I recently joined a group of eight women who had found one another in a GriefShare support group ten months earlier. All had suffered a profound loss. Most were widows, another had lost her mother. All had a common bond: pain. We humans often connect on the level of our struggles, and these women connected like super glue. This morning after coffee and cake they mostly laughed. That wasn’t what I expected. I had even brought Kleenex, cleverly tucked away inside my jacket. It never saw the light of day. I was thankful for that.
I also wasn't prepared for some of the things I heard from this diverse group of ladies. I was most surprised to learn that they had sought answers to difficult financial questions from one another. For example, social security benefits is a subject even seasoned professionals get wrong due to the myriad rules. What may be the right answer for one may not be the right answer for everyone.
Albeit experience is a wonderful teacher, but... As a practicing financial advisor and CFP professional I have spent years accumulating experience and building this knowledge. I have worked with dozens of widows and every case has been unique. Should these well-intentioned women be offering this kind of information?
They didn’t seek self-help books or trusted professionals, even though both are plentiful. I wondered why. The ladies rallied with the answers.
The thought of reading a 200-page manual at this time in my life was “utterly ridiculous,” said one. “They are too technical, too long, and short on answers specific to my situation,” said another. “I just wanted to know what I needed to know.” Others admitted that all they could think about was their loss and had no energy to learn what they needed to know or what they needed to do. “My mind was mush,” said our host. “I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a minute.” This all made sense to me. Okay, financial self-help books don’t help in the middle of a crisis. Got it.
I understood they trusted each other and so trusted the source of the information. But I asked why they hadn’t consulted their financial advisors for help. Surely they trust the professionals they’ve hired to manage their life savings! Again, I wasn’t prepared for the answer.
Four of the women didn’t work with a financial advisor and half didn’t want their kids’ advice. Another three had never actually met their financial advisor since their husbands had handled the finances and investments. Only the host, my client, felt she had received the advice and support she needed from her advisor. She had not relied on her GriefShare group for answers. My sigh of relief was audible.
I was surprised by this finding, even if my sampling size was statistically insignificant. The implications, however, may be shocking. Every year more than 700,000 women find themselves widowed in the United States. By extension, more than 600,000 widows a year aren’t getting the answers they need when they most need excellent advice.
Naturally, my advice to this lovely group of GriefShare ladies was to call me directly if they had any more questions. I thanked them for indulging me and headed back to the office. Another sigh of relief. Wings for Widows may indeed be the best solution for the newly widowed with financial questions.