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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People Say The Strangest Things

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People can say the strangest things sometimes -- with and without good intentions.  Every griever has a collection of stories.

“I thought you would be better by now.”

“How long do you plan on being sad about this?”

“If it was me, I would sell my house and move as far away from here as possible. I don’t know how you do it facing that big house alone.”

I have my own collection of these stories:

“Hats off to you for still being alive - if it was me and I had just lost my husband, I would kill myself.”

And two weeks after my husband died, someone told me they were worried no one would be there to help them in case a bad thing happened in their life because I “had drained and exhausted the community of all of their helpful energy.”

All the obtuse, ridiculous, hurtful and plain old dumb things people have said. It’s hard to process these statements. They send you reeling from a new wound to the grief-bruised body you walk around in. Your anger might result in a dizzying replay of the comment and what you wish you’d said at that moment.  

And truly, these things are probably said with the best intentions - to try to help you feel better.  You know they don’t mean it.  You know they love you.  But they said it!

The plain fact is our culture doesn’t do grief well.  We have no social container to hold sorrow and grieving pain with care and compassion on a large, collective scale.  We’re not gifted with the language and shared experiences of mourning to help us interact with care for one another.  Which means people stumble.  A lot.

You Must Save Yourself

Speak your truth - sometimes you need to get the words out of your brain and your body. Go ahead and tell them their words were hurtful. And guard your boundaries - diligently! Call the doctor’s office back to let them know it wasn’t ok for the receptionist to tell you her personal history of loss when you checked in for your appointment.

Write a letter. Let your fingers fly across your keyboard, or push your pen without stopping.  Let your words say what you would never say face to face. This lets you own the pain while giving you the time and space to express what you need to. I recommend writing it out first to see if you feel better for purging on the page. Then burn it.

And you might need to block some peoples’ phone numbers. Or lock your door and pretend you’re not home when your silly neighbor comes calling. If those around you are causing you distress because of their ignorance or insensitivity - remove yourself from their presence. Think about firing people out of your life that can’t help you grow and adjust to your new reality.  

And Soothe Yourself

Part of your job now is to take the best care of yourself that you can. Something awful has happened in your life. You have lost someone you love dearly. Taking the best care of yourself is your full-time job now. Soak in a tub, spend time in nature, do yoga, or buy yourself fresh flowers. Treat yourself like a friend who is having a hard time.

When you do have a bad experience with someone - call your grief buddy. Having that reliable person you trust, who really listens to your story of pain and commiserates right at that moment, is healing.

If you don’t have a special person to support you, it’s time to reach out and find a new tribe to lean on! Join a local support group for grievers, or find an online group on Facebook. Connecting to those that understand through their own personal experience can make all the difference. And these fellow grievers are probably collecting their own list of stupid things people say.

Grievers are teachers - even if you don’t want to be. People will learn from you what to do and not do - what helps and what doesn’t. You are teaching the people around you about your unique needs/desires and ways of healing. Hopefully, people will take that forward in their lives when they interface with other grievers in the future.  Your job is to focus on what You need.  Get the help you need - through private counseling and support groups.


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