Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Life After Death

What do you do after a spouse dies?  Life, it turns out, goes on.

A friend of ours passed away the other day after falling and hitting their head.  It is what killed Bob Saget, by the way and it kills more people than one would think.  Our bodies are awfully frail and top-heavy and one slip and fall onto a rock, concrete, or a marble floor can be enough to do you in.  And when you get old and lose your balance, well, it is not an unlikely event.

I wrote before how difficult and awkward it can be when someone dies. Many people are so overwhelmed with emotion they fail to think about practical matters, such as, how will I survive from now on?  We've seen scenarios where widows discover, to their horror, that their late husband had hidden debts and basically lived the high life, borrowing from the widow's future - and leaving her to clean up the mess and live in nunnery for the rest of her life.

Yes, life here in God's Waiting Room is instructive.  Some lessons are harsh, though.

But beyond financial matters are more practical life matters. How do you handle living alone after living with someone for 30, 40, or 50 years?  "Two can live as cheaply as one" they say, but the inverse is true too - living alone can cost as much as living together. Yet your combined Social Security may be cut in half when your spouse dies.

It is one reason why divorce is so expensive and messy - the cost of maintaining two households is far more than one.  Yet a lot of people get divorced over silly things, not realizing it will severely affect their lifestyle and your husband leaving the seat up really isn't that much of an issue.  But I digress.

Finding a new partner is one option and men have an advantage in this regard.  Since women tend to live longer than men (and most women marry men three to five years older, as well) single men are outnumbered two-to-one by women in a retirement community.  Widows learn early on that if they want to remarry, you have to bring that casserole to the widower's house right after the funeral - if you don't in fact hit on him at the service. She who hesitates is lost.

We see a lot of second marriages here on retirement island.  One former widower told me quite frankly that "both our spouses died and we were quite happy with that!" which sort of shocked me.  But I guess after 50 years maybe you want a change of pace, or you just get tired of a cranky old spouse.  I am not one to judge - I just hope the same thing doesn't happen with the new spouse as well.

Children - and by that, I mean adult offspring - enter into the picture.  Suddenly, at age 40, you find you have a step-Mother and step-siblings and were not expecting this.  When my Dad remarried, he hoped we would become "one big happy family" but of course, we had little in common with our new step-siblings and live a continent apart.  Dad dove into his new step-family, which is good as it gave him something to do.  Besides, his old family (like an old spouse, I guess) got boring as they no longer heeded his instructions or obeyed his commands.  What's the fun in being a Dad if you can't control people like they are slaves?

Alas, a lot of Dads out there would not understand the sarcasm of the last remark and instead nod in agreement.

Of course, I am not saying I have any answers here, just questions.  This is one of those life events that no one really knows how to handle.

Dying first is always the best option - you don't have to grieve or figure out a new life in your remaining years.  Dying is easy, living is hard.  However, it is a good idea to make sure your spouse doesn't have it too hard when you are gone.

I recounted before how - on more than one occasion - a husband dies, leaving his widowed wife not only to mourn, but to deal with a mountain of hidden debt. "I never knew!" the widow says, "My husband always handled these things!"  And no doubt the stress of managing his financial house of cards was what lead him to an early grave.

It needn't be that way.  But it takes two to tango and many spouses (mine included) put their hands over their ears and cry "La, la, la, la! I can't hear you!" when you try to talk honestly about money.  I don't mind spending money, but I hate wasting it, and paying $50 for a bottle of wine at a restaurant when the same bottle is sold at the grocery story for $10 is ridiculous.  I enjoy going out to eat, of course, but in recent times, it seems like the exeperience is marked by indifferent food, indifferent service, and sky-hiigh prices.

But I digress.

I have tried to get Mark into the habit of balancing his own credit card (which we obtained as I realized to my horror that all our credit was in my name only, with him only an "authorized user" on the cards).  Again, this is something we see with unfortunate widows - more than once.  Once hubby dies, the bills come due all at once as his credit no longer exists.

Another reason to be debt-free in retirement.

I also try to document everything in big binders so he can figure out how much money he has to work with when I am gone - and where it is.  Also, life insurance - at least enough to live on for a few years.

Life is hard when your spouse dies - your whole world is turned upside-down and not only are you grieving, you are trying to figure out how to live from now on.  Adding financial problems to the mix only makes things worse.

Fortunately for the spouse of my late friend, they were debt-free and have their finances in order.  This is the exception, it seems, not the norm.