6 Quick Steps to Get Your Accounts Organized

Organizing your finances

Do you know the ins and outs of your financial accounts? I didn’t for a long time!

About two months before Steve died, I looked at him working at our kitchen table and stated, “if anything ever happened to you, I wouldn’t know where to start.” Instead of putting it off until later, he had me come with him and showed me right then how to access our finances on his computer.

He simply opened a folder, which all of our financial information was in. I figured that was good enough and went back to what I was doing. If only I knew then what I know now…

A Preview Was Not Good Enough

Fast forward to a few days after the accident. I remembered that conversation. I remembered where the folder was. I found all of our information.

The problem? It wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have enough information to act. Figuring things out was like a full-time job – when I was barely qualified to get through each day. Instead, every day I would have a plan of places to call or go to and hope to find answers. Don’t let this happen to your loved ones!

Here are six quick and simple steps that you can take this weekend to get your finances organized. Don’t forget to share them with your significant other – better yet, do this together!

1. Start a Spreadsheet

Use Excel (or another program) to make a list of all of your accounts. Include checking, savings, retirement, life insurance, loans, investments, basically everything. Locate statements, so you have full details available to complete the rest of the steps below.

2. Add Contact Info.

List contact information for each account. This may be the local bank, a financial advisor or just a customer service phone number. Make sure to list something.

3. Add Beneficiaries

List your beneficiaries for every account. Read my horror story about having incorrect beneficiaries if you need additional motivation!

Some accounts should be Payable On Death (POD) in the event that funds are needed immediately to cover costs (think the accounts at your local bank). The rest should be listed to beneficiaries or to a trust.

Many accounts do not force you to name a beneficiary – do it anyway! This avoids probate. Keeping the list handy makes it easy to review on a routine basis.

4. Add Account Numbers and Balances

Consider listing account numbers and dollar amounts for any accounts with a loan or asset balance. You should keep this information confidential with the exception of the executor of your estate or financial advisor.

Doing this will make any follow up phone calls so much easier. It’s also important when you’re trying to make changes, such as consolidating accounts.

5. Make It Accessible to the Right People

Store this information where your executor can get to it. If you have it in a safe deposit box, make sure they are a signor. I have a copy on my computer and my parents have a copy since they are now the executors of my estate.

6. Review, Review, Review

Make a plan to review your information. Keep a copy handy for a quick review. I review it annually on the anniversary of Steve’s death. I will never forget to review my information!

Do It – Before It’s Too Late

Get started by gathering all of your financial statements. Make a date (this weekend) with your significant other (if you have one) and start a spreadsheet. Add the contact info. for each company, the beneficiary, any balances and account numbers and then make it accessible to the right people. Review it annually. Rinse, cycle, repeat!

And don’t forget to list, review and update your beneficiaries! I cannot stress enough the importance of this!

Even though my beneficiaries were listed on my sheet, I worried about whether I linked everything to my trust correctly. It took a simple email to ask the bank to update my beneficiaries with the trust information. They had everything printed for me that day, I went in, reviewed it, signed and was done in five minutes. It isn’t as complicated or time intensive as you think. The peace of mind is completely worth it!

Gina: As a financial advisor, we would help clients create these and called them “single sheets.” Basically it was a one page document that encompassed all of the pertinent details of a client’s financial situation – both for the client’s benefit, as well as their beneficiaries should something happen to them. We traditionally did this for older individuals/couples, but as Erin’s experienced, EVERYONE should start and maintain one. Make sure to share this information with your spouse or build/maintain it together!

Do you have a single sheet? If not, do you now plan on starting one soon?

Photo Credit: Images_of_Money via Compfight cc

6 Tips for Talking to Your Children about Death

Erin's Phone Dump 10142013 956How do you being to tell your children that their father has died?

The loss of a loved one is extremely difficult. Having to talk about death with the children left behind tears what is left of a shattered heart even further apart. I knew I couldn’t back away from these conversations – I didn’t want my children to fill in the gaps with their imagination. I also wanted to make sure they could trust me to tell them the truth. It needed to come from me and I wanted to be the source of their truth about what happened. It’s my job to define death and afterlife for our family.

Telling my mother and father-in-law that Steve had died was the worst thing that has ever come out of my mouth. Telling my children that their daddy was now an angel was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever had to say.

I was lucky that my girls had some prior knowledge of death. We had lost a dog a couple months prior to Steve’s accident. Steve was heartbroken and he took a lot of time explaining death and heaven to the girls. Even through tears he made it seem like a great place. There is no doubt that the foundation he laid made my conversations a little easier. Here are six tips for talking to your children about death.

1. Don’t Shy Away from Talking about Death

Death is part of the cycle of life. In our society, it is something that we typically shy away from talking about regularly. I don’t know if it’s because we feel ill prepared, or unqualified or if it’s because we fear that it may make people uncomfortable.

It’s important to figure out your stance and take the opportunity to talk to your children about death. If you are a Christian, talk about God and heaven. A death of a pet is a great first opportunity to start the conversation. Don’t wait until you lose someone important to introduce the concept of death!

2. Choose Your Words Wisely

If you say the person “went away” kids take that literally. They will wonder why they were left – or when they will be coming back. As hard as it was, I explained to the girls that the Jeep rolled over and daddy got hurt. He had to go to heaven to get better.

There were reasons for my honesty. They needed to know they weren’t going to see the Jeep or daddy again and they needed to know why. They especially needed to know that their daddy didn’t leave us. In fact, I reiterated hundreds of times how much their daddy loved us and how he would never choose to leave us.

The one thing that was really hard to explain was when I said that I knew their dad was near us. I said he was talking to my heart. Reanna got really sad because she couldn’t hear her daddy talking to her and she wondered why her daddy couldn’t talk to her. Remember that kids think very literally or in black/while, so be prepared to explain whatever you say in a way they can understand.

3. Help Them Remember

There were times I could hardly speak a word and Reanna would ask about her dad. She wanted to hear stories. She wanted to know if I remembered certain events. There are no words to describe the pain involved with these conversations and the amount of tears that were shed. However, it is important to keep him alive.

She was grieving in her own way and she needed to remember. She needed to be listened to. Most of all, she needed me to put my desire to curl up in a ball of tears aside and just be there as her support. She needed to know that she could count on me to be her confidant.

Here we are one year later and we still love to tell stories. I praise her for pictures that include her dad. In all of her school work we list her “angel daddy” on forms about family. The girls love to hear about their Dad. I still struggle getting through stories without tears, but the tears are worth it. They deserve to know how great their father was!

4. Explain What to Expect at the Funeral

Remember I mentioned that children are literal thinkers, right? Imagine what it is like for them to see their daddy “sleeping.” I took the time to explain that they would be seeing their daddy’s body, but only his body was left on earth. I explained that he got a new body in heaven, one that was not broken.

This brought on questions for months about how daddy gets to heaven, what he looks like in heaven and all sorts of different things. I still do not know how to explain it all to them, but I am honest and tell them that I don’t have the answers.

I tried to keep the girls away from the coffin, but they did have their time to see him. I still remember Kaelyn saying, “Daddy, wake up!” Talk about a heartbreaking moment!

The girls had a nanny – Steph – and I asked her to play with the girls during the visitation. I wanted them to be there, but I wanted them to be able to be kids as well. They played outside in their dresses. Someone went and got them ice cream cones. They were content and taken care of – that meant the world to me. They came and went as they pleased, which allowed me to focus on trying to keep myself together.

I remember driving by the “bubble,” where Steve’s funeral was held and Reanna asking if we could stop and see her daddy in the box again. She said she just wanted to see him one more time. Don’t we all baby girl…

Above all, follow any leads your children give you. Reanna leaned over and asked me if she could say something on the microphone in the middle of the funeral. I asked if she was sure – she was. The song, I Miss My Friend was played – it was the same song we played at our wedding for three special loved ones missing on our special day. I placed a rose on his coffin during the song and walked Reanna up on the stage, much to the pastor’s surprise. I asked for the microphone and at the end of the song handed it to Reanna. I didn’t know what to expect, but she simply looked at a packed basketball gym and stated, “I love daddy” and handed the microphone back to me. Her strength at four years old amazed me!

5. Talk to Other’s Children about Their Loved One

First, it is absolutely okay to talk about any fun, uplifting stories involving the person that passed away. Be sure to ask ahead of time how the death was explained to the child if you do plan to talk about that person.

Children like to ask questions and your intent may not be to bring up the person’s death, but a child may ask anyway. Be prepared to answer. They need to know it isn’t a scary or a taboo subject.

Align what you say to what they have heard from others – even if you don’t agree. Children need a consistent message. My in-laws did a great job giving me a heads up about any questions the girls asked and how they answered the questions when I wasn’t there. This ensured that we never broke the children’s trust by giving them two different stories.

6. Seek Help

I’ll admit that I didn’t seek help for me or my children, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it. I asked for referrals from the state patrol and our family doctor. I only wanted to go somewhere that specialized in children’s grief. I wanted someone I could trust.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone that was a clear choice – even in Fargo, which is 60 miles away. So, I studied and read up on how children manage grief. One thing that I am good at is learning – this activity made me feel like I was doing something to help my children through this.

As you can imagine this was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I still consider myself lucky – lucky to have married such a wonderful partner in life that loved me and my girls with his whole heart. He will always be remembered as an amazing father and husband.

It’s so important to introduce your children to the concept of death early on – you never know when loss will happen. Consider the six tips above as you do and pass this message on. Death is hard – but you can make it easier by talking. Find the right words to say and start preparing your family today. Hopefully you’ll never experience a loss like mine, but the loss of a grandparent or another close relative or friend is hard and confusing too. Be prepared!

My children were young (four and two) when my husband died. Do you have experience with older children or teenagers? Anything you’d change or add to my list?

Married and Dating? It’s Not What You Think!

Married and Dating?Widowhood has a unique set of challenges in today’s society.

Being a widow means that your marriage ended without either of you making the choice to end it. To this day I cannot accept that I am single. I cannot utter the word for the simple fact that I am not single – I am married and will always be married.

I do not have an ex-husband, nor am I a single parent.  I’m a solo mom, with a partner in heaven. I am a widow.

That Awkward Moment

A few weeks ago I was out on a date with my significant other and another couple. At dinner I was talking about “my husband” and the lady across from me stopped me and said, “You mean your ex-husband? I said, “No, my husband.  I’m a widow. I don’t have an ex-husband.” Society assumes that people my age are divorced, not widowed. That’s both understandable and disheartening at the same time!

If you are on the other side of the conversation – NO WORRIES! I’m happy that I don’t have a flashing sign that tells you I am a widow. I (we) do not expect you to know our story. My Widowed Life post highlighted some ways to embrace the term widow and the new definition I have given that word.

Breaking the News to a New Date

When is a good time to break the news to a date that you are a widow? I’d say whenever you are comfortable! If the person on the other side of the table can’t accept or handle your journey, then they probably aren’t the right one to take on the path with you.

How much you share with that person will likely depend on how well you know them. If they were a friend before you started dating, they likely know your story. If you were set up by another friend, find out before your date what the other person knows about you.

Everyone has a journey in life. There are people you meet that make a big impact on who you are. For better or worse, your spouse (or ex-spouse if you are divorced) was one of them.

You Have a Date – Now What?

One thing I’ve learned was to temper just how much I talked about Steve. I started dating a person that had been my confidant as I was going through the pain of losing Steve. He had heard every story that came to my head, learned about my regrets and was there as I discovered the strength I needed to continue.

The first part of our friendship was all about me working through losing Steve – and on the flip side, him working through losing his wife through divorce. We were a mess alone, but together somehow we started to become whole.

We were able to lean on each other during the very difficult times and he was truly a lifeline to me. About six months after Steve died, we decided to give dating a try.

Shortly after that I realized that by talking about Steve in every conversation I wasn’t really living in the moment with Jon. I never plan to quit talking about Steve, but there has to be a balance.

This was not an easy transition for me and I still talk about Steve in most of our conversations. Talking about him keeps him alive for me. The difference today, is that my memories do not dominate the conversation. I can enjoy the present, look forward to my future and never forget the past.

Breaking the News to Others

You would think the hardest thing about being a widow dating would be the date. Wrong! The hardest part is dealing with the other people in your life that may not be ready for you to start living again.

One of my widowed friends said it best, “If you are divorced in society and start dating the next week everyone congratulates you. If you are a widow, you are expected to sit with your broken heart and grieve forever.”

Remember, this is your life and your journey. Everyone else is able to go back to “normal”, while you no longer have anything that resembles normal.  If you find someone that makes you happy, then by all means be with them.

People will judge you for dating too soon and eventually for not dating soon enough (or so I am told). I have fallen into the too soon category.  There doesn’t seem to be a just right category. Expect this. Do what is right for you.  If you find a person that interests you and helps you live the life you want to live, then go for it! There is no right time, just the right person.

Receiving negative or unsupportive feedback hurts! It cuts you to your core and when you are really in the infancy stage of rebuilding your life, it can be painful and very isolating. Know that you are not alone.

No matter where your loss stems from – death or divorce – dating is hard! It is awkward, you judge yourself and you wonder if you are really ready. If you are lucky enough to find a real connection, it can renew your spirit.

Starting a new relationship takes guts! If you are a friend or family member of someone that is grieving a loss, be supportive of their decisions. They have likely spent weeks or months trying to figure out what is right for them. As long as it doesn’t put them in danger, keep your opinions to yourself and just be happy to see them smile.

3 Simple Ways to Show Your Support

1. Ask About the New Person

Then follow that up by genuinely listening. Ask questions because you care to hear all about the other person, not because you are challenging their sanity. There is a noticable difference!

2. Meet the Individual

Hold any judgements for after you actually meet the new person. Then follow the advice above and listen to really learn about them. What do they enjoy doing? What do you have in common? Why do they think your friend/sister/brother/daughter is amazing?

3. Invite the Couple to Socialize

Invite your widowed (or divorced) friend/family member to events that you may be hosting. Giving the open invitation is much more inviting than having to ask if you can bring an extra person.

4 Tips for the Widow/Divorcee

1. Don’t Feel Shame About Your Relationship

People will judge you. Have confidence and remember, this is your life and your happiness.

Sometimes people judge you because they see strength, courage and your will to live your life after loss. Not all judgement is bad! Sometimes it just feels that way.

2. Consider Your Public Relationship

Consider how much air time you are both comfortable giving your relationship in the beginning stages, especially on social media. Jon and I have chosen to keep our relationship relatively private (although I include him in my public writings – thank goodness for his common name!).

You would have a hard time finding pictures online of the two of us – that is intentional for the time being. The reason? We wanted to avoid unnecessary drama. We have both met each other’s families and many close friends. We enjoy our time out and yet it keeps our relationship stress low to remain off the digital grid – for now!

3. Find a Word You Are Comfortable With

I still can’t bring myself to introduce Jon as my boyfriend and he has never called me his girlfriend. It just seems too weird to use those terms since we have both been married.

We laughed about these words a long time ago and yet, we still haven’t come up with a good introduction. For now it is “friend” which is not my favorite…hmm, I may need to revisit this one myself!

3. Surround Your Relationship With Support

I was ignorant and thought that because people loved me they would like to see me happy and would support me. I was wrong. My new relationship made them uncomfortable and they made me feel like I was doing something wrong.

When you are just getting on your feet, this is a horrible feeling. It took a lot of time for me to move past the hurt of that experience. Surround yourself with those that will build you and your new relationship up – people that give you strength and confidence in your ability to be the champion of your life.

My New Perspective

I realized just how much judgement I was passing on to others by going through this experience. Over the years I have heard people judge others for being happy – those that have been divorced (and heaven forbid want an actual wedding for marriage #2!), those that have children out of wedlock and even those that started dating too soon after becoming a widow/widower. I’m here to say NO MORE!

I was appalled at these thoughts when I realized they crossed my own mind at times. I felt sorrow for the times and the people I had judged, even if it was only in my head. That was a reflection of ME, not them or their choices.

Now I revel in other’s happiness. When people I know and love are happy, I am happy too. It’s as simple as that!

Fellow widows or divorcees, what advice would you add for those that are going to reenter the dating scene?

Weddings and Widows

A Wedding Without YouWeddings are a time of celebration, love, laughter and family. Attending a wedding as a widow also means a painful reminder of the love, hopes and dreams you had at your wedding.

I have been to three wedding since Steve passed away. Each wedding has been different – with different moments of struggle and different moments of beauty. When I reflect on these events, there are a few things that stand out to me from my new perspective as a widow.

Life Goes On

It is hard to attend weddings because they bring back so many memories of the hopes and dreams that made up my special day. However, that doesn’t make me any less happy for the couple that is now starting their journey of a lifetime.

Pray for the Happiness of Others

When I see a happy couple, I pray that they will experience the type of relationship that Steve and I had. I also pray that they have the opportunity to live out their dreams together – for much longer than I was able to live mine.

Vows Are More than Words

Each word in a wedding service holds so much more meaning now. The wedding I went to this weekend had a beautiful sermon and I can honestly say that every word was true. When you lose the person that you shared these vows, hopes and dreams with, the words seem to be deeper, more poignant.

‘Til Death Do Us Part Is Real

Many couples will never experience the unconditional love that it takes to live out the vows said on their wedding day. I can honestly say that when I got married, I knew I was getting married “forever”. It scared me.

I knew Steve and I would never give up on each other, because we were not only in love with each other, we were also best friends. What I was scared of was the struggles that I knew came with time. Marriage is not easy – we had both seen our parents struggle through different periods of time in our lives.

Marriage isn’t something you do half way, but you don’t have control over half of it – it takes two. I pictured us 50 years from our wedding day together side by side. I pictured us old. I never in my wildest imagination pictured that “’til death do us part” would become my reality. However, I am thankful to have had the kind of love that some only dream of. Steve kept his promise.

Your Heart Will Hurt

It may be a phrase, a song or just the atmosphere. Every event is different, but something will likely sneak up on you and catch you off guard. And some moments might shatter you.

At the wedding this weekend there was a time when the DJ said, “I’m going to play a special song, so listen up kids. Girls, go and get your daddy and bring him out on the dance floor, and boys, go get your mommy.” Reanna looked at me like “What do I do?” and I broke.

The tears came and I reached for her hand. I said, “I’ll dance with you honey.” At that moment my sister stepped in and told Reanna to go get her Uncle Don. She did, so that left Kaelyn. Kaelyn had found a little boy to dance with and he preferred to keep dancing with Kaelyn instead of his mommy.

I stood on the sidelines and did everything possible to stop the flow of tears, but found that it was just impossible. I wanted to curl into a ball and cry – I wanted to run away, I wanted to do anything to “fix” the fact that my children had to look for someone to dance with. Had Steve been there I would have loved this dance and this idea.

Life doesn’t change just because there is a widow in the room. It shouldn’t. In fact, it never would have crossed my mind that something so simple could cause someone so much pain. At the same time, I was happy that so many children got to dance with a parent that may not have been out on the dance floor with them otherwise.

My dad came out about half way through the song and danced with me. We were the only adults dancing together, but I didn’t care. It was the same song we danced to for our father daughter dance at my wedding. We both had tears streaming down our faces – he knew I needed him at that moment.

Living through moments like this are part of living through loss. The moments that break your heart also remind you that you have a choice in every situation – you can run, or you can dance.

Every Wedding Is Different

The first wedding I went to was a destination wedding with a friend. I went only knowing one person. The sermon had some laughter which kept the tears that threatened my eyes from falling. I focused on taking pictures and doing what I could to keep my mind occupied and the tears from falling. That night I danced with my friend and many new friends, there was only a rare moment off the dance floor.

The second wedding I went to was for my cousin and my daughters were the flower girls. I cried seeing them look like little brides. I remember when Nina asked if the girls would be part of her wedding and how excited Steve and I both were to give them the “princess” treatment for the day. I made sure that dream we had came true.

There were many moments when I could feel their father with us that day and the pride he had in his two princesses. The toughest part about that wedding was the clear lack of a dance partner. At the first wedding, I danced with my friend and I didn’t feel alone. I’d had a partner for so many years with Steve that I honestly didn’t know what to do without anyone there. I’d walk outside during the slow songs and dance with my girls the rest of the time.

The wedding this past weekend is the first one that I was able to focus on the ceremony and the service. The words were beautiful, deep and true. There may come a day when I choose to spend my life with another person. When that day comes, every word will be held dear, every moment will be appreciated – and this time there will be no fear. I have known real love, real loss and survived.

Participation In “Single” Activities

You know the ones – the garter and bouquet toss. But as a widow, are you single? By law, yes. In my heart, absolutely not.

Do I participate? So far, I haven’t. I think this is a completely personal decision and at the same time one that doesn’t have to mean much. I may choose to participate someday or maybe I won’t.

Weddings as a widow can be uncomfortable. Bouquets and garters are not worth the worry though – your decision does not affect anyone, do whatever feels right to you in that moment.

Attending and Celebrating Life Events Is Good for the Soul

Weddings remind me of how much I was loved. They remind me of my hopes and dreams. They remind me that the world still dreams even while I am trying to piece together new dreams for myself and my girls.

Weddings remind me to hope and pray that others get the opportunity to grow together for many many years. They also remind me that there are no guarantees in life, so we must love as much as we can with the time that we have.

Fellow widows, what would you add to this list? Divorcees, are your feelings and perceptions different than mine?

Leaving a Legacy Through Education

College GraduateEducation is important.

Steve had a passion for coaching, teaching and developing others. He had a love of education and continual learning through life. One of his goals (and bucket list items) was to transition from a corporate role into that of an educator. He dreamed of teaching business courses – especially entrepreneurship and coaching softball.

Building a Legacy

Prior to meeting me he had spent his evenings teaching courses at Valley City State University in accounting and finance. He also coached the college softball team for a season. It takes an amazing person to do all of that while cultivating a career that would eventually make him CEO of his company.

Steve remained active on the Valley City State University foundation board and truly felt like the work of the board was making a difference in the world. We were honored to be the V-500 (campus scholarship program) spotlight family in 2013. Unfortunately, Steve died before he was able to see the bulletins be mailed out.

Leaving a Legacy

There are so many students that will miss out on learning from him. Knowing this, I found an opportunity for him to still impact future generations through the development of the Steve Welken Memorial Scholarship. The VCSU Foundation office worked quickly in helping me establish an endowed scholarship and we announced it at his prayer service and also at his funeral.

You know a person had an impact on a university when the Foundation director (who is also the state representative) and the college president give speeches at the service. These messages helped to springboard this dream I had of leaving a legacy at VCSU in Steve’s honor. In one year we raised $36,500 – simply an amazing sum and a true testament to the impact he had on the people around him.

Awarding Scholarships

This endowment enabled me to award three scholarships to students in Steve’s name. The foundation hosts a dinner between donors and recipients and it was an honor for me to meet the first students that were impacted by Steve’s scholarship.

This year we picked names from a shortlist given to us by VCSU. These were students that met the scholarship criteria, but had not recieved a lot of scholarships to date. Next year the students will fill out an application with a couple of essay questions which will allow us to pick those that best represent Steve. Even without that information, I was impressed by the students I met.

The Recipients

Barbara is a junior, majoring in business administration with minors in both accounting and finance. Her GPA is over 3.9 and she also plays volleyball for VCSU. She comes from a farming background and is originally from Canada. She also received another scholarship, so we didn’t get to have dinner together, but I gave her my card and I hope to hear from her. This girl has potential to do great things and I am honored that Steve’s scholarship could help her.

Michelle is a local from Valley City also majoring in business administration, with minors in accounting and finance.  Her GPA is also above 3.9. Michelle is gaining experience in the banking industry by working part-time at the local bank while attending school. I spoke to an agribusiness class earlier in the week and she happened to be in the class. We were able to talk about many different opprotunities she could have for internships and future career opportunities over our supper. In her spare time she likes to barrel race. I didn’t know this when she was selected, but it make the decision seem even more right since the barrel racing community helped contribute to the scholarship fund.

The third recipient was Alexis, who majors in education. When I saw her name on the short list, I knew we had to give her the scholarship. Alexis is the daughter of Steve’s best friend, Tim. To Steve, Alexis was like a niece and one that he was very proud of. He told me that he wanted to figure out a way to give her a scholarship or money for school, so when I saw her name on the list I knew it was meant to be. I can guarantee he is looking down and smiling at the fact that Alexis was the first recipient of his scholarship. He was so proud of her and we both think she is an amazing, kind person who will be a wonderful teacher in the future.

Mixed Emotions

The scholarship dinner was hard. Very hard. I cried even though I tried hard not to. Steve’s dad came with to dinner and he also struggled. I looked around the room and saw many familiar faces – familiar only because of Steve.

When it came time for introductions I could barely get out who I was and what scholarshp I was representing. I’m usually fairly polished, but it was impossible to keep my composure in this setting. The emotions were more than I expected.

To finally have faces to bless with Steve’s scholarship was both rewarding and heartbreaking. How I wished he could have been in front of the room teaching them instead. The purpose of the scholarship was to tell the recipients about Steve and encourage them to make a difference in the world – to pay it forward.

I shared why we started the scholarship and about the man that Steve was. I also encouraged them to contact me as they prepare for internships or the start of their career. I hope they do and when the time comes I hope I can take some of the lessons that Steve taught me and pass them along to the next generation.

More Than Money

This scholarship is so much more than the money. As our girls get older we will select the recipients together. In doing so we will talk about their Dad, the man he was, the talents he had and the way he lived his life.

People say that children learn from what they experience at home. I hope this process helps my children understand what it means to be a true leader both professionally and in the community. I hope they see that we’re never “too busy” to make a difference in the world. Lastly, I hope they see that when you share your passions with people, they have the chance to become a part of your legacy.

Did you or someone you know ever receive a scholarship? What difference did that make for you or them?

Photo Credit: Will Folsom via Compfight cc

Building a Bucket List – Part 3!

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

I only planned to have two bucket list posts until it dawned on me that I forgot a couple important categories!  One more bucket list post it is, as some of these ideas are worth sharing!

Read part one and part two here!

“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because they are looking for ideas.” ~Paula Poundstone

Dreaming as Children

As children we all dream of what we will be when we grow up. I dreamed of being a veterinarian, a fighter pilot, a firefighter or a doctor. Steve had dreams of being a race car driver and a teacher.

Our dreams evolved as we grew older – as we grew together it became more and more important for us to understand what we truly wanted to get out of our working lives. We didn’t have 9-5 jobs, as we often worked on the weekends and many evenings. We’d spend this extra time working outside of the office at home, where we strategized and worked on each other’s projects.

We enjoyed the challenge that work presented us and most importantly, we truly enjoyed working together. The beauty came in that we didn’t work in the same company or industry, so we learned a lot from each other. We were also able to help each other do our own jobs better and came to understand our individual strengths and weaknesses. We understood what drove us and how that played into where we ended up in our careers. We coached, supported, and mentored each other as a natural part of our relationship.

An Ultimate Career List

Together we started an ultimate career list. Steve wanted to teach business classes to college students and coach softball during the summer. He had a passion for teaching and contributing to the next generation.

I realized that I truly enjoy problem solving, coaching and developing others. I like operations and I have a passion for safety. I couldn’t (and still can’t!) put my finger on exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I do know what I’m looking for in the jobs I am interested in.

We decided one night to put our heads together and try to figure out how we could live the life we wanted while still providing for our children. We came up with a plan and a dream that was all our own. We were in alignment and before I knew it Steve had put together a marketing plan and was designing a website. He couldn’t wait for us to live our career dreams together – because for us – it meant more time working on problems together (which we loved) and also more time together as a family. Ah, dreams!

We also had a discussion about what it would mean for our family finances if he wanted to “retire” in 5-10 year and start teaching. We mapped it out and I was fully supportive of his desire to teach, even if it meant a more stringent budget.

The benefit of a career bucket list is that it aligns you to what you really want to get out of a career. For some it is a paycheck, for others it is a title and for us it was the difference we could make on the organizations we worked in and the people we worked alongside. For our relationship it meant the feeling of support and freedom in our career options. The world was our oyster and we knew that we were each other’s number one fans no matter what dreams we had for the future.

Things That Made Our List

I didn’t mention things in either of my other bucket list posts and while we tried not to be materialistic, there were a couple things on our list. Steve dreamed of having a woodworking shop. Woodworking was also a source of pride for him and he dreamed of making many things for me and our girls. It was a stress reliever and something he truly enjoyed doing.

When we decided to build a barn, we allocated 1/4 of it to a shop meant for woodworking. He was so excited to get his shop done, but not before he hand built some gorgeous horse stalls for me. That was Steve.

After he passed, finishing his shop became a focal point for me. I don’t do woodworking, although I do know how to use many of the tools. Employees from Grotberg Electric, the company Steve worked for, came and finished the wiring and the lighting. Some of my co-workers came and helped me finish some of the siding. I finished the walls that Steve had started and it gave me an enormous sense of accomplishment. I finished a dream that he had started.

Steve also had a dream of restoring a 1967 (I think!) Mustang. I told him that he could do a project like that when he would actually have time to finish it. I was assuming this would be in 20+ years. It’s not something he ever got around to unfortunately.

We both dreamed of finishing our basement to make it a place that we could entertain friends. We dreamed of having a fireplace, a bar and unsurprisingly for everyone that knew Steve – surround sound. We have everything plumbed in and the wires run. All we needed to do was wait until our daughters were a little older to add in the nice touches.

Working on this project brought a lot of growth in our relationship – we had to take our two individual visions and somehow form one. We had disagreements, went to home shows and spent lots of time comparing notes regarding what we wanted. We both ended up giving a little and it reminded us that while we each had individual wants, we could come together and compromise to make us both happy. The vision we formed together was far better than what either of us had thought of alone.

More Than Travel

As you can see, bucket lists can be for more than where you want to travel. For us, they were a way to define the dreams and desires of our hearts. We could make them tangible by writing them down and assessing progress over time. Some of them were accomplished during Steve’s life, some I accomplished or finished on my own (or with help) after he passed and some are still on the list awaiting the right time or funding.

We all have to have goals in life – it’s part of what makes life worth living. You need some sort of direction to move towards. If you haven’t already, I challenge you to get out a piece of paper (or hop on your computer) and start brainstorming some place, things or events to add to your list. What’s keeping you?

What could you do in the next year to Live Your List?

8 Years Later: Our Story & My Loss

Today we have a guest post from Holly Hrywnak, who blogs regularly at The Common Queen. Even though Holly isn’t a widow in the technical sense, she does know what it’s like to love deeply and lose the person she thought she’d marry. Holly has an authentic and engaging voice that tells beautiful and insightful stories. Here’s one that she wrote just for us based on her real life experience of love and loss.

Photo Credit: Aih. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Aih. via Compfight cc

His 35th birthday is this month.

It’ll be his 8th birthday in Heaven.

For JD’s 26th birthday, I surprised him. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Autumn, which made the four hour commute much more enjoyable. My plan had been to show up at his church and spend the day with him.

In the end, it was he who surprised me.

Arriving at the church, I saw his mom greeting people at the door, which is where he was supposed to be. We hugged and she told me he left the house early, but that he’d be there soon. I’ll admit, I was a little bit disappointed. I spent four hours dreaming up the look on his face when I entered the building, but now the moment was lost. Or so I thought.

I began helping his mom hand out bulletins, and greet people as they entered. I knew no one, but they all hugged me and smiled. I was distracted though – my eyes darting to the door whenever someone entered. Finally, I saw those familiar blue eyes. They met mine and his face lit up with such joy and love and it was better than I had dreamed up during my drive.

JD and I hadn’t been dating. We had known each other for a few years, but I could never accept that someone like him could like someone like me. Three years earlier, our eyes had met across a crowded room. We became friends – much closer than any of our classmates had known. We’d spend hours talking on the phone. I’d write him letters. He’d take me out for coffee. I’d find excuses to talk to him. He’d steal my friend’s seats in class to be near me.

It went on like this until graduation. He went back to his hometown and I prepared to move halfway across the US to work in full time ministry. Surprising him for his birthday would be the last time I’d see him before I moved, which is why it was so important to me.

After the hugs and line of questioning, we sat down as church began. I couldn’t tell you a song that was sung that morning, or the theme for the sermon. All I knew is that I was where I should be – next to him. During the message, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I want to take you up to grandma’s.” I looked at him and smiled.

JD’s grandparents had been very important to him. He’d spent hours on their farm as a boy and it was one of his favorite places. Now that his grandparents had passed away, the house was empty, but JD had hoped to make it his own. As we walked through each room, he’d share a special memory or renovations he’d like to make. In one of the side rooms, he pointed out the window to the apple orchard and the vineyards. He continued on to the next room, not noticing I hadn’t moved.

It was there that I knew his dreams were also my dreams.

The fact that JD was dreaming at all was hopeful to me. About a year after we met, he told me he had a terminal illness. He’d had it since he was a little boy and it had him in and out of the hospital. I still remember the night he told me. We were sitting across from one another in the noisy cafeteria eating dinner, but I was focused solely on him. There were lots of questions and he answered them all – I remained calm and collected, but told him I’d be praying and standing with him.

From that night on, I’d spend hours praying for him. Begging Jesus to heal the man I loved.

“Even if he never loves me. Please, God. Please.”

I was more diligent praying for him than for anything or anyone else. It was the fight of my life.

A few months after his birthday, I moved 1,300 miles away from him like I had planned. Each month, I’d send him a letter full of scriptures God had given me, quotes from songs I had heard and prayers that I had been praying for him. We’d talk on the phone when we could and I’d soak in the sound of his voice.

In May 2006, JD was back in the hospital and because of the nature of his disease, it would make it difficult for him to talk – he was on the lung transplant list waiting for a donor match. I received a text message from him that read, “I love you.” He’d never said that to me before. Things had been unspoken between us. I knew where I stood, but my insecurities kept telling me that JD would never love me.

But he did.

I called my best friend that night asking her what she thought it meant. She laughed and said, “It means he loves you, Holly.”

In August, I was able to fly back to visit him. He had been out of the hospital for a few months and I was excited to get time with him and feel his arms wrap around me. The night before my visit, his mom called me and said they had to go back to the hospital, but I was determined to get to him regardless of where he was. I spent the day by his side. In between doctors visits, he’d share the hopes of our future together. After all that time of waiting, he was finally telling me everything I had wanted to hear!

The tears rolled down his face as he told me how tired and discouraged he had become and how he felt like he couldn’t even pray for himself anymore. I reassured him that it didn’t matter because I’d continue to pray for him and that I wouldn’t be giving up.

That was the last day I’d see JD alive.

A few days later, I was sitting in a church, his open casket a few feet away from me. I watched his chest hoping to see it begin to rise and fall.

I thought you were going to heal him, God. Why did you take him from me?! This can’t be real.

The day his mother told me he died, life left me. All of my dreams and hopes for a future were buried six feet under. I just couldn’t figure it out – why would God give me such an amazing man only to take him away before we could enjoy life together? I still ask God that question. I’m not sure He ever plans on answering it.

It’s been eight years without JD and the loss has not gotten any easier. My grief has gotten easier to hide since most people have stopped asking about it. Everyone seems to think that eight years is enough time to “get over it”. They’ve forgotten it – why can’t I? The thing is, I don’t want to get over it or beyond it. I want to experience its depths even when it comes in waves. Waves so fierce they take the air out of me and my heart feels like it’s going to collapse from the weight of the loss.

Each day that goes by, is one more without him. The gap between us ever widening. I’m afraid the details of our time together will become more and more hazy – that I’ll forget the sound of his voice, the blueness of his eyes, or what it felt like to have my hand in his. I grasp on to the memories in an attempt to keep them from slipping away.

Within the past year, I’ve started dreaming again instead of just merely surviving from day to day. The dreams have many more question marks and blanks, but they are beginning to take shape. I’m no longer dreaming with a partner for the adventure, which makes the process that much harder and slower. I didn’t think it would be this way.

I never regretted loving him. I only regret not loving him even more fiercely. For far too long, I had kept myself at an arms length afraid to have my heart broken from rejection. I’ve stopped loving carefully. If I learned anything through losing him, it was that.

Holly H.Thank you Holly for sharing your beautiful and touching story! Feel free to connect with Holly further by visiting her blog, Twitter, her FB page or via Google+.

Holly is a 30-year-old writer who strives to share honestly and transparently in hopes that it will encourage others to be open about their own struggles and lessons learned. She’s been accused of being sassy, which she finds to be an admirable attribute. Her favorite things include: making people laugh, chocolate, sweatshirt weather and authentic conversations over coffee.