Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Widow Advice #3 Balance Sheets Don't Have a Thread Count

Dear Carol,
I love your new format and could hardly wait to write to you. I hope you print this or write back privately.

I am overwhelmed with paper. They come in the form of bills, legal papers to sign and lawyer bills. My kitchen table is so covered I need to clear a space when I put my plate down to eat.

I wish I had been more aware of our finances. Bill felt he was protecting me by handling everything himself. He died suddenly six months ago and now I am a mess.

My son is only sixteen and can't really help me. I've turned to John, my sister's husband for advice and also Bill's best friend, Pete and even though they are patient with me I just can't seem to concentrate and understand what they are explaining. I feel like I am imposing and can't ask again.

I am not a stupid woman. I am a high school Social Studies teacher. I just feel like my brain has melted. What is happening me?

Feeling Stupid Sue

Dear Feeling Stupid Sue,
I noticed that you used the word 'stupid' twice and also in your 'sign off.' Being a Social Studies teacher probably means you're smarter than you're giving yourself credit for.

On the other hand, I remember my 10th grade Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Birmingham smelled, drifted off to sleep at her desk and she only wore two outfits - a red dress and a black dress. She alternated. I suppose she still could have been intelligent, just tired with a limited wardrobe that she never dry cleaned.

Whatever. Intelligence has nothing to do with your inability to understand your finances. You are smack in the middle of your grieving process. Bill is gone only six months. I'm sure that you're foggy about everything even in the areas you were confident and sharp about before your husband died.

As long as your I.Q. is more than double digits I guarantee time itself will lift your fog. Paying bills and understanding lawyerese may never be your strong suit but one day you'll wake up and similiar to suddenly needing your hair trimmed, you will discover that what was virtually a mystery to you is clear.

I used to be pampered and clueless about money. Jimmy would joke that I assume I have money in my checking account because I have checks left. After he died, my good friend and accountant, Gary patiently explained to me that a balance sheet does not have a thread count. I told him I knew that but I don't think he believed me.

Bill shielded you from all things financial as long as you both shall live and today you are helpless to decipher the endless piles of papers. You'll learn as I did, but I deeply regret that I didn't stay awake during Jimmy's long explanations of his business transactions.

Fortunately, many of the papers you need to sign and understand are specific to losing a spouse. When the estate is settled your responsibilites as exectutrix will end, too.

In my case, it took more than two years. But, now I can see my dining room table. Happy will be the day when you can discard your tax attorneys along with their inflated invoices and egos.

Wrestling with finances, especially with this stormy economic climate will be a constant in our lives, yet as life continues our expenses will be more predictable.

Sue, believe me, I know it's not easy to be left with bank statements that need translation. And, mixed with confusion is resentment. Now we are forced to grow up and learn how the real world works. Some would say, "It's about time." (not to our face, of course)

I'm concerned that you are self concious and hesitate to ask your brother-in-law, John and Bill's best friend, Pete for more help. They, too loved your husband and they are good men who want to pull together with you. They want you to carry on to live the way Bill would want you to live. Let them in.

I still lean on Jimmy's buddies, Henry and Trifon and others. It's made us closer. Let your son see that you are the grown up and can handle yourself. Gene, my evil bereavement shrink said,

"Think of your family in a boat. The captain has fallen overboard. If there is a son in the family often he grabs for the wheel. YOU be the one to take the helm and gently steer."

My son, Doug respected me enough to allow me to sift through the muddle. He helped, but his expectations of me drove me to expect more from myself.

Life has dealt you a crummy hand. Try to take it as an opportunity to grow.

Time is your best friend, Sue.