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?

6 Ways to Keep Living While Grieving

Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Life is hard.

Living through loss makes it even harder. There is a period of time where you feel dead. Your soul has been ripped out and you just feel numb. When you’re not numb, you hurt. Sometimes numb is better than feeling pain. I used all of my energy each day to just make it through – the paperwork, the processes, paying the bills and making sure my kids had food.

As I was battling to survive each day, I started to remember what Steve and I had promised each other. We promised that no matter what happened to us we would always put our children first. I also promised Steve that I would LIVE life and take care of our children if anything happened to him. Everyday that I spent feeling dead was a day that I was breaking my promise to him.

That broken promise began to become fuel for change. I gave him my word – I became determined to keep it.  It wasn’t easy – I can assure you it was not. However, the story you tell yourself is POWERFUL. You have the choice to be a victim or the champion in your life. As I thought about our children, I wondered what type of role model did I want to be for them?  What did I want them to see when they looked back at this period in their life? I answered these questions for myself. Here are some ways I moved myself from death to life. You can do it too!

1. Identify What’s Most Important

For me, it was showing my girls that they were safe, loved and cared for. They were going through a situation in life that no child should ever have to endure and it was my job to show them that we would make it through this together.

They needed to know that being sad was okay and we could talk about it together – but it was also okay to play.  If I couldn’t pull it together, then my children would have essentially lost two parents in a time that they needed one the most.

2. Focus on What’s in Your Control

I would have given anything to go back to that day and somehow change the outcome – anything! Unfortunately, no amount of tears, focus, guilt, or pleading with God would change the outcome. There was no redo or rewind button.

What I could control was how I engaged with my children. I could choose how I wanted my children to remember their father and I could choose to show my children how to deal with significant life challenges.

3. Ask for Help

Why is it SO hard to ask for help? This is what I am the worst at – even today. After Steve died, I had a crew come out and help me finish the barn which was one of his goals. They did what I could not do alone.

I had to get a tax advisor because I had never done taxes before and had no clue where to start. I sought advice from a friend knew a lawyer to deal with the beneficiary issues.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with non-critical or technical tasks. People want to help and don’t know how – they’ll be happy to help if you give them something specific to do!

4. Write Down Goals That You Had Together

The one that stands out the most for me is taking our girls to Disney World. We had planned to do this in 2-3 years and were really looking forward to it. In my mind I questioned whether I would be able to give our girls this opportunity without a dual income household. I also had immense guilt in thinking that our girls wouldn’t get to experience life the way we had planned as a family, because I couldn’t afford it.

We may not be able to do everything – it may take a few extra years, but I know we will have these adventures together.  Disney became a priority to me and I opted to put a portion of Steve’s savings into a CD, so that the money would be there when we were ready. I’ll find money for bills in another place or another way. Daddy will make our Disney dreams come true after all!

5. Find Your New Life Balance

I realized that I struggle a lot on days that I don’t get enough sleep. Cleaning the house and doing other activities have to wait if sleep is needed instead. Sleep is essential for me to execute on #1 above.

Going for a run also helped immensely. At first, I ended up hyperventilating and really struggled through a lot of workouts – in the end I felt like I accomplished something. Running became my outlet and by the time I finish a run my head is clearer – I feel like I’m back in control of my life – at least for a moment!

6. Lean on a Buzz Word or a Theme Song

I have both. Steve had a wall hanging that I had given him as a father’s day gift one year that hung in his office. It was titled “Perseverance” and for me that word fit. I kept that picture where I could see it and it reminded me that I needed to persevere through this.

Steve also had a love of music and we connected often through the words in a song. There was one song in particular that he played for me when we felt like we were struggling with life – Faith When I Fall. After Steve died, my mind kept repeating the lyrics, “Give me strength when I am standing and faith when I fall.” I’m not sure if Steve put those words in my mind and heart, but those lyrics have repeated themselves in my head thousands of times in this past year – it’s now my theme song.

Different things will work for different people, but these are six ways I found to keep living while I was grieving. They are still things I do to this day! I hope that they help someone else through their grief.

Is there anything else that helped you keep living while grieving?

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?

Widowed Life

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

Living life as a widow is something no one imagines or dreams of.

If you are not a widow – be thankful that you have never had to go through our pain. If you are a widow, know you are not alone. Widows are unique. We have lived through losing our future. We have had to wake up to the empty bed, fallen asleep with unwashed clothes just for the scent, and put on a brave face for the world to ease the discomfort of others. Loss of your spouse shakes you to your core.

Being a widow means surviving through times when you are surprised you can even breathe. It means gaining a mental toughness to handle the challenges of broken dreams and the memories of a life that ended too soon. For widowed parents it means telling your children that their parent is never coming home.

Widows Around Us

Once I became a widow, I started to notice all the widows around me. News of car accidents and plane crashes now make me think that someone else just joined the widowed life. I knew some widows before becoming one, but I never slowed down my life enough to truly attempt to understand their struggles. I certainly never thought I would be forced into this new world.

When I first became a widow I felt alone, scared, and devastated. Friends and family helped me to the absolute best of their ability, but I was acutely aware of the fact that they were able to go back to their normal life and my normal had all but disappeared. My normal had been stolen – shattered, and I had no idea how to even begin to piece it back together. A year out, I can say that it still hasn’t gone back together. Widows have to create a new life to move past surviving and into living again.

Embracing Widowhood

Accepting the term widow is a journey in itself. Months went by before I started to even say the word. Now it’s like a second name.  The word used to make me think of an old woman, who wears black all the time, surrounded by gray and dreary days.  I couldn’t wrap my head around associating that word with me.  I can now tell people that I am a widow without feeling uncomfortable.  The term “widow” describes something that happened to you, it does not describe YOU.

Being a widow means that you loved, lost, and survived. I was lucky enough to have been married to my best friend and honestly the best person I ever met in my life. Many people in this world never know that feeling. I was proud to be his wife – one thing I can do to remember the love we had in our marriage is to be honored to be his widow. He lived his vows and truly loved me “until death do us part”. What more could I have asked for?

Learning From Experience

My saving grace came in the form of other widows. Although I knew a few, I never realized how many widows were already in my life! Widows are like a hidden group of beautiful souls that have been forever changed.

My aunt became a widow when my uncle passed away in his early 40’s from cancer. I cried at the funeral and celebrated when she started dating again. But, in-between? Nothing. I didn’t know how to help – or that I should.

I met another widow at a neighborhood party hosted by Steve’s aunt and uncle. I had met this person a few times before, but never knew she had been widowed. She asked how I was doing in a way that only those that have walked through grief would understand. She gave me advice about making decisions that result in my and my children’s happiness. Most importantly she shared her story with me about the social stigmas of being a widow.

Society thinks there is an “appropriate” time to grieve. Some would say it is a year, some two years, while others are concerned if you couldn’t pull your life together in a couple months. In the grieving process you move too slow or too quick – there’s no just enough that is spelled out for you. You start to wonder what is wrong with you.

This is where we can help. Widows helping widows is POWERFUL. There is hope, guidance, and normalcy that can only be offered by those that have walked before you on this journey. It is a journey indeed and often one of self discovery.

For the Non-Widows

Have you ever been divorced? Lost a sibling or a child? Do you know someone who has been there? It’s a lonely place to be. My goal is to help those that are going through any life altering event. There are no winners or losers in the grief journey. There is no competition or measuring stick about who’s journey is worse.

We need to accept that life is the journey. Some of us are thrown hand grenades that forever alter our course. We all know someone who has had a life altering experience through divorce or death. We are all in this together.

Why Blog?

This blog was started with the hope that by sharing my story I can have a positive impact on others. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this journey and a lot about what it means to be prepared for the worst in life. There will be tactical, easy activities that you can complete within a couple hours to ensure you are prepared for the unexpected. I want everyone to be prepared – ideally before a life altering event. Most importantly I want you to know that you are not alone.

In the past I was guilty of temporarily feeling sorry for someone that just lost a spouse and then moving on with my life. Occassionally I would say to Steve, “I can’t imagine ever losing you.”  Your mind goes there after hearing of someone else’s loss (or at least mine did) and it was horrible to imagine. The imagery was was nothing compared to reality.

People surround you and help, but then everyone else gets to go back to their own life.  Their life may be altered by the loss, but as a new widow, you are left with the ashes of a life. It’s almost as if there is no life to return to. It takes time, strength, and sheer persistence to literally start your life over.

My goal is to make it OK to be a widow. There are a lot of “young” widows in this world and I want to empower us to make a difference together. Widowhood is now synonymous with strength in my mind – I don’t have a life like any of my friends. I don’t live a life that people dream of. In fact, one moment in my life reflects most people’s deepest fears.  One moment.

What I have come to realize is that there is one moment in time that changed my life forever.  One simple moment.  One decision that I would have made 100 percent of the time.  Steve did exactly what I would have done and yet, that decision resulted in the end of his life.

One moment changes a life, but it doesn’t have to define it.  What defines life is how you live each day. Being a widow means seeing the world differently than everyone else around you. Let’s embrace our differences together, empower one another, and give each other strength.

Are you a part of the Widow Club? Feel free to share your story in the comments or reach out to us via the contact page.

10 Learnings From My First Year As a Widow

10 Learning's From My First Year As a WidowOne year ago I lost my best friend, my husband, and the father of my children.

I also lost myself. Losing a spouse means losing the person you planned your life with. You lose the future as you had dreamt it. These past 12 months have taken me to the very depths of my soul. It completely drained me of everything – and forced me to find myself again.

Reinventing myself meant finding my new purpose in life. My husband, Steve, had a purpose. He wanted to be remembered as a man devoted to his family and a person that contributed to making our home, Valley City, North Dakota, a great place to live.

At his funeral, I realized that he achieved his goals – in spades. Weird as it sound, his funeral motivated me. The world lost a great man and now I needed to figure out how to live my life with a purpose to honor him. In short – that is why this blog exists.

I’m learning that a big part of my purpose is my desire to positively contribute to other people’s lives. Where this adventure leads me is yet to be fully known, but if I can make a difference for even one person my time writing is well spent.

Through my new world as a widow I have come to see life a little differently. I hope to connect with widows and non-widows alike, as we all try to get the most out of this one life we have. Through my experiences over the last year, I now see the world differently – in a way I wish I would have seen it all along. Here are ten ways my perspective has changed.

1. Amazing People Exist Everywhere

A person I hardly knew became my daily support, confidant, and shoulder to cry on. I also met widows that gave me great unsolicited advice and affirmation that all of the mixed emotions (highs and lows) I experienced were completely normal. They helped me feel okay when nothing in life was normal.

There are times in life where you need people that have walked in your shoes. It reaffirms that you are neither alone, nor losing your mind. Connecting with others in my grief helped me to see these beautiful souls and how they lived their life after loss. They gave me strength and the belief that not only would I get through the grief, but I would be able to live again.

There were also many people that truly stepped up to help me during this past year. There are so many “little” things that truly make a big difference to a new widow – there will be a future post on this topic!

2. Make Sure to Implement Your Financial Plan

My husband ran the finances in our marriage. A few months before Steve died I commented to him that if anything ever happened to him I wouldn’t know where to start. He turned on his computer and showed me where all of our financial information resided.

When he passed and I had to start figuring things out, I realized this information was only the tip of the iceberg of what I actually needed. Even though he was a financial savvy guy, there were some small details that were missed that left a big impact on our family.

I’ve learned a lot about personal finances through my experience. I’d like to help others avoid some of the financial oversights we made by sharing some of the simple plans I have put into place since his passing to ensure all of our affairs are truly in order if something happens to me.

3. Kids Are Amazing

They are the most resilient, innocent, and best things in life – period. We have two children who were two and four when Steve passed away. I always called Steve the 75% parent, because he was. He lived for our girls and I realized that I need to truly engage in their life.

I used to be content to sit back and watch them play or stay behind the camera. No more. It HAS to be me and I have to make time for play. My kids are amazing and they inspire me to be the best I can be. They deserve the best of me!

4. Life Isn’t Perfect

I used to think that I had to be okay, even if I wasn’t. I felt like I needed to live like everything was under control and “perfect” from the outside looking in. No more – I am a real person with real feelings. I have good days and bad days. I have reasons to feel extremely blessed and reasons to feel cheated. Don’t we all? Let’s be real together.

5. Sunsets and Sunrises Are Windows Into Heaven

Have you ever stopped your life just to watch the sun rise or set? Have you ever set time aside to just clear your mind and see the beauty in these moments? A sunrise or sunset is a metaphor for so many things in life. There is beauty all around this world if we just pause for a moment to truly see it.

6. I Have An Angel

Life does exist after death. I struggled for a period of time wondering if there was a God. If there was, how could he take such an amazing father, husband and contributor to the world? Then I realized we are given angels on Earth to teach us how to live. I had an angel on Earth and now I have an angel in heaven.

I have a whole new consciousness and accountability knowing that I live on Earth for both of us. Steve lives through me. I’ve been given signs, as have multiple members of our family that he is still with us.

My faith has been strengthened through this loss because I had to truly believe that heaven exists. It has to exist or I will never see Steve again. That is a reality that I cannot and will not accept. Someday, I will go home to Steve. After all, the last thing I ever said to him was, “I’ll see you at home.” I didn’t know how true that statement was at the time.

Mitch Albom said it best, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

7. Focus On Your Story

Goodbyes make you think about the story you made together and the chapters that were left to write.  The story that has been written never changes or diminishes. For those that remain, the ending is yet to be written.  Life is too short – write the story you would love to read!

IMG_40298. Write (and Keep) Love Notes

Love notes from Steve have become treasures to me. When I first lost my husband I felt this deep guilt and regret for not being a better wife. I regretted the times I was upset with him as what we were fighting about now seems trivial. I wondered if I ever told him how much he truly meant to me.

Then I found the letters. Not only can I see the love he had for me in his own handwriting, but I have tangible proof that while I was far from perfect I did tell him how important and loved he was in my life.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.” ~unknown

9. Journaling Helps

I was never one to sit and journal, but I started to write after Steve died. Fear was my motivator. Fear that I would forget the memories that kept flooding into my mind. Fear that something would happen to me and my children would never know these stories.

I found that writing gave me an outlet. It helped to calm my anxieties. In the moments when I was crying so hard I could barely breathe, I would do the only thing I could do – write. Calling someone was out of the question because I couldn’t even speak. I wouldn’t have known what to say anyway.

Being a widow is a lonely place, even with a lot of well meaning, caring, and genuine people around you. I very rarely started writing in my journal with a plan. I would just pick it up and write whatever came to my mind. Over time, I realized that each of my journal entries naturally flowed from memories or situations out of my control into what action I could take, or what changes I would make to my life to honor my memories.

I found that by the time I finished writing in my journal I was more relaxed, felt more confident, and had the start of a plan – all without even trying! If you are struggling with anything – grief, weight, relationships – pick up a pen and randomly write what is on your mind. You’ll be amazed and what you find within yourself!

10. Life Is What You Make It

No more and no less. Each day is a new opportunity to CHOOSE how to live your life. Only you can control the outcome of each day. Be aware of the “can’ts” or “shoulds” in your head. Then get your game face on and prove yourself different!

I plan on expanding on all of these learning’s in their own posts over time, but when I sat down and thought about this last year – my first as a widow, these are the things that came to mind. When you haven’t experienced a loss in this capacity, it can be hard to really understand the gravity of how your life will change. I hope that you’ll take the time to appreciate the loved ones in your life a little more today – maybe even write a love note or two!

Have you experienced a similar loss? If so, is there something you would add to my list of learnings?

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