February 1, 2015

Tending to the Business of Death

I’m sorry if I have not responded to all of your e-mails or comments. It has been overwhelming at times. Frequently, I don’t know what to say back. I’m miserable. I’m grieving. You don’t want to hear that. It should be rather obvious. I have been beautifully touched by the eloquence of some who have offered consolation. I can tell that others do not know what to say because they are uncomfortable about the whole subject matter. (That’s okay. Eloquence routinely escapes me too.) I am very thankful for every single card, e-mail, comment, or phone call that I received. And it gives me joy to know that many of you are praying for me on a regular basis.

I’ve had some folks tell me that I will get over it. Sigh. I respond to such folly with silence because I am polite. I’m sure that they mean well. But they have no clue what they are talking about and the reassurances are empty. I will never, ever “get over” the countless horrors that I experienced during Jim’s long illness with pancreatic cancer, nor will I “get over” his death. He suffered. I suffered. Now I face the rest of my life alone. If I die tomorrow, I will die alone. And, it may take a while before somebody notices. I’m confident that the mail lady will suspect that something is amiss before anybody else.

Get over it? Please don’t say ever something like that to a widow or widower. Please. Okay, I’m off my soapbox now…

There are times when I can push my grief aside long enough to function like a normal human being. There are other times that I cannot. As time goes on, I hope that I can push it aside for longer periods of time. My sorrow over losing Jim is an integral part of me. It defines me as other life experiences have defined my character and values. I deny myself if I deny my grief.

During my grieving process, I have been diligently tending to the business of death. There is much that has to be accomplished, and my heartaches have to be wrapped up and tucked into a corner while completing these tasks. No one volunteered to assist me, so I set about doing the busywork alone. Sometimes I am able to remain stoic. Sometimes I weep. Whatever. It has to get done, and I am the one that has to do it.

The death certificates were finally ready about a week and a half ago, and I picked those up at the cemetery. I visited Jim’s gravesite and wept buckets, howling to an empty sky. The headstone is not available yet, so I will have more opportunities to cry my heart out later on too.

I completed all of the paperwork associated with the survivor retirement benefits and turned those in person with Jim’s former employer. The initial monthly deposits have already been received. I visited the Social Security office (egads, what an awful sea of humanity there) and completed that notification. Repayment of January’s benefits has been a bit of a mess, thanks to the government bureaucracy. I think it is finally resolved. I do not quality for any Social Security survivor benefits because I already receive a government pension. Gee thanks, Federal government.

I had to present death certificates along my various business rounds. The insurance agency needed a personal visit, along with all of the utility companies. I had to start completely over from scratch with Comcast for my TV and internet service (and saved some money in the process). I was able to contact some household service companies by phone to complete the transition of future bill statements in my name. And a few of these companies even took the time to send me sympathy cards. (I will certainly continue to do business with those!)

The credit card notifications went smoothly, thanks to zero balances on all of Jim’s accounts. (I made sure everything was paid while he was struggling mightily at the end.) One was persnickety and required a written notification with a death certificate. The other two companies said that a verbal notification was sufficient.

I have the wheels turning with the financial company that manages Jim’s 401(k) for converting the proceeds into a traditional IRA account for me. And I’ve already discussed moving the account over to the financial company where I keep my personal investment and retirement accounts. Hopefully, it will all transition smoothly and be completed this month.

I still need to close out a couple of joint checking accounts, but I am waiting for a few things to clear. I’ve been in contact with credit union staff on several issues, and they have been very responsive and helpful. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can get the financial accounts consolidated this coming week.

I met with an estate attorney (who is also a CPA) last week, and he happily told me that I made his job as easy as it can possibly be. Probate is not required, thanks to my strict financial management. Ah, but I still have to do a thorough estimation of Jim’s estate so that the attorney can file an inheritance tax return. Even though I won’t owe any estate taxes, the government requires a full accounting! I’ve already started a spreadsheet and begun a compilation. The deadline is nine months from the date of death, but why would anyone want this task to drag on? I intend to complete it immediately.

The attorney also told me that I may go ahead with my usual preparation of an electronic Federal tax return for 2014. So I have that work underway as well. I can claim married status for 2014, but must claim single beginning in 2015. I will have to estimate my 2015 tax burden and adjust withholding rates accordingly. According to the tax tables, the Feds will be extracting significantly more money from my wallet as a single taxpayer.

Is your head spinning from all of the details that pertain to the business of death? It is daunting exercise, so one needs to be prepared as much as possible. If you haven’t given it much thought, please start. I knew that Jim was dying, so I prepared and planned ahead. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to do, but it is making things easier for me now. I wish that Jim had participated in the preparation too, but he didn’t want to admit that he was dying. So I had to take care of it by myself, as I am taking care of it now.


  1. you give a view into a complicated financial system that we all need to be aware of. inheritance, taxes, bank accounts, etc. etc. i honestly don't know how some folks even negotiate it all.

  2. Oh Donna, My heart aches for you. I am sending prayers and hugs to you from Eastern Canada. Take care.

  3. Of course you will never get over it. Those that say that aren't widows. You WILL get to the point where you don't think about it every single minute of every single day--but that will take a couple of years. Plus--it's hard to live alone. I have expressed the same feelings about me dying and no one knowing about it for days and days. I also hope no one ever says to you, "It's time to move on and get YOUR life back," another idiotic comment. Also "time heals all wounds" is another one that I'd like outlawed! Time doesn't heal a darn thing--it just puts distance between you, from the day of the worse thing that ever happened to you, to the future day when you realize that you made it and it (probably) is going to be all right. Donna, you just gotta walk the journey--one foot in front of the other--hard as it may be..

    1. I know that you have traveled the widow journey too and understand fully. You don't have an e-mail listed or a blog, so I can't reply to you directly. But I want you to know how much I appreciate you visiting and offering me comfort. Yes, I can't believe some of the inappropriate things that people say. And I know that I have been guilty of saying the same things when I didn't know any better. The one statement that I hate the worst of all is "call me if you need anything." It takes the burden off of the person saying it, puts it right on the person who doesn't need anything else to weigh them down, and it is meaningless dribble.

  4. I agree that many people don't know what to say but they don't need to say things like that. He was your soul partner and your best friend, you don't forget that.
    I don't know how awful it is. It scares me to think of loosing my husband. Like my cousin said when he wife dies at such a young age. He said, We never talked about this, I guess we always thought we'd just ride off into the sunset.
    Sending you ((((((HUGS))))). I will say a prayer for you as well.

  5. Donna, you are doing your readers, who've never gone through this, a great service by writing about what you are going through. I know American laws etc. are different from Canadian but the basics are similar. I can't imagine it all. My brother passed away in November leaving his wife with all the paperwork. He too was in denial that he might not live and I don't thing they were prepared. I don't know what I'd do either. It's something we've discussed but never really dealt with it. So, I thank you for sharing your heart and your sorrow. I hope you will continue to do so. For those of us who don't know what it's like to be a widow it's an eye opener and an education. God bless you. Sending more hugs your way and lots of prayers too. Pam

  6. Wow!! Donna that all sends my head spinning and I can only imagine on the "real foggy" days what it must be like for you...! As for kwing the 'right' things to say...well it is different person to person,situation to situation,but get over it???...Well never would I expect that to be of any consolation. Greif enourmously intricate and it is important to grieve...as tough as it may be.
    Im one ho offers just the words to you of...I'm praying and thinking of you!...And I know as much as I wish rer,You proably wish that more so than I even do! How I would ve to pop in a couple of times briefly each week...Anyway Much love from far away to you...you are doing a beautiful job Donna x

  7. Donna....Hugs from me! I had not seen any posts from you for a while, so I thought I would come over and see what you were up too! I am so sorry to hear about your dear hubby...Oh dear, what a terrible time you have had. When my Dad passed from cancer I remember thinking that...It was time....He couldn't keep on....Keeping on, it was just to painful. Now here you are, when my husband left me (A different kind of pain) I remember that there was no start or stop of the day, all the rhythm of life was gone. I had the same thoughts you had...Who would know if I was gone, the weird realization that no one knows where you are..If you made it home...If you were missing. It was very very empty for awhile, actually it took me about two years to get a new normal. I am so glad to hear you got yourself a cute little dog, they bring so much comfort! And who knew all of the death related business you have to do...Kind of like rubbing salt in the wound. Well, just know I am so sorry for your loss. I totally understand that blogging is at the bottom of your to do list, but this crazy cyber world is here for you 24/7, we will cry with you, rage with you and support you in your journey anyway we can.

    XXOO Carol

  8. Donna, I am truly in awe of your organization and how efficiently you are taking care of business while grieving so much! I really, really wish I lived closer to you and could be there, if only to hold your hand and cry with you.

  9. A few years ago my hubby and I realized that we needed to make a will. It's hard to think about death but it's worth it to those that will have to deal with it when you're gone. I admit it was hard but worth it knowing our kids will be taken care of and so on. Like someone else said, you are doing a service for making your efforts and difficulties known. I know this is painstakingly hard for you, but once again you are already thinking of others.
    And don't let others try to down play your pain. You grieve how you need to grieve and for how ever long you need to.
    Love and prayers my friend.

  10. I am so sorry for your loss, Donna. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for the information about all the paperwork; something we all should think about and plan for as best we can. You did, and are doing, a good job with that. That shows that you have an inner strength despite the weakness and pain you are feeling.

  11. Thinking of you Daily and sending prayer for a Wonderful friend to walk through your door!!
    I can't Stand that we live so far apart....
    Sending love and hugs sweet friend!!!

  12. Oh Donna, I can't imagine how stressful this all must be for you. I really had no idea there was so much involved in settling an estate.
    I think of you often and pray for strength for you to get you through your day.

  13. Oh, Donna. Your words and honesty give a glimpse into a part of life that so many go through and don't talk about. All the paperwork seems overwhelming. The government and powers that be certainly don't make death and grieving any easier.
    No, there's no "getting over it."
    Our son was in a serious accident and coma when he was 10 (more than 20 years ago). I still weep when I talk about it and people have taken that as a sign I wasn't "over it" yet. No, I won't ever be "over it" - it changed my life and redefined it in innumerable ways. Our son eventually recovered. Your grief is much more intense and long-lasting and even more redefining.
    My prayers for you continue. A widowed friend of mine once said that at times she even forgot to breathe and found it a struggle (she was 30). May you find strength for each moment. Breathe.
    hugs, love and prayers,

  14. So much to tend to and although similar, a little different likely in Canada as Pam has related. I've seen unprepared when a co-worker's hubby passed away suddenly and all the assets were frozen - we all chipped in to lend her money for a black dress. I'm glad you had things in order to make it easier now.
    I've lost both my parents but I cannot imagine the abyss one falls into when it's your spouse. I couldn't function for a couple of weeks when my close girlfriend died unexpectedly from a stroke.
    No, I think 'getting over it' must take a very long time and each person is different to when the effects stop showing.
    My heart aches for your grief Donna, I can only hope that the paperwork gets cleaned up so you can focus on something other than that which is a constant reminder of your loss.
    Is that sweet dog of yours giving you the love you need?

  15. Prayers and hugs from me to you, Donna. Thank you for taking the time for the update and to post these details...although not a pleasant subject, something that we all should be prepared for. My heart is breaking for you, friend. May the Lord continue to strengthen and encourage you.

  16. Donna, you have been in my thoughts and prayers so much. No, you will never get over it. I had to smile at the mail lady curious about you. I open my blinds every day so the neighbors will know I'm still up and moving. I tend to carry my cell phone around more in case I fall or something weird happens. Thank you for letting us in on the amount of work there is to deal with. I need to get everything taken care of for my son who will be the executor of my will. Everything goes to him any way. I wish someone had volunteered to help you or that some of us lived closer. I'll send you a ((Big Hug)) across the miles from NC to TN...

  17. As if losing your husband isn't enough all this horrid stuff to deal with as well. My heart aches for you. Wish I could be of more help. All I can offer you is my positive thoughts and my prayers. And a big hug.

  18. I'm going to try and leave a comment again; don't know what's up with that.

    For someone to say "you'll get over it" is absolutely thoughtless and rude. While I do understand that sometimes people just don't know what to say, that statement is ludicrous and makes me wonder have they never lost a loved one.

    My prayers continue for you, Donna.
    Love you lots.

  19. Hi there Donna, glad to see you are up to posting even if the subject matter is a bit gruesome.
    No one looks forward to that kind of planning.

    Get over it?? What moron said that?? You will never get over this. It's a part of you and always will be. It is who and what you are.
    I hope your coping as well as you can. This is going to be a very hard year. Every time an occasion, holiday, solstice or equinox comes it will be the first. You are in my thoughts and prayers every day.

  20. When my father-in-law passed away several years ago, I was dumbfounded with all of the paperwork and financial details that my mother-in-law needed to attend to. How incredibly difficult it must be to have to make such decisions when under emotional duress! Thank you for the reminder that one does need to think of such things before they happen.

    I cannot imagine why someone would say that you'll "get over it." It hurts to hear it. Not only will you not get over it, you don't want to get over it. Jim will always be a huge part of your heart.

    As I always say (because it's true), I continue to pray for you...

  21. Just last week I was told that death is actually a good thing and that it's just a part of life. How foolish, to think that our Creator considered death to be part of the 'and it was good.' This is a blunt reminder of how horrid not only death is, but how its tentacles reach into the lives of those grieving. I will continue to pray for you, Donna. May God give you a profound awareness of his constant presence as he walks with you in your grief.

  22. Oh, my dear friend, thank you for sharing the load that you are under. I'm glad you can share it so I can pray more! I've been involved in the paperwork involved twice so I'm aware of most of what you shared. I am sending hugs and many, many prayers for strength and comfort through the days ahead. Go ahead and let the tears go. And grieve. It's the right thing for you to do.

  23. The amount of paperwork and details can be so overwhelming. I handled all of the paperwork after my father-in-law's passing. My mother-in-law had memory loss from a stroke and was unable to do it. It seemed endless and to have to do it when you are grieving the way you are right now must be really difficult and stressful. I'm sorry you have to deal with well meaning people telling you, you'll get over it...it's very insensitive. Sending a hug your way xoxo

  24. Dear dear Donna, my heart aches for you in your grief. Losing a loved one is never easy, whether it is sudden or expected, it is still a shock. And as you have enlightened us, the "paperwork" is unrelenting and arduous. You are organized and strong- two things in your favour. You won't ever "get over it" but you WILL come out the other side someday, and things will get easier. I've lost both parents and one inlaw- all three around Christmas time. The details afterward seem never-ending, I know. I cannot imagine going through it alone after losing one's spouse. I just wish I was closer to give you a hand and a warm hug. Know that you have many supportive caring friends here in blogdom who are all sending love and positive thoughts your way, and we are all keeping you in our thoughts and prayers daily. God Bless.

  25. I am so sorry Donna for your loss. I haven't visited in awhile and did not know this. Take your time and grieve in your own way. Somedays you will probably feel like doing nothing (as I am sure you already know) and that is okay. I wish someone who lives close to you would offer to help you. I will be praying for you. Hugs!!

  26. Donna - first, thank you for visiting 20 North Ora and leaving a comment. I am so sorry about the loss of your dear husband. My John had things pretty well taken care of but there has still been so much paperwork. I am so ready for that to all come to a halt and be finished. Someone that I thought was a friend told me that I needed to just get over my loss and move on. I will never feel the same about that person. Anyone who has had true love realizes that you never really get over nor do you want to. The holidays were awful and I'm sure will be for a long time.

    We were very blessed in that John was diagnosed almost two years ago but was in very little pain until just a day or so before he passed away. I am so grateful for that.
    You will surely be in my thoughts and prayers as we walk this path together. May the Lord give you a peace during this time that only He can give. I don't know what I would have done without that assurance.



Marty, here! Donna loves comments, and I faithfully pass them on to her. Thank you so much for visiting!