I could blame the bad experiences I am having as I navigate the early weeks of widowhood on my advanced age, but the truth is, I have been a widow before, and while it is worse when you are older, it is because we who are over fifty remember when humans seemed to be more honest than they are today. I call that era 'BPC,' the age Before Political Correctness Whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor, independent or needful, expect to end your days in silent screams. It is not paranoia if you think you are being treated poorly. It is not you or me who has changed. We are living in an insensitive, greedy and impersonal profit -driven corporate America, which has trained its agents and employees to be insensitive, greedy, unkind, insincere and in many cases, ill-informed bordering on stupid. 'Sorry for Your Loss' is the litany. When you hear it, do not be fooled. The underlying truth is, you are about to get a karate kick on the side of the head, and you probably will not see it coming.
Although I am not a novice to the widow's role, here are now new twists I did not encounter the first time when I was 40, or if I did, they have taken on a new slant.
1. When I was 40, there was no traditional canned phrase in approaching someone who had lost a spouse. At least in my little corner of America, "I am sorry for your loss,' what not a compulsory recitation. People did not express themselves by reading cue cards. The absence of canned dialogue forced us to be sincere or keep our mouths shut. Frankly, I liked it better. The truth is, people who do not know me personally and never met my husband cannot possibly be sorry for my loss. It is sort of like telling a patient leaving a chemotherapy session to 'Have a Nice Day.' So, for you who are new to the widow or widowers' gig, suck it up, because you are going to run into a stadium full of strangers who have no idea who you are or what you are but are 'so sorry for your loss.'
ADVICE: Do not engage them. If you respond, you will convince them that you're the one who is the asshole.
2. If you expect to be busy handling the details of your beloved's demise, you may be in for a surprise. Much of what I had to do for myself when I was 40 is being done for me, and without my knowledge. The negative part of the new formula for handling death has a downside. Being busy doing mundane things at a time of great sorrow was therapeutic. Now in California, the coroner's office does it. The upside is you won't' have to worry about asking the bank to do a reverse deposit of a Social Security check. You will never get it in the first place. However, you like will get a letter from the #SSA stating you may be eligible for a $250 death benefit, but giving notice that you have to come to a Social Security Administration office to claim it. I received the letter three days after my husband died had no idea how the SSA knew my husband was dead. It is a polite way of letting the survivor know that unless they come in to claim the benefit and apply for a portion of the deceased's benefit if they qualify, they have seen the last of SSA benefits. To bottom line to the unanointed: Social Security is paid in arrears. Entitlement ends with death. There is no period of adjustment.
ADVICE: Keep a stash. Read on and see why this is important.
3. Having been down the pipe before, I realized my household income would be reduced by several hundred dollars without warning, although my expenses would not appreciably decrease. . So I did the smart thing and logged on to the Bank of America online site to transfer funds to checking from my/our savings.
Or so I thought. Nine days after my husband's death, the bank froze our pitifully small joint savings account. Did they bother notifying me of this? Hell, no. They just took it. Now, as I stated above, I am a lawyer, and California is a community property state. All of the funds are legally mine, half by claim-of-right and the other half, by survivorship. It is now 13 days since they froze the account, and after a chat session, and hours spent at their flawed appointment web page, I made two trips to the bank, the first to make and appointment when I could make one online, and the second with two forms of photo id, my ATM card and death certificates. They took my documents, thanked me for coming in, but they still have not released the money. And here's the caveat. Check with your bank for its policy. There is nothing I know of in the law that allows a third-party taking of the property of another. At present, I have 95.01 in reachable liquid assets, and it is two weeks until I have any revenue coming my way. I am living on credit cards until January 26th. And of course, I am paying interest to Bank of America for denying me the use of my own money.
ADVICE: Fill a coffee can with money and bury it under a pile of chicken droppings in your compost pile.
4. Remember that people, in general, are scared silly of death. They do not want to acknowledge its existence, and they do not wish to hear about it. Of course, you will receive condolences from friends in Social Media, and I found them to be heartfelt and heartwarming. But as for neighbors, if you want to watch someone break the land speed record walking back and forth to the mailbox or recovering the trash cans, just let the word get out that the person who shared your life and your house is dead. And as for being included in social functions or dinners out, forget it. The exception in my case has been my daughter-in-law's siblings and aunt and uncle. If it weren't for my son-in-law, I could live in my pajamas. Another exception is my friend Barbara, who is also a recent widow. Together we must be anathema. But do we sit in a dark corner of an empty restaurant and cry in our guacamole? Not at all, but would it matter if we did?
ADVICE: Although the means of getting dead can be contagious; Death is not a communicable disease. Be fearless. Wear yellow. See a movie. Seek out a restaurant your loved one did not like and order food with lots of garlic. If you think eating alone is too pathetic, take a cell phone and pretend you are texting. You'll fit right in.
5. The time to deal with insurance companies is now, not after death. You can waste days trying to access a live person as opposed to a Farsi-speaking robot when all you need are forms. Keep a file that documents all of your premiums are up to date, and whatever you do, 1)get a hard copy of the policy itself if your group will let you have one, and a statement of the policy and group numbers. Get them to send you documentation of your designated beneficiaries. My husband and had each other as our beneficiary, and had listed the same secondary beneficiaries. But those files were destroyed in a garage fire in 2008, and we did not reorder copies of the designation. If the plan administrator does not have them, proceeds will be paid into an estate, which would require a probate, as well as delays and expenditures I cannot afford. Having a hard copy of the designation of beneficiary is especially important with group policies, because sometimes the carrier changes, as happened in our case.
ADVICE: Check your insurance policies and make sure the administrator of your plan has a current copy of your election of beneficiaries. And have them mail a conformed copy to you.
6. Above all, a wise person whose name I do not recall recently remarked that mourning is different from grieving. As I reflect upon that bit of wisdom, I see the distinction. Mourning is external. Grief is not. Grief is necessary, and usually, it is a good thing, but it sometimes materializes in insidious ways. Making financial decisions and daily living choices are difficult even when Grief is behaving itself.
ADVICE: A time of profound loss is a poor time for making decisions. Ask others for their good counsel and don't be afraid to delegate what you can't postpone.
As for me, this is not a time for me to put on a Kevlar vest and do battle with corporate giants, nor is it time to suffer the incompetence and insensitivity of ill-trained employees who go about their day reading a script from cue cards. Dealing with them is hardest for people like me, who in my professional life as a prosecutor was considered a dragon slayer. I have little patience for bullshit, even if it is a part of the litany of political correctness in the workplace. My husband was the philosopher, and I was the warrior. But he is not here to tell me to stay calm. The best way of handling the silence of his counsel is to conjure up his image and imagine his words. In a way, he was refreshingly naive. If you were to ask Chris Root how he was feeling, he would tell you. If I had died, he would have thanked anyone who said they were sorry for his loss and thought they were sincere. I, one the other hand, simply want to do some therapeutic grieving on my schedule and in my unique way, without having to deal with the insincerity of strangers whose lines are scripted by an overlord with an agenda.
Friends, those of the flesh and those I met in cyberspace, can express their sorrow for my loss and truly mean it, and from them, it is a treasured blessing. But, if you do not know me and never met Chris Root, don't tell me you are sorry for my loss. You have no frigging idea who I am or who he was. If you really want to make a friend of a stranger, why not try 'Let's split this pit and get a cup of Joe, or if you're up to it, lift a pint of Guinness, and you can tell me about the time your husband hurled the frozen turkey on your sister's front lawn, or why the clerk at the marriage license window remarked about the two of you being a perfect ten.' I realize in today's world that degree of customer service would get a person canned. In most cases where a death is at issue, a bit of personal interest is appreciated if it is not feigned. To those of us who are Children of the Happy Days, canned dialogue is best left sealed inside the can. For those who have not the courage to be original or silent and insist on the mandated script, the loss is theirs, not mine. Today at the grocery store, I encountered a colleague from my days as a prosecutor. He asked me what I was going to keep busy. I said I was shopping for my husband's wake. 'It sounds like a time to rely on faith and family,'he replied. He did not say he was sorry for my loss.
Join me if you dare!
I am like a Janus face. On this page, I turn away the countenance of the historical novelist and expose the strange egocentric creature I call 'me.' It was time to separate the co-joined. I discovered that those who visited my blog for a glimpse of the personal Linda Root did not wish an encounter with the novelist, and the visitors who came hoping for a look at the First Marie or with intent to scale the wall of the abbey Saint Pierre les Dames for a glimpse of the Hidden Princess in my Midwife's Secret trilogy did not want to read about my childhood in Cleveland during WWII.
In a sense, what appears on this page will be a historical novel in the making--a collage of autobiographical pieces embellished with a sprinkle of whimsy, a touch of soul-searching and occasional doses of pain. We all see ourselves as through a mirror, a slightly different view that what outsiders see. I once was quoted as saying that 'too much introspection is not good for anyone.' Apparently I've changed my mind.