We do not want to admit debt. For me, debt means ‘failure’, and that is even harder to admit. There is your good debt: mortage, student loans…and your bad debt: victoria’s secret credit card, a maxed out Dell card.
However you made it into the debt world, as most of us are dealing with to some degree, many of us have to agree that a lot of our debt can be attributed to bad judgement, unnecessary splurges, or bad luck. Some it can be attributed to illness, to death, to unexpected life occurances.
I made some bad financial choices early on: a move to MT caused me to get behind on some bills. When I moved back to Pennsylvania, and then married a man who could not legally work for the first 6 months of our marriage, carrying 2 sets of bills on a low income caused a major financial setback for both of us.
We often were not able to pay bills, we relied on friends and family to help us through until Kevin could legally work, and even then, it took a good 6 months to finally get caught up on our bills. Just a few short months about being caught up and in a good groove of financial flexibility, Kevin was diagnosed with cancer.
I had a choice to make: I could let him go to Baltimore alone, or I could take an indefinite leave of absense (I hadn’t been at my new job for long enough to qualify for Family Medical Leave) and hope that our needs would be met. I opted to pray hard, ask for help, and took the leave to be with Kevin. His condition was so severe initially, and throughout, that despite my lack of outward acknowledgement, I knew that we may only have a short time left together. It was worth any debt accumulated to be with him during his last moments alive.
I realize some cannot take that risk: if they have children, a mortgage (I was quite thankful to be a renter), or other serious obligations, it certainly minimizes your flexibility. I cannot say that my decision would work for these types of people. For us, having not grounded ourself financially with a mortgage or anything more committal than a car payment, we had some flexibility.
During that time, friends, family, and complete strangers came through to make donations to us so that we could continue to pay our living expenses, gas to drive to and from Baltimore, money for our specific needs in Baltimore, and some of the medical expenses. We held a fundraiser which also provided greatly for our needs at the time. An additional fundraiser held in Canada just days before his passing paid for many expenses and gave me the flexibility to visit Winnipeg for his memorial: something that was very important. Kevin’s pension was able to pay for his funeral, and thorugh all the help, I was able to delay going back to work immediately after having spent the past nearly 5 months running non stop as Kevin’s caretaker. It gave me a breather.
Now, as I continue to move forward in life, I struggle financially to complete the payments on outstanding medical bills, to live on my own again and struggle to maintain independence that is so important to my quality of life. I am not asking for help, but I am making you aware, that now 16 months after his passing, the doors to the never ending cycle of paperwork evolved from illness and death is not yet done. I know I am not alone.
Many families dealing with illness, and widow(ers) are not fortunate enough to have what I have: a strong support system. Their debt can be crippling: I heard of many widow(ers) facing bankruptcy if they haven’t already due to inactive life insurance policies, unknown debt, and outstanding medical bills. When someone faces a long term illness, or a death, the financial issues manifest long past the initial diagnosis, or the initial lost.
We may forget, and move forward, but not only do survivors continue to deal with the emotional toll, but also the immense financial toll. It can literally ruin people. They are beginning a second life in complete financial destruction. The loss becomes even greater in dealing with the stress of debt that was never expected or prepared.
One of the hardest things for any person to admit is that they need help: as a widow, I believe for me it was a hard thing to admit as well. I knew I needed it, and I knew it was there, but I did not know what my specific needs were, or how to delegate. Unless a widow(er) is blessed with an ample life insurance police, or a great retirement fund, the loss can be so much more devastating with dealing with the headaches of financial burden.
So many widow(ers) lose their spouses unexpectedly, or by the time an illness hits, it is too late to seek coverage. As a young widow myself, the last thing on my mind was a non-work related life insurance policy. We had discussed it at one point, but decided to wait until we had some ‘extra money’ to purchase the policy. Bad decision.
I urge you, no matter what age, to sit down and discuss financial realities with your spouse, a close and trusted loved one and especially a financial advisor-you need to be aware what is in your budget, what bills you are facing, what you are able to do in the event of a medical emergency or death. Wills are important, as is an ample life insurance policy to cover debt, possible medical expenses, funeral expenses, and a cushion. It is never too early to think about these things.
Please also remember, that as you hear about loss, especially with those who have faced death earlier than expected, that their families are probably struggling financially with a completely unexpected funeral bill (often $10,000 or more) and possibly medical expenses as well. If you are not in a place to help them financially, even providing gas cards or gift cards to the grocery store, there may be other ways that you can help: Do you know someone that may volunteer to help them set up a fund to help pay for incoming expenses? Do you know a good lawyer that may work pro bono? Think of services that you may be able to get to them to help smooth the transitions ahead.
Lastly, as a widow(er), you need to accept your responsibilities, as tough as it may be. I chose to not immediately deal with the towers of medical bills on my desk. Finally, just a few months ago, I sorted through all the medical bills, and now I will spend the next few months making possibly hundreds of calls to insurance agents and bill collectors to work through some medical debt that is still due. If you cannot handle it yourself, ask for help, and deal with it sooner than later. Companies are often willing to work with you to lower interest rates, cut fees, and even give you payment plans to get your accounts settled.
Things which we don’t talk about are so often money. It’s not embarressing, it just needs to be dealt with and acknowledged before a bigger burden lands on your shoulders.