Prepare now for unexpected loss

This story, by Chartered Wealth Solutions client, Kathy Lithgow, serves as a reminder that loss comes unbidden and unanticipated.  While we cannot avoid the heartwrenching effects of grief, we can lessen the impact of its practical outcomes by planning for the unexpected.

Sheila and Bob had created a happy family, with two lovely children … and when a third came along much later, they celebrated the joys and dealt with the challenges of the large age gap.

The youngest, Brenda, was adored by her family and excelled at sport.  Sadly, the demands of adolescence drew her to drugs and her life spiralled out of control, despite numerous visits to rehab centres.  The worst happened when she succumbed to her addiction.

The unbearable grief took its toll:  Sheila was diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and gradually fought her way back to health.  Inspired by Bob’s cultivation of his favourite hobby – cooking – in retirement, Sheila also embraced her passion – teaching.

Because Sheila had experienced a scare with cancer, she assumed that she would be the first to die. This assumption was never discussed.  She lived her life out with this conclusion in her mind.

Bob, though somewhat overweight, had no serious health issues and hardly ever visited a doctor. One afternoon, feeling dreadful, he asked Sheila to take him to hospital. He was admitted immediately. In Sheila’s mind, this would be a short stay. Two days later, Bob passed away.

The shock of his passing was utterly devastating. The children were unhappy to leave their mom on her own (though their home was well secured) and spent a few nights with her. This simply wasn’t workable so they packed a few items and moved her to her daughter’s home. They altered a few things to give her some privacy and did the best they could. Their daughter worked all day and the distance to the house meant Sheila’s friends were reluctant to visit.

The grief and loneliness Sheila experienced made her desperately unhappy.  The children did the best that they could, finding a facility where she has all her meals prepared and it is safe. She is gradually starting to make friends.  Although she now seems more settled, I sense an underlying resentment about not having had a say in the decisions that were made on her behalf.

I have asked a number of my friends if they have ever had a discussion about a future without a spouse. It seems that many have thought privately about who is most likely to die first, but few have voiced their assumptions and discussed a plan for their future.

I am left with a sense of sadness that my friend is perhaps not in the best place she could have been; she is still young at heart and more than capable. It seems that she is somehow stuck in a place with little to challenge her brain or keep her busy, she is just busy … growing old.

Here are some discussions that I have considered valuable to have, even with yourself:

  • “What if this happened to me?”
  • What kind of place would you want to live in, were you on your own? Would your family be happy for you to live there?
  • What can you do to avoid losing your grip on daily things?
  • How far along is your plan for such changes in your life?

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