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?

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?

My Experience with Life Insurance – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Photo Credit: feministjulie via Compfight cc Photo Credit: feministjulie via Compfight cc

Figuring out and obtaining enough life insurance is a task that is easy to put off, forget about or wrongly assume that you have enough of it.

Steve and I knew that we didn’t have enough. We took action and worked with a financial advisor to understand what we would likely need and were given quotes for different types of coverage. We completed our applications and only had our blood tests and physicals left to do.

Then, life got in the way. The applications proceeded to the bottom of the pile on our desk, which is equivalent to a black hole. We never got it done. Then Steve died.

Knowing that we did not have the coverage that we needed added A LOT of financial stress to an already extremely emotional and overwhelming time. When you add the surprise beneficiary issues I ran into, it made the worst time in my life even tougher.

Life insurance was one of many things I relied on Steve to handle. I trusted him implicitly, so when he said what we needed I agreed. After he died, I needed to learn a lot of things. One of my priorities was to learn more about life insurance.

Combing through my life insurance policies and adding additional coverage was a very high priority for me. I had to make sure that my girls would be financially okay if anything ever happened to me.  Here is what I learned (the hard way) about the different types of life insurance that are out there.

I am NOT a financial advisor, so before you decide what you need please pursue professional advice.

Term Life Insurance

Term life policies provide life insurance protection for a specific period of time. If you live past the end of the term, the policy simply terminates unless it is renewed. Renewal at that point tends to be extremely expensive.

With guaranteed level term insurance both the premium and the amount of coverage (death benefit) remain level for a set period of time, i.e. 10, 15 or 20 years are all very common. Many policies are also convertible to permanent coverage for a portion or all of the term.

You can also secure group term insurance through your employer benefits (provided you have them). Typically these are not portable, so if you leave your job (or your job leaves you), you no longer have coverage. Usually it makes the most sense to have some sort of individual life insurance.

Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent insurance policies provide protection for your entire life as long as you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. With a permanent policy, a portion of each payment goes to the cost of insurance and a portion goes into a savings or investment account that can build over time.

This cash value grows tax-deferred as long as the policy is in force (and you follow the rules). If you cancel the policy before you die, you will receive the cash value in the account (minus any surrender charges), but may be subject to taxation (depending on your cost basis).

There are other definitions that are used to represent different types of permanent life insurance.

  • Whole life enables a person to make equal payments for their life or as long as they want the policy in effect. The death benefit and cash value are predetermined and guaranteed. Gerber life is a good example of this.
  • Universal life allows policyholders to pay premiums at any time, in any amount (within set limits), as long as the policy expenses and the insurance costs are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed and the cash value will grow at a predetermined interest rate. The interest rate may vary over the length of the policy, but there is usually a guaranteed minimum.
  • Variable life also enables a person to pay a level premium for their life. The difference between this type of policy and the whole life policy is that the death benefit and cash value will fluctuate depending o the performance of investments. This policy has sub-accounts which are similar to mutual funds. Another way to think of this money is a pool of investor funds professionally managed. The policy owner has the ability to select the sub-accounts in which their money is invested (from the available list) to coincide with their individual risk tolerance.
  • Variable universal life is a combination of universal and variable life insurance. A person can pay premiums at any time and amount (within limits) as long as the costs are covered. The amount of the insurance coverage can be changed and the cash value goes up or down based on investment performance in the sub-accounts.

My Experience Filing Claims

Some insurance companies give policy holders the option for “extras” such as accident, cancer, or long term disability coverage. Generally speaking (and depending on the cost) they may be worth it. I say “may” because of the experience I had. Steve had three different policies through three different companies.

One company (Aflac) refused to pay out the policy because of their long list of exclusions. The second company (MetLife) paid out the entire amount only to request half of it back – apparently due to a policy change that no one could find documented. PLEASE hang on to your actual insurance policy and any policy changes, especially those with your signature on it.

I fought this one and asked them to produce the copy that showed the new exclusions (I apparently had the “old” policy which did not list the contested exclusion) and they never produced it. They eventually turned it into collections and threatened court all without ever producing the proof – how awful is that?

The cost of fighting it coupled with the fact that I was fighting to survive each day forced me to return half the money without having the simple courtesy of seeing Steve’s signature accepting a change.

The third company (Dakota Capital Life) is a private life insurance fund and they paid the whole amount. I was beyond grateful to this organization for not trying to get out of what they owed.

Do Your Homework

Read the exclusions in each policy and determine if the exclusions are so far reaching and vague that they will exclude any “likely” cause of death for you. Compare the exclusions to your normal activities. Some companies are great – while others seem to be there to collect money, but never pay.

There are a ton of options out there – don’t let the extensive list keep you from taking action. Life insurance is an investment, whether you buy a term or a permanent contract. We all hope it is something that ultimately isn’t needed due to a premature death.

Remember, the policy isn’t for you – it is for those that you leave behind. The small cost is absolutely worth it.

What I Did

Again – I am not a financial advisor!  I opted for a 30 year term life insurance policy. My reasoning was this – in 30 years I will not have a mortgage. My children will be out of college and I will have enough cash saved in my retirement accounts to cover all of my final expenses and any debts I may have at that time.

The primary goal of my life insurance is to ensure my children are taken care of if God forbid something happened to me. As adults, I fully expect them to be capable of paying all of their own bills. The 30 year term policy was really affordable, it can be cancelled when/if it is no longer needed and my rate is locked in until I am 59, which is great!

The policy is not tied to an employer – it is my own personal policy. Having this coverage means I do not need to rely on an employer to provide it and it can’t change as benefit packages change.

I also have a second life insurance policy through my employer. This policy allows me to have 8X my annual salary, up to a specified amount. I chose the max, so as my annual salary increases (hopefully!), so does my coverage until I hit the limit.

This policy also allowed me to have up to $10,000 of coverage on each of my children. I chose to include that coverage since I know too well that unexpected nightmares do happen.

The total cost of Steve’s funeral, cremation and headstone well surpassed $10,000. Death is expensive – please make sure you have some coverage for those left behind. I hope that by me sharing my journey full of challenges, that you’ll do things differently while you still have time.

When’s the last time you looked at your coverage? Do you know where your policies physically are?

Building a Bucket List – Part 2

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Last week I started writing about my bucket list and why I think everyone should have one. I shared some of the locations that we wanted to visit and some different events that we wanted to attend too!

One of them was New York and somewhere that Steve and I actually got to experience together before he passed. Here are a few additional categories you should consider when putting together your own list.

Service to Others

Steve and I worked hard for what we had in life, but we also realized that we had a lot to be thankful for. We talked about ways we could help keep our children humble in a world that can be very materialistic.

One opportunity that we were pursuing was the chance to participate in a mission trip. We had been looking at Africa, since an African safari was also on our list. I reached out to my company’s corporate citizenship office to see what organizations they supported. We started investigating and found that there were opportunities to teach children and adults how to do anything from starting a small business, to reading and farming.

These opportunities seemed to be a good fit with our passions in life. We wanted to make sure we stayed grounded and gave back by sharing our gifts with other parts of the world. We also had planned on having our kids participate with us once they reached their pre-teen and teenage years. We didn’t get a chance to pursue it before Steve died, but it’s still on my list!

Another item on Steve’s list was to start a nursing scholarship at VCSU in his mom’s name. He thought it would be a great way to honor her service, compassion and knowledge of the nursing profession. He never got the chance to fulfill that dream, but it’s how I got the idea to start a scholarship in his name.

I did not directly fulfill his bucket list item, but I was able to share his idea with his mom who was honored that he had even thought about taking that action. His scholarship does fulfill his dream of educating others even though he isn’t physically teaching people himself anymore.

He wanted to make a difference and anyone that knew him, knew he did. The scholarship enables him to make a difference in the lives of VCSU students forever. Next week I get to meet the first three scholarship recipients – I can’t wait. I’ll be sure to recap this experience soon!

Showing Love 

The bucket list activity that I was most excited for was our decision to renew our vows every 5 years. Our first time was going to be in St.Lucia in January of 2014. The trip was booked and we were excited to write our own vows to each other. We planned to have pictures taken and build on those memories as we continued to grow older together. The first trip was going to be just the two of us, but we had planned to include our children on each trip after.

Steve melted my heart when he shared that one of his dreams was to kiss me under a waterfall – and he didn’t think he was romantic! After learning this we decided to make sure we took the opportunity to visit a waterfall in St. Lucia. In fact, it was one of the reasons we chose that island.

While this is a bucket list item I cannot fulfill without Steve, the premise of showing our girls what love is is certainly something that I can do. I can show them how to love with their full heart, knowing full well that they may get hurt. Through the pain comes growth – no matter what stage in life you are in – and that growth is an opportunity to move forward with confidence. I hope I show them not only how to love, but how to live through adversity and continually grow as an individual.

An Ever-Changing List

The beauty of the list is that it is dynamic and fluid. Just as life changes, so does my list. Every time I go on Pinterest I seem to find more beautiful places in the world that I want to see with my own eyes. Someday, I will ask my kids to make their own list and those items will become part of my list.

A new relationship also brings a new opportunity to add to the list. I’m now dating someone named Jon. He and I reviewed the list I had with Steve and added his to dreams to it. Now we have a list that holds the dreams and desires of all three of us.

This process made me appreciate how truly special Jon is to be willing to help me live out Steve’s dreams, as well as my own. Jon’s 40th birthday is coming up and originally he didn’t want to do anything special. Steve never made it to 40 and I really wanted to celebrate this milestone.

We went through our list and narrowed down the options before finally settling on Macchu Picchu. I would have been excited to go, but that excitement is magnified knowing that I get to live out one of Jon’s dreams with him as he reaches a point in life that Steve did not live to see. Together, we get to LIVE his day.

Dreams Can Come True

Dreaming about how to live life made me excited to live it. Every day was one day closer to our next adventure and I became excited to explore the world. The list made me understand what I could do to fulfill Steve’s dreams and gave me motivation to save for the experiences.

Our bucket list will continue to grow and change. I cannot wait to add the girls’ dreams to it too and start making those special memories together. Over time, this list will help me show the girls the things their dad loved and share with them why each item was on the list.

We didn’t just write things things down, we took the time to understand and the reasons behind each item will be fun to share with our girls. This list will help the girls understand who their father was, what he enjoyed, and where we had dreamed of taking them together. The list brings direction and purpose to our lives, in a way that also honors their father. It’s a beautiful thing.

Have you started your list? What other category would you add to these bucket list ideas?

My Bucket List – Why You Should Start One Too!

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Bucket lists – they seem to be all the rage these days, but for good reason!

A bucket list to me is just a written list of your hopes and dreams. I find myself adding more and more to mine as I learn more about this world that we live in. After writing this post, I realized how true this is and promptly split this into a two-parter. Welcome to part one of two!

Building a Bucket List

There were many times that I tried to get Steve to sit down and create a bucket list with me. He was not really interested. I found it important because I felt like part of my job as his wife was to make sure his dreams came true – I couldn’t do this if I didn’t understand what they were!

When you are married to your best friend, you want to experience their dreams with them. Steve was a giver and was truly happy making other people happy. This is why he was content just living off of my list. But I know that every person has things that they want to do in life – for themselves.

What he failed to realize is the power of a written dream, a written goal, a written desire. You might not check them all off as done, but you’re sure to make a lot more progress (and have a lot more fun) if you have a list to begin with! Once I explained why it was important to me, he was willing to put his list down on paper.

My bucket list also helped me prioritize my desires. There are things that I have done this past year simply because I had an opportunity to live the list. Knowing that these experiences were on it made them even more special. I took a little extra time to slow down that day. I focused on making memories that represented the dream I had when I wrote that item down. Here are some of the categories that I used to make mine – consider them when making your own. Just remember, it’s your list – and don’t forget to dream big!

Destinations

There are many places in this world that I want to go. My list is broken up into places of exploration, relaxation and culture.

My culture list focuses a lot on Europe. It’s a big place – I want to see almost all of it! I love experiencing different cultures. I want to ride the train from country to country and find places to eat and stay along the way. I specifically have Ireland, Italy, the Fjords, Greece, the UK and the Alps on my list. Exploration can be found via hiking, biking and various drives.

Under exploration I have the Grand Canyon, Alaska, Africa, and New Zealand along with a few others. A few more simple options like Yellowstone Park, Medora (ND) and spending a week in the black hills of South Dakota were on our joint list.

I see myself relaxing someday in the Maldives, Bali and Hawaii. Yes, please!

Steve had a few historical locations on his list like both Fenway and Wrigley park.

One of the last things on Steve’s list was to drive around the US as a family. He did this growing up with the Eggert family and his own in a school bus. It was one of his favorite childhood memories. I would prefer flying – so the jury is still out on this one, since I wouldn’t get to experience it with Steve. I would still like to explore the US – once I get somewhere I love to drive, wander and eat local.

Events

Sports and music are two things that both Steve and I loved. Steve wanted to see a Cowboys game in AT&T Stadium, a Yankees game in their old stadium (which we did!), a Superbowl and an All-Star game. I’ve always wanted to see the National Finals Rodeo and he made that dream come true for my 29th birthday. It’s one of my fondest memories!

Steve was more the music buff than I. We both wanted to see Garth Brooks live – Steve wanted us to go together, since it was his all-time favorite concert.

Family

We had a dream of taking our girls on a vacation every year. Depending on our financial situation it may be something simple like camping and fishing in Northern Minnesota, or it could be as big as the Disney World trip. We figured we could alternate a trip that included airfare and one that we could drive to each year. The premise was to focus on something that the girls were learning in school as they got older (to make education more fun). Education through quality family time in a new place – perfection!

We had dreams to take the girls to some of our favorite places and also give them some of the adventures we had dreamed of as children. This included Disney World, Wisconsin Dells, and skiing in the mountains.

Connecting together through experiences and travel was one of the ways that we dreamed about our future. Providing educational and bonding experiences to our girls was also our desire. Of course we wanted a strong family – we also wanted to experience all that this earth had to offer while we were on it. Even though Steve passed before we could check a lot of things off, I’m still striving to make as many of these things happen as I can. For me – for him – for our girls.

What is one of the travel destinations or music/sporting events that you are most excited about bringing to fruition from your personal bucket list?

Do You Have Enough Life Insurance?

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

Life insurance – not typically anyone’s favorite topic of conversation.

Even though it’s not fun to think/talk about, it’s oh so necessary – when you don’t have enough of it, you REALLY feel it.

Erin and Steve actually had two new term policies sitting on their desk at home. All they needed to do was finish the underwriting process – but they didn’t. Hopefully Erin’s Story will motivate you to take action – TODAY!

Life insurance is a complex topic. Everyone has an opinion on it – and they are often vastly different from one another. Rather than focus on which types of life insurance are best/most appropriate, let’s focus instead on getting the right amount in place – for your family.

 How Much Is Enough?

Wouldn’t it be easy if you knew the answer to that question with 100% certainty? It seems to be an ever-changing number for most. It’s a number that’s also completely unique to your situation – dependent on your lifestyle, income, number/age of children, level of debt, etc.

It doesn’t help that there are so many theories on how to calculate the right answer either. You could take a human life value approach, debt pay-off, or straight up income replacement. Or some combination of those three.

This CNN Money article talks about someone that makes $50,000 per year should have anywhere from $250-500k in coverage. The New York Times on the other hand claims that the life insurance industry’s rule of thumb is 10x your annual salary. Which is right? Both are generalizations – not specific to your situation. Take some time to think about your individual family’s needs and ask yourself the following questions to get closer to the answer.

Good Questions to Ask

  • Do you have a survivor need? Is anyone depending on you that if you died today would be negatively impacted? Are you depending on anyone else?
  • How much debt to you have? Make a list of your liabilities – mortgage and consumer debt and tally it up. Would your family continue to live in your current home if you passed away today?
  • What are your family’s expenses? How would they change if something happened to you or your spouse? Would you need to hire help for the home or additional childcare?
  • How much are you currently saving? What are your savings goals? Are you wanting to help your children with college tuition costs? Are you on track to fund your retirement goal?
  • Are you making any rate of return or inflation assumptions? Are they realistic?

Figuring It out for Yourself

I think it’s important that you play out the scenario in your head to see how your family would be impacted without you here. If you contribute to the household financially, how much would it cost to sufficiently replace you? Would the goals of your remaining family members still be carried out?

If you’re the primary caregiver, how would your family replace you? Would they have to hire outside help? How much would that cost? Besides caring for the children, are there things that you’re responsible for that would still need to get done (home maintenance, etc)?

What about a grieving period? Would you want to make sure that you could provide for your spouse to not work for a period of time if you could?

More Art Than Science

As you can see calculating your life insurance needs is more of an art than a science in most cases. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of having a little too much than not enough. It may make sense to calculate straight income replacement (like the 10x your annual salary assumption above) AND try to calculate your needs by answering some of the above questions.

Compare the two – are they very far apart? If you’re still unsure (or not wanting to do the math yourself), consult a professional – either a financial planner that can evaluate your entire situation or an insurance professional that can help you to look at your individual life insurance needs.

Take Action

Take a few minutes today to tally up what coverage (if any) you currently have in place. Ask yourself some of the above questions to get an idea if it is in the ballpark of being enough.

Seek help if you’re still unsure. Figure out how much life insurance you need and then make sure to start/complete the application process – TODAY!

Have you been putting off reviewing your life insurance coverage?

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10 Simple Ways to Help Someone Grieving

The death of an individual causes a ripple affect across family and friends – even across communities.

Many times people are at a loss of what they can do to help those that are grieving. I’ve been there and bet you have too.

Now that I have been on the other side of the tragedy, I know how much of a difference simple gestures can make. Here are ten meaningful ways that people helped me in the last year.

1. Take Time to Talk

Give the gift of your memories. Take the time to talk to your friend or family member about their loved one. They may not do much talking, but those of us that are grieving love to hear you memories of our loved one.  It means you loved them too.

One of my fears was that my children wouldn’t know their father and that he would be forgotten by all but our immediate families. Hearing friends, family, acquaintances – even total strangers tell me a story or a way that Steve impacted their life helped me realize that he will never be forgotten.

These stories help me focus on the legacy that he left. They remind me to live the story that I would want others to tell.

2. Tell Stories to Children

Share age-appropriate stories with the children that are grieving the loss of their loved one. Steve was a hero to his daughters. They were both daddy’s girls through and through. I needed to make sure that he maintained super-hero status in their minds.

I share stories about how special their dad was on earth and about his character traits that made him an exceptional human being. I also make it a point to talk about their “angel daddy” every day. It may be through a huge bout of tears, it may be a statement about how proud he would be of them, or it may be a special place I take them to that reminds me of their father. We talk about him – and by talking, we keep him alive.

3. Gift a Tree or Plant

One family sent me an oak tree from Seeds of Life as a memorial gift. I kept this little tree in my house over the winter and tried to pick the perfect spot to plant it. I decided on my parents’ house because I wanted to plant it somewhere that I knew wouldn’t change for me.

My father chose to plant it in the middle of their front lawn – right by the play yard. When I asked him why he chose that location, away from all the other trees, he simply stated, “This way Steve’s tree can watch his children play and grow.” The girls know it as Daddy’s tree and they see it every time they visit. This is truly a legacy gift for someone mourning – especially if they have a special place to plant it.

4. Gift a Picture Book

Shutterfly (among others) allow you to upload pictures and make a photo book online. I made a book for each of my girls – focused on pictures of each of them with their Dad. When he passed away they wanted to see him and I knew individual pictures would never last.

Recently I asked Reanna what her favorite book was and she replied, “the book about me and Daddy.” Make a picture book for children or adults. It is still on my list to get one done for me, but I continue to struggle completing one for myself..

5. Write Down and Share Favorite Stories

I asked people to do this at Steve’s prayer service and funeral. Those stories and notes still give me comfort – I share them with our daughters often.

Having stories about their Daddy from other people’s perspective has been wonderful.  I would love to have a thousand more stories about Steve. It doesn’t matter if it has been one day, one month, one year or ten years – a written story about a loved one is a treasure.

Take the time to pick up your pen and jot down the first story that comes to mind and give it to the family. This gesture is priceless and timeless.

6. Make a Keepsake

Consider sewing a quilt, blanket or re-purposing other items that were special to the deceased.

Steve loved playing softball and he had a stack of championship t-shirts to prove it. I gave them to his mom who is planning to cut out the logos and numbers and sew them into a quilt.

7. Gift Small Tokens to Children

Find small gifts for children for different holidays or just because as a surprise. They can be homemade gifts or store bought. Some of the ladies that I work with got together and gave Reanna and Kaelyn each gifts on their birthdays, at Halloween and at Christmas.

They also gave me a gift basket full of stuff for Christmas. They were true “treats” – a free day of babysitting, salon/spa gift certificate, bath bar, chocolate, etc. This was very generous and reminded me that people truly care and are thinking about me and my girls. I was touched.

8. Make a Dream Come True

Identify a tradition, dream, or goal of the deceased, the couple’s or of the grieving person. Help make it come true! This is true for also continuing on traditions. Close counts in either case.

Steve had a passion for woodworking. My sister and her husband found the plans he had to make rocking horses for our girls and made the horses for them. Watching our girls tear off the wrapping and ride those horses was the best gift I could have ever gotten. They made one of Steve’s dreams for his daughters come true.

I’ll also be sharing my bucket list soon – as well as how others have helped me cross items off.

9. Send a Card

Buy a card or quickly jot down a note and send it. Even an email saying you’re thinking of them is nice to receive.

Anything that you can do to show that you care and can appreciate their grief makes a difference. Pick a random day and send  – today if you have someone in mind!

10. Bring Food

Don’t ask what you can do or what you can make.  Simply state that you are planning to make that person dinner one night and ask which night is convenient. Or just make something and drop it off.

One co-worker did this and it left no excuse for me to say no – plus it was great to have a meal. Especially one that I didn’t have to make. After a significant loss it is a struggle to breathe, let alone cook and bake. Getting the gift of wholesome food is amazing!

Thank You

A big thank you to all of you that helped me in this past year. Your thoughtfulness and generosity was truly touching.

Even though my grieving period isn’t over – I’m not sure it’ll ever be – you helped me to make it through the most difficult time of my life. Thank You!

What else would you add to this list?

Do you have any experience being on the receiving end?

The Importance of Updating Your Beneficiaries

The Importance of Updating Your Beneficiaries

photo credit: Dwonderwall via photopin cc

Not paying attention to how life events can impact your financial affairs can be devastating. Just ask Erin.

Updating beneficiaries after a marriage, divorce or death can be inconvenient and in some cases painful, but it is also oh so important! Any of these life events should trigger the “to do” of reviewing your financial situation as a whole.

We’d like to share a bit of Erin’s story and how a slight oversight can have great effects should something unexpected happen. Hopefully this will motivate you to make any changes you’ve been putting off and/or check with your loved ones to make sure they have recently reviewed their own beneficiary designations.

Inheritance to the Wrong People

Steve, Erin’s deceased husband, had overlooked changing the beneficiary on his employer 401(k) plan after they got married. He had updated the rest of his financial assets and policies, but missed this one. His beneficiary never got changed from his nieces – the three that were alive when he started working for his company in the mid-90’s. He had worked there for 15 years before he unexpectedly passed away in August of 2013.

When Erin went to transfer the account into her own name, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t the beneficiary listed on the plan. Since he and his employer had been contributing to this account for the past decade and a half, it had a significant balance – enough to make a difference in the lives of his wife and two young daughters that were left behind.

If you’re left money you can decide to accept it or disclaim it – meaning that you reject the gift. This is done commonly when mistakes (or oversights) are made or if the beneficiary doesn’t feel that they need the resources. Disclaiming a gift relieves your personal tax burden and passes the burden onto the person that accepts the money.  If the money is disclaimed by the beneficiaries is it allocated into the decedent’s estate for management.

Unfortunately his designated beneficiaries didn’t agree with Erin – that Steve would have left his 401(k) plan to his wife and kids and they decided to keep the money for themselves.

Erin begged and pleaded with them to change their mind. She reminded them of Steve’s passion for education and the fact that he would have wanted his hard earned money to be used to ensure his children could receive a quality education for their future. The request to put even a portion of the money into a 529 for their children was denied.

Since his three nieces were listed, she had little recourse and had to accept the situation as is. Unfortunately people don’t always react the way you thought they would when it comes to money after a death. If you believe people will make the same decisions as you would when you are gone – think again!

Review Beneficiaries Regularly

For most people, there is no need to review beneficiaries annually. As mentioned above any major life event should trigger a review however. Especially marriage, birth of children (or grandchildren), divorce and death should warrant a review and potentially changes.

Old employer retirement plans are often overlooked. So are current 401(k)’s, POD’s (payable on deaths) on bank accounts and TOD’s (transfer on deaths) on non-qualified brokerage accounts. You can also add property beneficiary designations to real estate in many states these days, which you file with your county recorder.

One consideration for beneficiary planning is to have at least one cash account listed as a POD to the person that would help manage your funeral plans. This will ensure that funds are available immediately for initial expenses without putting an undue burden on your trusted person.

Take Action

We’ll expand on estate planning more in future posts, but for now please take a few minutes to compile a spreadsheet of your current assets/accounts and make sure you document who the beneficiary is on each of them. If you are not 100% sure, request a new beneficiary form and complete it immediately. If you don’t have a beneficiary listed, consider adding someone. This will avoid the probate process.

Keeping a spreadsheet of your accounts, the contact information of the account, and the beneficiary will ensure that you have an easy reference document. Once this document is created you can easily review your beneficiaries on an annual basis in 30 minutes or less.  Think of this time as an investment in your family’s future.

Due note that the beneficiary designation on an account will ALWAYS trump what is listed in your will. This is often misunderstood!

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