Taboo Money: The Unexpected Cost of Grief
We are all familiar with the trauma grief causes, but what about the effect it has on your emotions and your finances?
Life is happening all around us. At times, life seems to go so fast that it can make your head spin. But in a single moment, nearly everything can come to a full stop.
Learning of a loved one’s unexpected passing, or hearing the tragic news of a friend’s terminal illness can put everything on pause.
Suddenly, time does not exist. The only moment is now. Nothing else matters. Grief washes over you, consuming every fiber of your being as you try to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense at all.
While grief is a natural response to death, serious illness, and divorce, dealing with it isn’t easy.
Grief can permeate nearly every aspect of your life, while – like it or not – the world keeps going on, even if it feels like your world has stopped.
It can be hard to do anything, let alone the things you’re supposed to do, like go to work. For freelance writer Emily Guy Birken, the author of Making Social Security Work For You, working after her father’s death in April 2013 was difficult. Luckily, her clients were understanding, and her husband was able to support the family on his income during this difficult time.
But not everyone is so lucky.
“I have a good friend who lost her freelance editing business after her mother passed away because she simply could not focus for months after her mother’s death,” says Emily.
Grief doesn’t just affect your ability to work, either. It can have a surprising impact on your spending as well.
This is even true for frugal-minded people like Emily. “I am a pretty frugal person by nature, but I tend to lose my frugality in the wake of stress and extreme emotions,” she says.
Emily indulged in manicures, accessories and new clothes to help boost her mood. In the three years since her father’s passing, grief is still bubbling under the surface, intimately intertwined with her frugality.
“Things will suddenly bubble up from nowhere and it will feel like I just lost him. I have noticed that this sudden reappearance of sharp grief has the same effect on my frugality as his death did. I will see something that reminds me of my dad, and I’ll find myself almost needing to buy it, despite the fact that I’m generally a kind of minimalist person,” she says.
In grieving, somehow money loses its importance.
Money can’t buy back the person you lost. It can’t undo the things that happened or take back the things you wish you never said. All the money in the world can’t buy just one more moment.
Because of this, it’s easy to spend as if there’s no tomorrow – because tomorrow simply isn’t promised to us. Spending money can provide a momentary high, as well as a much-needed distraction – shiny new things! Even so, the feeling is fleeting, and it can lead to increased spending and potentially to debt.
Grief can also throw financial progress out the window. Toni Husbands, a blogger at Debt Free Divas, lost her daughter when she was born early at 23 weeks. She suddenly had to plan a burial for her child. The increased expenses combined with her grief threw her off course for her debt repayment.
“For obvious reasons, the momentum fell off regarding paying off debt for a while after that. She was my first child. I didn’t have a nine-to-five job, so I didn’t really have much else to force me to keep it together,” she says.
Life is full of unexpected, heart-wrenching moments. The grief that results from those moments can hurt you even more financially in the form of increased spending, unexpected costs, and the inability to work.
So what can you do about it? As blogger Emma Lincoln notes in a blog post on grief, “Life gets shitty, so save your money.”
Save money and get your financial matters in order now, while life moves along swimmingly. Look at life insurance policies that may help cover costs for you or someone you love.
Having money on-hand can lessen the blow of an already painful situation. Grieving over a death or divorce and having your whole life turned upside down is hard enough. Worrying about money for funeral costs or going down to one income can compound that stress.
Money can be useful. Not only will it help with immediate costs related to your grief, but it can help you to recover by paying for counselling or health services that you may need in order to heal and take care of yourself. It even may help you by doing something nice in honor of the person you may have lost.
You don’t really think about saving up for times like this. But doing so could help you heal during a difficult time. The cost of grief on your financial life can be high. When you’re in it, it will be the last thing in life that matters.