Monthly Archives: December 2020

A New Relationship with Money

I have always run my finances out of a mode of scarcity. I’ve said that I only needed whatever it took to live. I paid the bills and made up a monthly budget, based on whatever money I (or we, when I was married) had coming in, and I balanced it every month. If I ran out before the month ended, I revised my budget to reflect that reality. Same thing if I had a surplus for several months. I followed the budget throughout the month, always aware of where I stood. I hesitated about telling my husband, Jerry, if we had a surplus, because if I did, he was sure to spend it. Sometimes I told him, sometimes not. I always had some money put away for emergencies or modest vacations. Jerry and I had talked about the fact that my income would go down after he died, but we were both confident that I would be fine, because I am an expert on getting by with what I have.

            I thought my careful control of spending was healthy, but I think I had it wrong. I had a fear of running out of money. Perhaps this stemmed from the ten-year period back in the 1970s when I was widowed the first time, living with my young daughter on a fixed income, supplemented occasionally with temporary jobs. I was proud that I could afford to dress her in nice clothes and let her join the Girl Scouts and take gymnastics. I would save for anything else that I felt was important, including trips to visit family and friends. I was not going to let lack of money get in the way of a good life for us. I had my husband’s life insurance invested, and never touched it, because I was saving it for her college fund. I felt like I was on top of the situation, but I remember asking her when she was 11, some months after my second marriage to Jerry, if she felt that her life had changed much. She replied immediately, “We have more money now.” I wondered then how many times she had wanted me to buy her something and never said anything because she knew we couldn’t afford it.

            This year my life has changed: Jerry has passed on and I now have investments to manage that I can check whenever I want. I never paid much attention to them before, because Jerry handled them and reported that they were doing well. As I delved into my holdings, I came to realize that I could loosen the purse strings, and I am no longer just getting along. I can afford to do things I have only dreamed about.

            This is a paradigm shift for me; I am still trying to absorb it all. So how am I going to spend this money I didn’t even know I had? I do have home maintenance to take care of. I have already started giving more to charity, and I plan to travel, if I can find one or more people to go with me. My younger sister Denise and I want to visit our siblings in Florida and California, maybe even Canada. She also lost her husband, shortly after Jerry died, so we both are free to travel. We are going on a Viking cruise to Alaska next July together, and I hope that is the first of many excursions. 

            This change in my thinking comes directly out of the grief process I am working my way through. I am developing a new image of myself as a person alone; I am evolving, and it feels good. I am also aware that I need to take advantage of my good health while it lasts, before I am truly “old.” The “faraway places with strange-sounding names” are really just around the corner. It is time to get started on all my adventures!

Thanksgiving: to Stay or to Go

           As we did every Friday, my daughter, Stacy, and I were having our regularly-scheduled video chat, the week before Thanksgiving. We were discussing the upcoming holiday in Ocean Isle, where Stacy, her husband Mike, her son Michael Paul and I would be staying at their beach house.  For the holiday meal we would gather with a number of Mike’s relatives, including his 91-year-old father, at Mike’s brother Ken’s nearby beach house.

            “You know,” I said, “Covid is on the rise here, and everywhere, actually. The health experts are telling everybody to stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.”

            “I know,” she said, “I was watching it on Good Morning, America.”

            “What do you think?” I asked. “You know we’re going to go through this all over again at Christmas. I am in that older population at risk, over 70.”

            “Yes. If I had to give up one holiday together, it would be Thanksgiving.”

            “Me, too,” I replied. At Christmas we would be celebrating at her home in Raleigh with her family and members of my step-children’s families the weekend before Christmas. I now have a one-year-old great-grandson to add to the holiday fun, another generation coming up.

            “Mike’s not home now. Let me get together with him and we’ll decide what we want to do.”

            “Okay,” I said.

            By late November we were eight months into the pandemic of Covid-19, the coronavirus. We had been inundated with accounts of doctors and nurses working heroically around the clock to save lives. We heard sad stories about tens of thousands who had died. We were asked to stay home except for essential errands, like finding toilet paper. Kids had to do schoolwork by computer, and many didn’t like it, but there was fear that children in classrooms would spread the virus. For a while it appeared the virus was slowing, and businesses began to open up, but now cases were rising exponentially, all over the country. People confessed to having “Covid fatigue,” and many were just careless about observing precautions to prevent catching it. Some felt their rights were being infringed upon, and refused to wear masks. Now we were faced with what had traditionally been the biggest holiday travel days of the year. Thanksgiving meant being with family and friends; no one wanted to be forced to stay home.

            During these last months, people complained of loneliness, wanting to see friends and loved ones. I knew loneliness like I had never experienced it before. I had just lost my husband, Jerry, in February, scarcely one month before everything shut down. When I most needed people, I had to do without my friends and family. In all my life, I realized, I had never lived alone.

            The good part is that I adjusted, and I came to enjoy parts of the single life. Now I feel confident that I will be okay with my new reality. Although I could live with staying home for Thanksgiving if I had to, I was ready to go. This was my first Thanksgiving since Jerry had died, and I wanted to spend it with my family, but I felt it was Mike and Stacy’s decision to make, since I was coming to their house.

            I woke up the next morning after our phone conversation wondering what was going to happen. I texted Stacy to ask if they had made a decision. She texted back, “We want you to come,” saying we would decide how much to see Mike’s family after we all arrived. Pleased the decision had been made, I smiled as I responded, “It feels great to be wanted!”

            I knew we would be careful, and do what we needed to do to be safe. Most importantly, I was not going to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and that felt good.

            Little did we know then… Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving I received an email from Stacy: Mike’s niece, who works as a physician’s assistant, had just tested positive for the coronavirus. She and her family would be isolated for 14 days. Her father, Mike’s brother, Ken, had been to visit her, and might have been exposed. People were bailing out of our wished-for family gathering right and left, including me, after she told me. So the virus answered the question for me: no hugs, no family, no overeating and overdrinking. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I know I still have a lot to be thankful for, most importantly, my good health.