogative was for me to stay home and take care of our home and our four daughters and I was fine with that.  I can only remember him missing just a couple of days of work because of illness for the entire over thirty-six years of marriage.  He never called off work just because he wanted to.

Bob took our marriage vows very seriously and was committed to me in sickness and in health.  That part of our wedding vows was challenged when I became ill with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome for the last 20 years of his life.  I could not have asked for more unconditional love than he gave me.  He was always there for me encouraging me and telling me that he loved me just the way that I was in spite of my weaknesses.

There is an ocean of change that has taken place in my life since the day Bob died.  My earthly rock has left me for his heavenly home.  God should have been the prominent rock in my life, but I confess that it was easier to lean on my earthly rock because I could see him and feel him.

Now I have been thrust into this place without my earthly rock – a place where I have to put God in His rightful place in my life as THE ROCK.  This involves exercising my faith like it has never been exercised before.  I am asked to trust God like I have never trusted Him before and this is not easy for me when my faith has been so shaken.  Yet, I know deep inside my heart that God is the only rock I have in this ocean of change.

I have a choice to make.  I remember a time about three years ago when an older gentleman looked me in the eyes  and asked, “Do you trust God?”  My heart was pierced.  Again, he asked, “Do you really trust God?”  That simple question brought such conviction.  It was as if God was sitting right there gazing into my eyes asking me point blank if I really and truly trusted Him.

Oh Father, I am out here floating around in my ocean of change.  So many times I find myself thrashing around floundering and wanting to be rescued out of what I wish was only a nightmare.  You gave me a husband that I could totally trust and depend on.  Now he’s with you and it’s time for me to give You that rightful place in my heart and life.  Help me as I begin taking baby steps back to you.  Restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me.  Help me to trust You to be my ROCK in this ocean of change.

Crushed Violets

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

~ Mark Twain

I believe that one of the hardest things a widow has to deal with is forgiving others for not living up to our expectations.  We have  thoughts about how we want friends, family, in-laws, and church family to respond to us after the loss of our husband.  When they don’t live up to those expectations, it deeply wounds us and we find ourselves experiencing a lot of anger.

This hurt and anger takes time to deal with.  It’s a process that we have to go through.  We have to decide whether or not we are going to allow those disappointments to fuel our anger and drive us to become a bitter widow.

If we decide to forgive those people for not living up to our expectations, then we go through another process – forgiveness – and that process will be an on-going one. 

When we forgive, we are releasing the sweet smell of violets on the heel that has crushed us.  We are allowing what has hurt us to become a sweet fragrance released not only in our hearts but in our lives.  We give off such a sweet odor that others desire to be around us.  We become such a lovely picture of a widow to others that not only glorifies and honors our husbands, but glorifies and honors God.

Forgiveness….like the smell of crushed violets…on the feet that trampled over them.

~  Melody Carlson/RIVER’S SONG

The Clay Pot

A story is told by the Paiute Indians about clay pots.  The most beautiful and strongest clay pots, the ones that honor their creator as uncommon, are made from mixed clay.  The old people take shards of  old pots with chips and cracks and broken lips and throw them on the ground.

Then, years later, other grandmothers gather those old shards and grind them to a powder.  They add that powder to new clay that has never known the fire.  The clay comes from two places: one fired and one fresh.  The pots will only hold together and be strong because they have been blended.

A widow’s life has been broken unto shards and she feels like she’s been thrown out into a desert.  As she begins to put one foot in front of the other  and as time goes by, she gathers up those broken shards. She holds onto those broken pieces, but as she processes through her grief, those shards get ground to fine powder and begin to blend into to the new clay of her new identity.  Her old fired life is mixed with her new life and from the blending of those two comes a much stronger woman .

Choose Joy

From an interview with Kay Warren on her book CHOOSE JOY:

“JOY is the settled assurance that God is in control of ALL the details of my life.  It’s the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright; the determined choice to praise Him in all things.

You and I must connect the internal with the Eternal so that we get a good perspective on the externals in such a way that we allow JOY to flourish.  You and I have to connect what is going on in the inside of us with that eternal perspective of God and what God values so that we can interpret all the external things that happen to us in a way that allows us to experience JOY.  That’s some soul work.  It doesn’t come easily.  It doesn’t come naturally.  It doesn’t come readily.  It requires some soul work – going back and saying, ‘God, forgive me.  I’ve tried to find JOY here, here, and here and I can experience it for a brief period of time, but it doesn’t last.  But, God, You are unchangeable.’

I do believe that there has to be a mind shift that says, ‘I can experience JOY’.  If you are operating on the ‘No, it’s not possible for me’, you won’t search for it.  You won’t take the right steps.  You will continue to place your hopes in the wrong sources.  So, it has to start with a willingness to come back again and say, ‘God, You have said that JOY is my birthright – Galatians 5:22 – the fruit of the Spirit.  I received the Spirit when I became a Christian.  So I received the fruit of the Spirit.  JOY is the second fruit that is given in that passage.  So, it’s mine.  It’s there.  It’s my birthright.  You’ve intended me to live with it.  You’ve intended me to experience it.  So, God, even though that doesn’t make sense to me right now, even though it doesn’t fit my experience, even though it goes against everything I have seen about myself up to this point, I’m willing to believe that JOY can be mine’.  It has to start there.

And then on a daily practice one of my favorite ones is to live in the moment because we just get so caught up in perfectionism and what it’s going to take for us to feel joyful or happy – all the little ducks have to be in a row – we can’t just enjoy the moment.  It has to be perfect.  Well, perfect moments happen so rarely, but moments happen a thousand times a day.  So, begin to look at a moment.  It may be literally that fleeting – a smile on the face of someone you love or care about, the sunshine on your face, the taste of something in your mouth that just so fantastic it’s your favorite food and when put that food in your mouth it’s like ‘OH!  This is SO GOOD!’.

What is that moment every day that you can enjoy?  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to last five minutes or five hours or five days, but it is a moment.  We just want more than we are given.  We want to be given days, years, weeks, months, eternity…..whatever.  And we’re not always given that.  But we do get moments.  So, if you can begin to practice being grateful for that moment, enjoying that moment, reveling in that moment, then JOY will begin to bloom and slowly grow larger and larger as you take the moments.

And, it may be a painful moment.  That’s what is even harder to deal with, but there can be JOY even in the painful moments – the moments when the sun doesn’t shine, the moments when what you put in your mouth is actually gross, the moments when you don’t see the smile.  In fact, you may get a frown.  That doesn’t mean that JOY can’t be present because in every moment God can be found. So, live in the moment that you are experiencing because that’s where God is.

Jesus was a man of JOY.  We have a stereotype that God is angry and wants to squish any happy feelings we might have out of our lives.  We look at Jesus and see him as just being the man of sorrows.  But, if you carefully look at the New Testament, you will that Jesus was a man – a REAL man- who laughed, who played with children, who told funny stories that we just don’t get because we don’t understand Jewish humor.  When you can look at Jesus as a man of JOY as well as a man of sorrows, I think it gives us permission to seek a life of JOY for ourselves.  If Jesus, who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, still had time for laughter and JOY and relationships and funny moments, then I can as well.  His life gives me permission to seek that life of JOY as well. ”

I’ll be the first to admit that choosing JOY is something that is hard for me.  In fact, it is not my personality bent.  But in my search for JOY, I am seeing that JOY is my choice to make.  It’s something I am going to have to begin working on because I haven’t felt joy in a very long time.  How about you?

The Plunder of My Grief

Kathleen Beard,  an almost 4 year widow who wrote INTO THE MIST about her journey of caring for her husband John through dementia, talks about the gems we reap in our grief and trials:

“What is the plunder of my particular trial?  I believe that the plunder from my and your trials are the priceless gems that Jesus teaches us in the midst of our pain and suffering–those precious times when He surprises us with a Scripture that seemed to be written just for us for just that moment.  It is the gem of discovering that within us lie secret places of rebellion, unbelief, pride, fear, anger, bitterness which He is now ready not to condemn us and chastise us for, but rather to dislodge these stubborn issues in order to heal us and set us free from their bondage.  This healing is the plunder!  He says to us, just as He says to the children of Israel–take it out with you, take the gold, silver, and every rare gem that I have redeemed from this secret place within your soul and follow Me.

And what does He want me to do with that plunder?  My publisher spoke a word to me as we talked on the phone early in the publishing process which has lodged deep in my soul:  He said, “Thank you for not wasting your pain.”

Not wasting your pain—not taking the “plunder” and burying it away somewhere.  Rather, taking the pain and casting it upon many waters, which will take it to many hurting and wounded souls who can drink deeply of that living water and find freedom in their pain.  I so often think of the subject of “living water” as it relates to our relationship with Jesus and as it relates to our day-to-day walk with Him.  Living water is rapid, rushing, bubbling water.  It is living because the tumbling over rocks and tree roots is what cleans it; it is always fresh.  Water that is held in cisterns soon becomes stale and stagnant.  As we cast our painful experiences, our wounds, our hidden secret places out into His living water, Jesus cleans it and sends it quickly on to others so that by drinking, they too can be free in Him.  He doesn’t waste any of it.

By collecting our tears in His bottle, I came to understand that now, when I encounter a woman in the throes of a painful ordeal, He dips into His bottle of my tears and retrieves them.  He allows the memory of the pain, the experience of it, to be fresh again, so that I can walk into her pain and offer her the comfort I received from Him, just as He so beautifully illustrates in 2 Corinthians 1:4.  If I have kept my tears to myself, hidden them away somewhere because they are just too painful to keep, then I will forget that pain and all of the lessons I learned form it, and I will become a stagnant cistern, or worse, a broken cistern.”

Are you looking for your plunder or are you burying it away somewhere while trying to be super Christian widow?

Don’t Be Intimidated

Immediately after I became a widow there were many decisions that I had to make.  My personality makes me someone who can easily be intimidated.  Some of my decisions were questioned and this, in turn, made me question whether I was even capable of making a good decision.

One thing I have realized over these last few years is that my husband is not here to stand up for me now.  I have learned to stand up for myself, to believe that I do have a good head on my shoulders, and to trust my own judgment.  The only one I have to answer to for my decisions is God.

Widowed for 4 years, Kit Hinkle writes in A Widow’s Might about her experience in intimidation:

“Sometimes, I think the world expects us to fold, to ask permission for steps we have to take to move forward.  I suppose I don’t think so, I know so.  I remember a decision I made a year after Tom died. I chose to build a sun porch for the boys and me.

I had a close friend question me on it. She worried over my decision to spend the money, and took it upon herself to discuss it among our circle of friends. It shook me up for a bit, not because I wondered whether my decision was sound, but because I wondered whether our friendship could endure her criticism.  It’s a sad reality but some friendships don’t survive when you loose your husband.  When you move forward as head of the household, you might find friends and loved ones unaccustomed to seeing you take on that role.  But you can’t hide behind a husband anymore. You have to become your own mover and shaker.

So I built the sun porch without anyone’s permission but God’s.  And guess what?  He blessed it. I didn’t even have to apologize for it later!  I’ve had it for years now and the boys love it.  We have it wired with a flat screen and a DVD and it becomes movie central for the kids in the neighborhood on summer nights.  I consider it one of the best decisions we made in these years without Tom.”