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

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

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

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

That Awkward Moment

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

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

Breaking the News to a New Date

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

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

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

You Have a Date – Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the News to Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Simple Ways to Show Your Support

1. Ask About the New Person

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

2. Meet the Individual

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

3. Invite the Couple to Socialize

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

4 Tips for the Widow/Divorcee

1. Don’t Feel Shame About Your Relationship

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

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

2. Consider Your Public Relationship

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

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

3. Find a Word You Are Comfortable With

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

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

3. Surround Your Relationship With Support

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

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

My New Perspective

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

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

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

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

Weddings and Widows

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

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

Life Goes On

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

Pray for the Happiness of Others

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

Vows Are More than Words

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

‘Til Death Do Us Part Is Real

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

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

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

Your Heart Will Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Wedding Is Different

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

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

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

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

Participation In “Single” Activities

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

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

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

Attending and Celebrating Life Events Is Good for the Soul

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

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

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

Leaving a Legacy Through Education

College GraduateEducation is important.

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

Building a Legacy

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

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

Leaving a Legacy

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

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

Awarding Scholarships

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

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

The Recipients

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

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

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

Mixed Emotions

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

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

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

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

More Than Money

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Will Folsom via Compfight cc

Building a Bucket List – Part 3!

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

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

Read part one and part two here!

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

Dreaming as Children

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

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

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

An Ultimate Career List

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Made Our List

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Travel

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

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

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

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?