Monday, May 19, 2014

MORE CONFESSIONS: Sisters are Sometimes the Best Medicine

Catherine and Kristi
A few months after Brad died, I took on the task of finding the right headstone.  Now, this turned out to be more complicated than I thought it would be because I had something very specific in mind for his peaceful spot on the side of the mountain.  I wanted something natural and beautiful.  Something that would look great in the mountains and would reflect his personality.

I settle on getting a boulder - not a stone, a boulder - which I knew would be a little pricy, but I wanted to do this right.  After all, how many husbands was I going to bury?

After a couple of weeks, I was surprisingly excited when they called and said that it had been completed and installed in its new home.  I mean, this was no small task.  Brad was buried on the side of a mountain, after all, and this was a huge rock the company had to lay a cement foundation so that it wouldn't eventually roll down the hill and then they had to hand-carry that sucker in.

So, when I heard it was finished, I immediately packed the kids up and drove them up to the cemetery.  I stood there in misty silence, admiring my handiwork, which really was a thing of beauty.  In fact, I was so proud of how it turned out that I took pictures to send to my in-laws in Pennsylvania.

Then it hit me.

His birthday was wrong.

I immediately called Kristi in hysterical panic and told her what I had done.

At which point she started laughing so hard she couldn't speak.

This, you can imagine, did not help at all. It's like laughing at someone when they tell you they're pregnant again, on accident, for the fourth time and they just found out that it's going to be twins.  The story may be cute and funny later, but at the time...not so much.

"Oh, Catherine," she said, trying to catch her breath.  "You can't tell me you don't think this is funny.  You can't tell me that Brad wouldn't think this is funny."

Eventually the headstone got fixed, thanks to a couple of men with a grinder and the ability to re-etch the number.  I came to the conclusion that if they had the ability to fix it, surely I wasn't the only widow in the world who had made this mistake. And I learned two very valuable lessons that day:

1.  You can try all you want to be the perfect widow, but all it takes is one typo on a tombstone to blow your cover.

2.  There is no such thing as the perfect widow.


1.   At the beginning of the book, when Catherine talks about being at the hospital with Brad after his accident, she said that the second night she was there she wanted you to stay with her.  How did you feel about that?  Were you nervous?
I was probably flattered that she asked me to stay with her above all the others that would have been there.  I don't remember being nervous about being together that night.  After the previous night not knowing what Brad's prognosis was and then the previous day waiting for Brad's family to arrive and tell them the horrible news, almost nothing could make me nervous.  I remember feeling exhausted and very sad.  

I also remember going to Wal-Mart in Colorado Springs to buy underwear (me) and contact lens solution (Cath) and thinking how weird it was that all these people were walking around in the store having a normal day while our family was experiencing this huge tragedy.  Ever since then, sometimes I'll be a the grocery store and think, "Someone in here may be having the worst day of their life right now."

2.   What were things that you felt helped Catherine after Brad’s death?

Hopefully knowing that her family and friends were there to support her in whatever way we could (emotional, financial) and that her kids would be taken care of one way or another by Catherine's network of people.  Also, it seemed that when she found that group of young widows to hang out with it really helped her feel less alone.

3.   What were things that helped you deal with losing a brother-in-law?  

Hmmmm, I rarely analyze my process with losing Brad.  Maybe I never really did properly and that's why I sometimes, 7 years later, find myself tearing up thinking about him.  Could be time for some therapy for me!

4.   You are not only Catherine’s sister, you are also her financial planner.  Was there anything about this experience that made you change how you helped people plan for the future?  
There are lots of things that I learned from helping Catherine:

  • Always ask if there might be a Worker's Comp Widow/s/Child benefit available.
  • The widow must open all mail immediately or arrange for someone other than the widow to do so.  We missed a window to roll Brad's 401(k) to his IRA and had to do some extra tax work to fix that mistake.
  • Some widows do two things right away:  Remodel some part of their house, and buy a sporty new car.  As a planner, you have to make room in the budget for these things, but also try to put appropriate limits out there so the life insurance money doesn't all go in a flash.
  • Try to keep widows from making huge life changes within the first year of their loss.  For example, major job change, moving to a new house or new state, getting re-married.  These are almost always things that are expensive and regretted later when everyone is thinking clearly.

5.   Be honest.  Did her retail therapy phase worry you at all?  

Yes.  It always does with widows I work with.  Once the money is gone, it's gone.  Planners rely on any insurance to be there to support living expenses and help pay for college and retirement in case the widow can't replace the income of the deceased spouse.  Many people (not just widows) go for the short term high of buying something when they feel bad.  However, the long term effects of no savings will make you feel REALLY bad in the long term.

6.   How does Brad’s death affect you now?  Are there moments that make you think of him?  

I think of Brad often and his death still makes me very sad.  It affected our family in so many ways.  He was so much fun to be around.  For me, personally, whenever I need advice on something that needs fixing, I miss Brad!  It's especially sad that my husband lost his best friend.

Check out tomorrow's post  
MORE CONFESSIONS:  The Double Whammy.

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