Grief and Money

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The hard thing happens -- the death, the divorce, the illness, or the job loss.

And then the grief comes.

Just as you are struggling to find your breath in this new landscape, you feel the spiky stalks of anxiety growing in your soul. Sharp-edged and full of fear, this new feeling has you dizzy with panic. Woven into this new landscape is the worry and terror about money.

“How will I survive?”

“Will we lose our home?”

A vision of the pilgrim on the road with her begging bowl clouds your eyes as this terrible potential future fills your mind. I’ve been there - a 32-year-old widow with a 20 day old newborn, a 2-year-old, a house payment and baby shoes to buy - frightened to my core about money.

It doesn’t have to be this way, dear hearts. As Glennon Doyle tells us, “you can do hard things.” And, yes, this is HARD, but you can find your way to peace and empowerment. Take a moment from your grief and consider everything you know and feel about money in general.

First, consider how money is a part of our lives. Growing up, we get some funky messages about money. Maybe money was considered evil, or good, in your family. Maybe you were taught to use money as a tool to achieve your dreams and live your best life. Or were you taught to ignore it, to not dwell on “the darkness of money?”

Like it or not, our relationship to money affects us every day. In fact, It’s hard to escape the everydayness of money. Every trip through the grocery checkout, coffee shop, or visit to Target includes connecting with your money. Pay attention to how you feel about your money, notice what you feel in your body the next time you purchase something. Is there a clenching, anxious feeling in your belly when you swipe your card? Are your palms sweaty, your breathing shallow as you wait for the ‘approved’ sign on the card processor? Do you feel lighter, a temporary reprieve from grief when you enter your pin number and accept the charges?

Money is relational. Imagine it as a human being in your life and let’s call her “Aunt Money.” When she shows up at your dining room table how do you greet her? Do you ignore her completely, shunning her to another room? Do you scream at her, telling her how crazy she makes you feel?  Or do you invite her over only once a year, at tax time, and send laser beams of hatred at her?

Why not make peace with Aunt Money? Invite her over for tea and a sweet intimate chat. What changes do you need to make to create a positive relationship with money?

Money connects us to our identity because it’s part of our story. So many feelings that people have out of loss align and tie in with the emotions of panic, crisis trauma. “Who am I and what is my story now?” It’s in your daily life and you can’t escape it, and yet all your routines and habits change with loss. Money is part of your Emotional Relational identity and it represents security and safety.

What we can afford can also affect other relationships. If you can no longer afford to take that five families joint vacation to Bermuda, that means you aren’t connected to those relationships in the same way as before. It’s part of the overall loss you’re experiencing and it’s painful.

Grief is a terribly hard feeling to hold and it’s important to find relief from the seemingly relentless barrage of sorrow and painful feelings. If buying a new bike for your child or buying new clothes for yourself brings you a temporary shelter from the pain - that's ok unless those purchases cause long-term financial distress, or create a crisis later in the month when your mortgage is due. Retail therapy is a real thing and it has its’ place - with balance.

I recommend working with a certified financial planner to help you tease through where you can splurge and use retail therapy and where you need to pay extra careful attention and make smart money decisions. I also recommend signing up for a class to learn about budgeting. You Need A Budget is a wonderful program that has helped people plan and take the reins on their bank accounts. Grief and money are tricky territory. Be sure you are getting lots of support as you navigate these parts of your life. 

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Your Friend is Grieving - What Do You Say?

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You’ve just learned that your friend has lost their spouse, child, parent, sibling - and you’re devastated for them. Your first impulse is to call, or visit, right away so you can tell them...What? What can you possibly say at a time like this?

In fact, you feel like the words running around inside your head sound awkward, insensitive, and even a little detached. And while you struggle with the right words - time is passing and your sense of urgency to show up for your friend is growing along with your anxiety.

This is tricky to navigate for the closest family and friends, or any loving bystander.  The struggle to find comforting words is real.  We want them to know we love them and even loved the person they are now facing a life without.  

We just want to help.

So what can you say? Try these suggestions:

Say the name of the person they’ve lost.  “I miss Mike, Bobby, Sue or Sally.”

Grievers report that within days of their loved one's death - people around them stop referring to them by their name.

Say, “His life mattered and I will always remember when he…”

Gradually grievers stop hearing the funny stories and sweet memories of their loved one - and it becomes another loss to endure.  You can share stories, and what they meant to your life.  Grievers want to know how their loved one impacted the lives of others - to see the footprints they’ve left behind, and the influence they had on the world.

Say, “I can only imagine how you are feeling.”

This acknowledges a terrible truth and one that you can only imagine.  Be ready to hear about how their loss is affecting them. Hold back from the impulse to compare their pain to your own story of loss.  Their pain is different than your pain - it’s their own unique fingerprint of grief.  In time, they may invite you to share your own story, but for now -- let your grieving friend own the mic.

Say, “It’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling,” and “I am sorry for your suffering.”

I hear from many grievers that this is a comforting way to be approached after a loss.  By acknowledging the suffering your friend is experiencing, you’re sharing in their loss.  You’re validating their deep sadness. Being present for them, allowing them to let it all come, however they’re experiencing it, is a great gift.

Your grieving friend will be feeling a lot of different things, at different times, simultaneously and in no particular order.  Because grieving is hard and confusing work, with the feelings coming in surprising waves and blasts.  It can come over the course of an hour, a moment or a day. Or the feelings can seem like a permanent, pain filled fixture in their lives.

The 5 stages of grief include denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance, but these stages don’t come in tidy, progressive steps.  The griever may be overwhelmed with sadness one minute and overcome with anger the next. Whatever they are feeling - they need validation and a safe place to be. 

Say, “You mean so much to me.”

This has been swirling inside your head ever since you heard their terrible news -- how much you care about your dear friend, and how painful it is to see them in so much pain.  So tell them that they matter to you, that you love them and will be there for them.  Anchor them with your love and remind them there is a whole community of people who care about them. These connections of love will make all the difference in light of their loss.

Say, “I want to help.”

There is a world of difference between saying this and saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do - anything at all.” The problem with the later is, no matter how heartfelt the offer, it’s a tricky thing for someone in grief to know what they want or need at any given moment - let alone looking around at the practical parts of their life.  Everything needs to be done, and nothing needs to be done all at the same time.  

Your willingness to just show up, watch and help with mundane or monumental tasks will make a huge difference but offer only what you’re truly ready to give and follow through.  

And sometimes, Silence.

The sad truth is, when you’re watching someone you love in the midst of grief, there really are no words that can bring total relief from the pain of loss.

Show up, bring your loving heart and sit in silence. Listen willingly for as long as they need your presence. Be ready to listen more than you speak. Join a support group to help those you love while they are healing from loss. Never underestimate the power of a loving companion for a grieving soul. 

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On Regret

At first I didn’t regret a thing. Really. Not a single thing about David’s life or our marriage, not about a past argument or a moment when I annoyed him or a choice I made. No regrets. We had agreed on that early in our love together. We lived fully present to one another and to ourselves. We consciously created our lives together through our daily conversations, affection, thoughtfulness and ways of being. We planned, talked, dreamed, worked and designed our perfect life - the life we were actually living.

And then he died. Suddenly, unexpectedly at 31 years of age. On a sunny Thursday in late June. Gone. His heart. Just Gone.

I remember telling people, friends, my therapist -  really anyone who would listen, that I had no regrets. Deep in my soul I knew that I had nothing to regret. I did not cause his death. I did not contribute to his death. He was happy. Extremely happy. We had just had our beautiful second baby boy. David was thriving at work. He loved the new house. Our lives were beautiful. His life was beautiful. What could I possibly regret?

A few months passed and then regret came calling.

It started as this niggling little voice that wondered with fear - could it have been the medicine he was taking? Those new antihistamines that I encouraged him to get from his doctor... Did that cause his death? I regret telling him to get that medicine. Maybe it was because I didn’t cook us enough vegetables, not enough leafy greens. I regret not being a better cook and nutritionist.  Oh my God, did he die because I bought him the wrong deodorant or toothpaste?

I began to regret every decision. To dissect every choice.

Crazy. I know. But I went there. I went there to try to explain the unexplainable. Why did he die? How could this have happened? What could I have done to stop it from happening?

Regret became part of my grief journey. I regretted choices, actions, and words from my past. I also regret the future we would not be sharing. While regret may be an understandable and common part of the grief experience, I learned regret is destructive. My regrets created self doubt, judgement, and pain. Like a boat stuck circling in an eddy, regret trapped me painfully rewinding and reliving our most difficult moments.

When I’d say to myself “Oh, how I regret…” what I really felt was shame - nasty, mean-spirited, hard edged, and sharp. I confused my feelings of regret with a sense of responsibility - more responsibility than was humanly possible. I kept myself struggling with these feelings until finally I found a way through.

I began to find compassion for myself.

I learned to hold myself with grace and kindness rather than judgement and criticism. Compassion led me to self forgiveness and put me on the path away from regret.  Learning to embrace my limited responsibility freed me to mourn the loss of my David.

Sure, I had made mistakes. Lots of them. I am human afterall. I used to annoy David every day by leaving my towel in his sink after my shower instead of hanging it up to dry. Oh, how that annoyed him. Sorry, Babe. And now I forgive myself without  regret.

I could be twisted into knots of regret over the life we did not get to have together. Instead, I mourn the fact that David missed our boys growing up and our shared life together.

I know I am not responsible for his absence and once I discovered compassion for myself I was able to mourn authentically with courage in my heart.

Are you struggling with regret?

Is regret trapping you into being hard on yourself?

Remember to be gentle with you. Allow yourself the warm embrace of your own compassion.

I am here if you want to talk.

With Love,


THERE WERE TIMES WHEN I NEEDED EXPLICIT PERMISSION TO CREATE MORE ROOM FOR HEALING IN MY LIFE. This was hard for me. I am a pleaser by nature, so saying, “No”, to things has always been challenging. Two months after David died, it was time for our annual family campout...