The Widow Maker

Whenever Carol leaves home for a few days to visit her parents in Ohio, I don’t like being alone, even if she has filled the refrigerator with ready-to-zap gourmet meals. Without my amazing bride, the home is just a house. But she always returns and the house becomes our home again. The last time she took a trip, I invited people over to eat three times. I probably called her a dozen times trying to find items in the kitchen, often with a guest waiting expectantly nearby. It really wasn’t fun being a widower for a week. I actually did pray fervently for God to bring her back safely.

I work with widows almost every day in my pastoral ministry. Some of these women have been widows for decades. Others have lost their husbands more recently. Widows and widowers have my highest respect. Most of them are courageous and faithful. Not all of them are elderly. More than a few were suddenly thrust into the hardest and most painful challenge of their life through a sudden accident or illness at a relatively young age. They signed up for marriage. Now they’re a widow or widower. Most of them live alone whether they want to or not. They can’t pick up the phone and call for help finding the baking soda or putting up storm windows.

We all know death is coming someday to everyone. We just never think it’ll be today. But someday it will be our Day. Like a cosmic game of hide and seek, death will taunt, “Ready or not, here I come!” We’ll not be able to hide, try as we might. At best, a few of us may be able to delay death for a brief time through advanced medicine. In a fallen, broken world, death will be the final victor in our life stories under the sun. (Death will be conquered on another Day, but that’s a different post.)

For married couples, except in rare cases of simultaneous passing, death makes an instant widow or widower. Usually it’s a widow. And more often than not, they’re not prepared. The first order of business is to have a valid, up to date will. If you don’t have a will, stop reading and fix that problem. If you don’t have a will, you’re in denial. Recently I heard about a young man with a terminal illness who refused to face the fact he was dying. He spoke to his family only about getting well. He died in denial this past Easter morning without a will to provide for his wife and young children. Get a will. NOW!

The second order of business is to put all your finances into joint accounts. Separate his and hers bank accounts are double trouble when the widow maker pays a visit. There is no such thing as “his finances” or “her finances” in marriage. There is only “our finances.” His business is her business and her business is his business. Some time ago I was talking with a church elder who told me he had no idea how much his wife made or what she did with her money beyond paying a few household bills. That’s a really bad system. If you have financial accounts or bills your spouse can’t access, change it. NOW!

As we’ve watched our parents age in recent years, Carol and I recently determined to be intentional about the inevitable. The dark period of bereavement is a terrible time to learn how to balance a checkbook. So we agreed to fix that. For us, that means getting Carol involved in the family finances. In Dave Ramsey parlance, I’m the “nerd” of the family. I eat numbers for breakfast. I pay all the bills, keep all the records, maintain the budget, and prepare the taxes. It’s second nature to me and I have almost four decades of practice. Carol is hardly a “free spirit” (Dave Ramsey-speak again). Nobody is thriftier than Carol or can do more with less. Nobody can squeeze a grocery dollar better than Carol. If you ever see her at work in a grocery store, watch and learn. Stand back and get ready to be amazed. She can buy more food and pay less for it than anyone I’ve ever seen. Carol has been known to walk out of grocery stores without buying anything because the deals aren’t good enough. Here is a woman who makes her own cereal, salad dressing, and ketchup. But Carol does not touch anything requiring math outside the kitchen. Her only financial question is,  “How much money do I have left in the food budget?” There’s an obvious imbalance here.

When I’m gone, Carol won’t need to maintain the elaborate budget I’ve created over the years. She needs to do only three things, but they’re huge: 1) Pay the bills. 2) Reconcile the checkbook. 3) Pay the taxes. Today for the first time in over 37 years, Carol “helped” me reconcile the bank statement. I could have done it myself in 90 seconds. In fact, I already had it done. I just created a second Quicken data file for her to do it herself. But this is foreign territory to Carol. With me as the teacher and Carol as the student, we managed to reconcile the monthly bank statement in about an hour. Carol is no slouch. She was salutatorian of her college class. But she has never been taught how to do this stuff.

OK, here’s the point. If death is going to make her a widow, we’re going to make her a good widow. A good widow must be able to manage her finances. I’m in fine health and I hope for another fifteen or twenty years of fruitful ministry. Maybe there will even be a few years of sound mind and body beyond that. We may still have plenty of time for Carol to learn how to pay the bills, reconcile the checkbook, and solicit one of our sons to do her taxes. (OK, she only has to do two things.) Fortunately, most of the bills are paid automatically. But the next bank statement is less than a month away. We’re getting ready now.

Anybody else?