The Shock and the Aftermath of a Loss

It’s been three weeks since the sudden loss of my brother.  Even writing these words seems to tighten my stomach in knots as the pain is still very raw.  I’ll admit, it’s a debate whether I’ll actually publish this article.  However, through this all, I do want to help others that may be faced with their own loss.  Even more importantly, I’d like to share a few words that may be of comfort and help for your own loved ones, someday.

My mother and myself were not prepared in any way for the loss of my brother.  He was far too young.  But it doesn’t matter the age.  When my dad passed away in 2015, we weren’t ready.  I don’t think anyone is every really prepared for the loss of an immediate family member, from an emotional standpoint.  Even if you have forewarning, the sudden loss is still devastating.  What can you do?

All too well, I know the process after a loved one is gone.  It seemed like déjà vu when I, my Mom and my husband sat with the funeral director a few weeks ago.  Two times in a short span is too often for anyone, but I guess I know what to expect by now.  For those that perhaps haven’t had to face this situation, let me explain what the aftermath often looks like.

The Aftermath

Funeral Arrangements – While still numb from the loss, most will contact a funeral home, where they will help with some very difficult choices.  Not everyone has the advantage of having a church friend that runs a funeral home.  Lesleigh Bennet of Holland Barry & Bennett Funeral Home has been an incredible counselor and guide through this process for us. 

While a funeral director is a guide, there are so many decisions that need to be made about arrangements without funeral pre-planning.  It’s extremely emotional as you choose how you’ll honor your dearly departed with all the details of the service and final resting.  Of course, you think you know your family member, but you’ll often still find that many things were never discussed.  You make the best decision you can and hope you’re honoring them the way they would have wanted. 

We felt strongly that my brother would be glad we set up a gofundme account for his two boys for donations instead of flowers.  It’s been particularly heartwarming to see the incredible generosity of so many, and it’s been a real source of comfort and joy.

Many people also have a family pastor they will meet to talk about the funeral service.  Again, our family is extremely blessed to be a part of the Lincoln Christian Church family since my Mom was a little girl.  My grandfather was actually the pastor there many years ago.  Now,  Ron Otto  is the pastor who we respect and consider a friend.  Having this time together with him was therapeutic and we can’t praise him enough for the kind, compassionate and gifted man he is.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention all the kind people that almost magically came together to take the burden of an after services meal off of our hands.  My cousin Natalie Allen and my Aunt Reva, in conjunction with others at the Church, were unbelievable servants at such a time.  It always amazes me how such generous people selflessly serve at such times.

Financial Affairs – When the deceased doesn’t have a significant other, sorting out final financial affairs can be much like detective work; this might involve going through their mail or locating financial documents among their personal items in their home.  There may be accounts to settle and close in such cases and decisions with items that have loans, such as homes or vehicles.  In these circumstances, it’s often helpful to seek an estate planning attorney to guide you through the estate process.  Even with my experience, I found myself reaching out to our long-time friend and attorney Charles Erickson to clarify a few issues.  I’ve also found Estate Planning Attorney Chad Ritchie extremely adept at helping clients sort through complex issues in the past.

Of course, there are other financial affairs that happen when settling an estate.  Wealth transfer is often a complex process when dealing with wills and probate, IRAs, and possibly even trusts.  Most financial professionals may help with simple transactions.  Other situations may benefit from a financial advisor with more expertise.  Fortunately, I’ve taken wealth transfer as my specialty to assist and strategize for people facing complex situations.

Personal Items – The harsh reality hits you as you sort through the everyday items, along with a lifetime of their accumulated treasures.  The deceased’s home must be vacated, and everything that person once owned will be handed down, thrown away, donated, or sold for the estate.  And guess who is usually making those decisions without specific instructions in a will?  For the small items with relatively little monetary value, it’s the loved ones that are working through it.  It’s a difficult and emotional task.  As much as you’d like to keep everything that meant so much to the family member, you know it’s not possible.  So you share some with other family members and feel grief and guilt as other items are disposed of.

Dependents – Unfortunately, I also discovered there are additional complexities on top of the added grief and concerns when there are dependents involved. While worried about their well-being, their immediate care and their long-term guardianship must be sorted out.  Without legal planning, courts will often have the final determination, although caring family member’s wishes are influential in the decisions. 

The Angels

You’ll often find, in life’s worst times, God sends people that act as our angels to assist us.   There was an overwhelming outpouring of acts of kindness towards myself and my Mom.  I can’t even begin to list all the people who supported us in so many ways when our lives were in upheaval, but I can say that each and every one was noticed and appreciated.  They helped us persevere, and I think we all are blessed to have people help us through.

Of course, there’s also the professional help, as I’ve mentioned above.  Without having the network of professionals to guide me through the details along the way, I would have been lost.  I’ve often been the one to guide others through the financial process after a loss, but now I have a renewed understanding of the emotional impact of having someone by your side.  It’s my hope I can continue to be a source of financial guidance and support when needed.

Easing the Process

I know I’m not the only one who has gone through this.  We know it’s physically and emotionally draining beyond belief, even in the best of circumstances.  So, you might ask me, as a planner who has experience guiding others, how can the process be made easier?  And the only answer I have is, I don’t know that any planning in the world would make it easier from a grief standpoint.

But, are there things that can be done while they are still living that might make the arrangements, and maybe even the grief process, easier?  I would say, absolutely!  And if there’s a reason I’m baring my soul in this article, it’s to encourage you, sooner rather than later, to take a few actions and have a few simple two-way conversations with loved ones.

First, I would naturally encourage families to have pre-existing relationships and arrangements planned with an estate planning attorney, a financial advisor and a funeral director.  Many plans can be mapped out in advance, easing the burden for grieving family members.

Yet, I’m a realist, and I know these specific meetings often aren’t a priority, so I’m going to just make a recommendation that can at least help.  Just find a few minutes to have a heart-to-heart talk with family members.   After Easter dinner, we had just such a short conversation with my husband’s parents.  This little heart-to-heart offered so much clarity in the event something should happen to any of us!

What You’d Ask if You Could

Yes, it can be a difficult topic to address, but there may come a time when it will help one of you.  Remember, this applies both ways!  It’s just as crucial for your family members to know your wishes as it is for you to know theirs.  Here are a few questions the closest family members will want the answers to if something ever happens:

  1. What are the preferences for organ donations?
  2. What is their preferred funeral home or place for the service?
  3. Will it be a cremation?
  4. Whom would you want to conduct the funeral service?
  5. Are there favorite songs you’d like to have played at the service?
  6. Is there scripture you would like to have read?
  7. What is the preference for the final resting spot and memorial stone?
  8. Are there any other memorial service wishes?
  9. Where can they locate your important financial documents within your home?  Would there be a financial sheet with notes to help guide?
  10. Who are the professionals who can help guide with the process, such as an attorney who holds the will and a financial advisor who is prepared to help with the wealth transfer affairs?

The Most Important Thing

One of the hardest parts of losing someone suddenly is any regrets you might have.  Often there are words unsaid, maybe even grudges that persisted.  We all know that there will come a time when it’s too late to resolve any relationship issues that may come.  I was fortunate in that I was able to see my brother his last morning in the hospital before his passing.  I was lucky there were no relationship rifts, and I was able to hold his hand and tell him one last time that I loved him.

None of us know when it may be our last opportunity to find closure with the ones we love.  Don’t waste another day in reaching out.  Let them know how much they mean to you, how much you love them, and hug them tight.  You never know when it may be the last time.  God Bless.

Bloomington Normal Retirement Planner Krista McBeathKrista McBeath is an Investment Advisor, Chartered Financial Consultant, a Licensed Insurance Advisor, a Fiduciary, and an experienced tax advisor who specializes in financial planning, investments, and insurance.

She utilizes advanced tools for in-depth calculations that analyze tax and retirement scenarios to help their clients avoid a future tax time-bomb.  Whether this means enjoying more of your hard-earned money in retirement or passing along assets to loved ones, with less tax burden, planning makes the difference.

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