Losing my Dad. Practical matters in the wake of grief.
Several short weeks ago we lost my father. I can’t begin to describe how his unexpected death has devastated our family, but I’m sure those of you who have been through the loss of a family member will understand. For my mother, sisters, and our families, to lose our father, grandfather and husband has shook the very core of our worlds.
Even as I write these words, I struggle with the idea of writing this particular blog. Mostly because it feels too personal, and it is still very raw for me. But each time I sit down to write, this is what rises to the surface in my mind. I take that as a sign to continue.
For family members, the weeks that follow the death of a loved one are extremely difficult both emotionally, and also in a very practical way as reality settles in. There are bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, and notifications to be made pertaining to income, employment, pensions, health benefits, insurance and investments. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone someone who is grieving a great loss.
Grieving individuals are not functioning at their best during those days and weeks that follow to say the least. This alone makes the financial matters, which can be difficult at the best of times, harder to get through.
In our financial practice, we have been dealing with investment and estate planning for over 25 years and death claims are a regular part of our business. In fact, it is a big part of what we do. In financial planning, we are always talking about how to prepare for, and financially protect yourself and your family from life’s possibilities; whether it be saving for retirement, creating an emergency fund to protect from job loss, or getting life or disability insurance as security in case of death or disability. Planning can make a most difficult time easier, if and when the time comes.
We have sat with many emotional and devastated widows, widowers and family members over the years to help them sort out their survivor income, insurances and finances after the death of their beloved family member. This is not new for us. Yet, despite my experience with the process, I felt emotionally unprepared. The weight of grief that comes with losing someone you love is all encompassing.
I think of the times I sat with mom and dad over the years as we discussed their investments, insurance and pensions and my parents planned accordingly. Even with discussions and good planning which make the process smoother, it’s still emotionally incredibly hard.
I have seen numerous death certificates, and dealt with my share of survivor and estate paperwork over the years, but none of that prepared me to see the death certificate bearing my father’s name. I struggled to comprehend the reality that the death claim I was dealing with was that of my own beloved father.
Here is what I have learned over the past several weeks. The weight of grief that comes with losing someone you love is all encompassing. And while each person deals with grief differently, it’s fair to say most people are in a fog, numb, angry or in disbelief. These are the days and weeks where grieving family members need great help and support, with many things; including their financial needs.
I was no exception. During those weeks I was foggy and emotional as I sat with my mother and we sorted through paperwork. It has been a reminder for me about how hard it is for grieving family members to make their way through these financial steps and overwhelming paperwork, and how much they rely on us and our expertise during that time.
Through the fog and tears of grief, I gained understanding on a new level. It is important in the wake of grief for people to have someone with expertise who they can trust to help them through this process.
The reality is, if it’s this hard for me when I know what I’m doing with the financial paperwork, imagine how overwhelming and confusing it can be for the average person with no financial experience.
It’s a very personal reminder to me about how important the work we do is, for our clients and their survivors. To see it through the eyes of a grieving family member is to appreciate the importance of financial planning, and the support and guidance we provide when the time comes to help the surviving spouse and family through what needs to be done.
In the end, what we do as Financial Planners matters to families. It just does.
This column was published in This Month in Elgin October 2018 edition.