By Eileen Ortega, CTFA
Losing a spouse is devastating. Period. Sometimes there has been a long illness, which has given you time to brace yourself for the inevitable. But other times, it is completely unexpected. In a single moment, your world is turned upside down, and you face a foreign situation. One that, while you may have discussed it with each other “in theory,” it was always far off in the future, not to be worried about for a long time. Now you are left with no option but to figure out “What’s next?”
It takes time for reality to settle in after losing someone so close. In many cases, you have spent a lifetime raising a family, building a home, building your LIFE. As most couples do, you likely each had responsibilities that you assumed, like the finances, or the house maintenance, or the child care. You had planned when you would retire and what that retirement would look like. Now you find yourself trying to figure out how to take on your spouse’s responsibilities and likely reassessing the shared goals you had. Some will remain, but some may just be too hard to follow through on.
It is at this point that you begin to realize that you have not only lost your spouse but a part of yourself as well. As overwhelming as this realization might be, you come to understand that you have to begin to rebuild YOUR life. A different life, on your own. Where do you start?
Questions to Ask Yourself as You Start Over
- Are the goals we set together still the same now that I am on my own?
- How do I take over the things my spouse was doing? Do I seek help from a professional?
- Are there things that I wanted to do but put on the back burner because it wasn’t what we both wanted?
- Am I able to maintain my lifestyle, or do I need to make changes?
- Are there things that I should do right away versus waiting?
As you mourn the loss of what your life was together, it’s possible to embrace your own future of what can be. Some widows will struggle with the guilt of moving forward, feeling like it is a betrayal to continue without their spouse. If that’s you, it may take time to get to a place where you are ready to begin.
Small steps can be helpful. Lists can help some to tackle something each day. But if we accept the unknown, rather than fear it, we can rebuild a life we may never have imagined. Looking at what you can get help with, such as finances and home maintenance, will help you to focus on the things that can bring you joy.
Finding a financial advisor who provides true, comprehensive planning that begins with goals is a great way to learn how to think about what is possible. A planner who asks the questions about where you go from here can remove feelings of guilt about moving on and thinking about what you want. She will then be able to help you see what you can do and establish a plan to achieve the goals you have shared.
“Searching for Purpose,” an article by Thomas Lai, speaks to this journey compellingly. He provides “Five Ways to Embrace Not Knowing,” which can certainly apply when you are trying to rebuild your life. The reflection on the plans you had may shine a light on the fact that some of the things you agreed to do were more for your spouse than for you. It will allow you to question whether they are still important to you.
As a financial advisor, I’ve had the privilege of helping many women navigate the loss of a spouse. Each set of circumstances has been very different, and the road each has taken is unlike another. The beauty is that there is no wrong way. We feel what we feel, and we move forward however makes the most sense in our circumstances. Some women have shared with me that they have a heightened awareness and appreciation of living in the moment, doing things NOW rather than waiting. Others have expressed that they may have lost themselves along the way and are now returning to some of the things that they may have given up long ago.
What they all have in common, however, is that at some point, any survivor’s guilt diminishes, they realize that if they had been the one to pass first, they would have wanted their spouse to move on, and there is a world of opportunity to lead a fulfilling life as their grief subsides. Setting goals is not just for the young. The goals we set when we are young are often very different, but what they have in common is that they give us purpose. They give us something to look forward to and something that keeps us going.
Our fiduciary wealth management firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, helps women find their financial footing after their spouse has passed. We invite you to schedule a consultation today.