Isn’t it About Time You Made a Will? 0

couple holding hands

Most of us plan on making a will – one day. One of these days, we think. One, far-off day, when we have a bit of time free, and nothing better to do. I should really get on that.

But every year, thousands of us die without one. 60% of Brits don’t have a will. And while that number dwindles as we get older, the consequences of dying without a will when you’re young can be, in a way, even more devastating.

Alex and Nic’s story

In 2018, Alex and her husband Nic were starting a family. A “typical London couple,” the two of them had met online 10 years before, and had been married for 4. Now settled into their own home, they’d started planning for a baby. But all that was derailed in an instant when Nic died of a pulmonary embolism.

He was just 39.

“You don’t expect someone of 39 just to drop down dead,” Alex says. “He just died very, very suddenly.” Nic had a blood clot in his leg, which travelled to his lungs and became a fatal pulmonary embolism. The condition often strikes out of the blue, and rapidly becomes deadly. Sufferers can be almost any age.

“My whole world exploded,” Alex says. “A decade’s worth of building a life, of hopes and ideas of what the future will be, was just ripped apart.”

“You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you, but, actually, it does happen.”

Nic hadn’t made a will. While the two of them had discussed it – the latest conversation being just a week before Nic’s death – the task hadn’t been high on their to-do list as future parents.

“Life just gets in the way, and you never think it’s that urgent, do you?” Alex explains. “Most of my friends are in their mid-30s, and they have kids, and they don’t have a will. Now, I try to tell people: ‘You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you but, actually, it does happen to people.’”

With Nic gone and no will, Alex had the heartbreaking task of trying to guess what he would have wanted. A funeral had to be planned; Nic’s belongings had to go somewhere; their home, with its mortgage, had to be accounted for – and all without any instructions. It was hard.

“You’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“Telling institutions that, as a spouse, you’re entitled to this, that or the other is tricky, because it’s not clear what he wanted, necessarily,” Alex says.

That lack of direction hit hard on an emotional level, as well. For Nic’s funeral, Alex wanted a cremation with a Humanist ceremony, like their wedding – while some of his family would have preferred a Catholic ceremony.

In the end, Alex chose the Humanist option. But that was “based on a gut feeling,” about what Nic would have preferred, she explains. “And that feels terrible, because you’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“I guess people get too upset to talk about these things because they don’t want to think about their death. But it meant that I was angry with him for a while, because he was disorganised – and he should have prioritised this aspect of our lives.”

“You don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

The lack of will wasn’t the only issue. Nic had a pension, but as it was set up before Alex and Nic were together, the beneficiary was his mother. The pension provider refused to make a change that would recognise Alex’s arguably greater claim as Nic’s spouse, only eventually compromising on a 50-50 split. Alex and her mother-in-law had to agree a final, much fairer, settlement between themselves.

“Luckily, you know, she’s an incredibly kind woman and she was happy with that,” Alex says. “But not everyone would have done that.

It’s a terrible thing to think about at a moment in your life when you’re grieving, and you don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

In the end, Alex was saved a lot of hardship by something almost incidental. While Nic hadn’t made any provisions just in case something happened to him, his workplace had a ‘death in service’ policy that meant that she received enough money to pay off a lot of the mortgage.

It could have been much worse, she admits. “We were just at a point where I was getting ready to be pregnant and to be way more reliant on him financially. I’d already taken a slightly less-stressful job, and all of that stuff that women do. And yet he didn’t have a will or life insurance. It was just sheer luck that he worked for a company that had good employment benefits.”

“I consider myself lucky.”

Alex’s status as Nic’s wife also meant that under intestacy law, she could inherit most of his estate. Other bereaved partners aren’t so fortunate.

“We were married, and so I had a certain level of legal protection, even if we hadn’t got around to doing a will,” Alex says.

“I’ve heard stories from people who weren’t married to their long-term partner, and so their partner’s parents came and took away X, Y or Z amount of money, or whatever they could take – and they’re not even considered the next-of-kin. My heart goes out to them, because it all gets much blurrier.

“I miss Nic more than I can say. But I still consider myself lucky, because it could have been so much worse.”

A year and a half on, Alex is finally in a better position, at least, financially. But she has some advice for those who are putting off making their wills: “Stop procrastinating and get on with it! And have honest conversations with your friends and family. Even if he’d told his mum what he wanted, but not me, I wouldn’t care.

“Obviously, you should formalise it in a will, but just writing down anything about what you want will make a difference. Just get on and do it.”

Make a will today

Ready to make your will? Click here to use Beyond’s online will service. It takes just 15 minutes to protect your loved ones and get peace of mind.


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6 Essential Tips for Dating a Widow(er) 0

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. This week, Sarah Keast shares her tips for dating someone whose partner has died.


On my wedding day, I promised my husband I would stand by him until death parted us. I didn’t expect death to part us only 11 years later. I expected death to part us when we were old, wrinkled and grey – not young (ish), partially-wrinkled and slightly-grey. I never expected to be back on the dating scene in my 40s, with two young kids at home and a dead husband in my heart.

Nevertheless, there I was: a young widow, downloading Tinder and Bumble and wondering what the hell to put in my dating profile. I did know I wanted to identify myself as a widow in my profile. I wanted the world to know what I was bringing to the table (beyond my wit and charm and my decidedly plump mom bod, that is).

But what should you prepare for, if the person you like has lost their partner? Here are some things you should know if you’re dating a widow or widower…

1. Be curious

One of the best gifts you can give a widow or widower is to ask questions about their loved one, and to listen to their stories about him or her.

When my boyfriend and I were newly dating, he said to me, “I want you to know you can talk about Kevin as much as you need to or want to with me. He is a part of your life and your daughters’ lives, and I don’t want to change that.”

I could have kissed him! It was so freeing to know that this new person in my life was okay with the dead guy in my life. So ask. Listen. Get to know their person.

 

2. Be gentle

Losing a partner is traumatic. Your new love interest may have been to hell and back leading up to the death of their partner. Losing someone to addiction, or suicide, or watching your partner die a slow death from cancer is not easy. It brings with it a multitude of confusing and complicated feelings. These feelings do not go away when a widow or widower starts dating.

There may also be things that trigger them. Tiny things that can cause an emotional reaction that has nothing to do with you, but that you nevertheless have to bear the brunt of. For example, many widows and widowers will frantically text or call their new partner when an initial text or phone call is not returned in a reasonable time frame.

Why? Our last experience of a text or phone call not being returned was when our partner died and we did not yet know it. Our brains know that most likely your phone died or you fell asleep, but our hearts are screaming, “but what if he is dead?!”

So, be gentle. We know these behaviours are irrational, but it will take time for these wounds to heal.

 

3. Be supportive

The wounds of loss do not heal overnight. The grief I carry will never go away, but my life is getting bigger around it. My boyfriend understands the weight of my grief, and does not pressure me to “get over it” or “move on”. He simply holds my hand, hugs me and wipes my tears away when a wave of grief comes.

Waves of grief will come! Sometimes obvious things like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries bring them on. Other times, it’s random stuff like trips to Home Depot, getting your kids report card or watching a certain TV show. They will come and then they will pass. Your gentle, supportive presence will be your partner’s anchor as they navigate these waves.

 

4. Be understanding

Profound loss is life changing and the grief that comes with it is everlasting. If you have not yet been through profound loss, expanding your understanding of what grief feels like will do wonders for your relationship with a widow or widower. Pressuring us to move on or to get over it is not helpful. Understanding that we will never get over it, but we will survive and thrive again is far more helpful.

Nora McInerny, an author and a podcaster, has a powerful TED talk on how we don’t move on from grief, but we do move forward with it. It is worth watching.

5. Be grateful

Your new love has had his or her heart broken wide open. They have survived indescribable pain and suffering. This warrior you now love has learned priceless life lessons far earlier than most. They know how precious and important each moment is.

He or she stood by their partner as they died, and they showed up for that person in the face of many horrors. They now will show up for you with that same fierceness and love. They know the most important thing in life is connection and love. They know life is short and can be lost in an instant.

Be grateful you are with someone who has the strength to endure the worst and who now has the wisdom and gratitude that comes from surviving this pain.

 

6. Be confident

Despite the fact that a widow or widower may talk about their late partner a lot, have their photo displayed or feel waves of grief regularly, they have chosen to be with you. They have chosen to let you into their wounded, grieving heart. They have chosen to open themselves up and to risk loss again, to be with you.

Do not feel threatened or overshadowed by their dead person. You are a safe place for their grief and a safe place for their love. They did not make this choice lightly. Be confident in their love for you.

Yes, your new partner brings their dead person to your relationship. Their relationship with their dead person contributed to the person they are today so cultivate gratitude for the path they have walked, as it brought them to you. They also bring a fierceness, a strength and a depth of soul that is rare and unparalleled.

Tread gently, carefully and with patience. You will be rewarded with a relationship that is deep in connection, love, trust and support.


Sarah Keast is a writer and activist, raising awareness around addiction and mental health. You can hear more from Sarah on her TEDx talk here, and on her blog, Adventures in Widowed Parenting.

How Soon is Too Soon to Date Following the Death of a Spouse? 0

dating after loss of a loved one

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. This week, Jessica Marcellus takes on the tricky issue of when to start dating after the death of a partner.


Two years ago, at Christmas time, I sat on the couch beside my husband Dan, the room aglow with the soft reds and greens of twinkling lights woven around a freshly cut balsam fir. Notes of Christmas carols drifted into the room from a staticky old radio in the kitchen, the volume dialed low; the room was otherwise quiet.

Using the firm, protruding surface of my nine months pregnant belly, I folded a tiny mountain of freshly laundered infant clothing. I held each cotton onesie, each fuzzy sleeper over my abdomen, marvelling that the kicking, squirming little stranger inside me would be wearing these clothes in just a few short weeks.

After a while, Dan spoke, breaking what had been a sustained, evening-long silence between us.

“What do you think you’ll do with your rings?” he asked. “After I… you know.” He didn’t elaborate further. But I did know. After he died.

Dan had brain cancer. He had been diagnosed with the horrific, inoperable tumor just two months earlier. And now, here we were, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that he likely wouldn’t live to celebrate our child’s first birthday. All this at a time when most parents-to-be were worrying over whether to paint the nursery Chambray Blue or Cape Cod Gray.

“What do you think you’ll do with your rings?” he asked. “After I… you know.” He didn’t elaborate further. But I did know. After he died.

I bowed my head, glancing down at the diamond ring on my left hand, its princess-cut stone glinting prettily in the multicolored glow cast by the tree lights. I studied the platinum setting, then each tiny inlaid stone of the matching wedding band, the prolonged scrutiny an attempt to hide the heat that had sprung to my cheeks, the water in my eyes.

Aware that several minutes had gone by, I finally looked up to meet his gaze. There were tears in his eyes, too.

“I couldn’t imagine taking them off,” I admitted, truthfully. He nodded. Paused.

“Well, I’d hope you would get married again someday.” He said it matter-of-factly, but the magnitude of his words hung in the air between us, palpable.

“Me, too, honey.”

To this day, I consider myself lucky, in a sense, that Dan vocalised his wish for me to find someone else after he was gone. Some people, especially those who lose their partners suddenly or unexpectedly, aren’t granted the luxury of this formal approval. Others still never have a conversation such as ours due to the discomfort it could induce.

But regardless, I suppose, of a deceased partner’s thoughts or wishes on the subject, the topic of finding love again will inevitably cross the minds of most, if not all surviving halves at some point. The question, then, becomes: how soon after loss is it appropriate to begin dating?

The simple answer is, of course, that there isn’t one. Or, what every information-seeker wants to hear: it depends. But really, it does. So many factors are at play in deciding when to reenter what can be a simultaneously ominous and exciting dating scene.

Was your partner’s death sudden, or expected? Did it happen as a result of a long illness? Did you have children together? Would you like to have more someday? Do you feel well supported in your grief? Are you ready to risk more heartbreak, after already experiencing an unimaginable one?

In my case, the first six months after Dan died were spent focusing solely on raising my infant son and figuring out how the hell to survive on my own. I had no energy, no space in my soul, for anything other than those two tasks.

I was 26 years old when I became a widow. I knew I wanted to love someone again; wanted to have more children; wanted our son to have a father figure in his life someday.

So, I spent a month visiting my sister in Florida. I studied books on grieving, read novels, memoirs. I learned to use the zero-turn lawnmower — bumped along the uneven ground of our 2.5 acres on late-summer evenings with a baby monitor balanced between my knees.

I adjusted, mostly, to the quiet of the house at night after putting Sawyer to bed; to the absence of Dan’s State Police cruiser from its usual spot in the driveway; to the empty space in our bedroom closet and in our king-sized bed. Little by little, I learned to live with each of these unfamiliar, undesired vacancies, facing them anew each day until, gradually, they became less glaring.  

Beneath the thickest fog of grief, though — even in those first few months — existed an embryonic desire to fill in those hollow spaces created by Dan’s absence. I was 26 years old when I became a widow. I knew I wanted to love someone again; wanted to have more children; wanted our son to have a father figure in his life someday.

Nothing truly prepares you for losing the person you thought you’d spend your life with.

I’d also already experienced a good deal of what is so neatly termed “anticipatory grief” — that which occurs before an impending loss. In the nine months between Dan’s diagnosis and his death, I’d done my absolute best to prepare for a future without him. I’d forced myself to visualize the inevitable decline in health, the physical act of dying, the utter heartbreak and loneliness I would feel once he was actually gone. I’d also imagined — painfully, reluctantly, hopefully — the possibility of happiness with someone else.

Anticipatory grief, admittedly, only gets you so far. The reality is a thousand times worse than anything you could have imagined. Nothing truly prepares you for losing the person you thought you’d spend your life with. And so I’d needed those first six months desperately, to debrief, decompress, pull myself together.

But I do believe that the “preparation” I’d done — forcing myself to feel the emotions of losing Dan in advance, to sit with them, to accept them — contributed to my resilience, and ultimately, to an acknowledgement of my wish to move forward.

Have you thought about when you’ll start dating again?

And so, around that six month mark, a few things happened. First, I resumed the practice of going to the gym, a hobby I’d foregone throughout the course of Dan’s illness. Working out helped me feel strong again, physically and emotionally. And working out alongside an occasional fit, attractive stranger — well, there’s not much explanation needed there.

Second — and for this, I’ll forever be grateful — a few friends brought up the subject of me dating again, and in doing so, made my desire to date feel acceptable.

I can attribute one conversation, in particular, to giving me that nod of approval I’d unknowingly sought after. I was chatting one morning at the gym with a casual friend, who also happened to be the wife of one of Dan’s former coworkers. Known for her directness (a quality of hers which I had always admired), she wasted no time in getting to the point.

“So, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” she broached. “I think other people have been wondering this too, but have been afraid to bring up the subject — have you thought about when you’ll start dating again?”

“Uhh,” I stumbled over my response, caught off guard by the question. “I haven’t really thought about it much, no,” I answered hesitantly, the fear of judgment apparent even from this woman who clearly had no intention of judging me. She nodded, didn’t probe further.

“If I were in your position,” she offered instead, matter-of-factly, “I think I would wait six months to a year. After that, I feel like I’d want to move on with my life, like I’d be missing out otherwise.”

I didn’t say so then, but those few words were exactly what I needed to hear. Both validating and approving, her sentiment made my desire to love again feel reasonable, practical even. I’d just needed someone to tell me that it was okay.

Despite feeling mostly ready and even a little excited to begin this new chapter, I did still worry what others would think.

A few weeks later, after a rare second glass of wine one evening, I created a Tinder profile. I told no one. I spent a few days swiping through strangers before finally deciding I would meet one of them for coffee. It was only then that I sheepishly confided in a good friend that I would be going on a date. Despite feeling mostly ready and even a little excited to begin this new chapter, I did still worry what others would think.

But in the end, my desire for partnership, for companionship, for laughter, for intimacy — for another chance at the future I’d once envisioned with Dan — was simply greater than my fear of reproval from those around me.

So I went on that coffee date, and I continued dating, for the first time in my adult life. At first, only those closest to me knew of these adventures. I didn’t mention my dating life in casual conversation. I didn’t post about it on social media. It would take more time, and ultimately meeting a man worth mentioning, before I felt ready for the world to know I had “moved on.” But when I did feel ready, I was surprised to find I encountered very little judgement at all.

As I now approach the two-year mark of widowhood, I have no regrets about the way in which I went about dating after Dan, or the timeline I followed. But I’ve also learned that if one certainty about widowhood exists, it’s that everyone’s grief is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling it. It is not linear; follows no timeline; has no end. My journey is my own.

Others facing similar circumstances may need more time — or less — before wanting to move forward. To that end, the “right” amount of time, I think, to wait before seeking out new love is however long it takes to begin feeling ready to stop surviving and start living again.

And for those, like me, who need someone to give them the go-ahead? I’ll gladly be that person.  


Jessica Marcellus is a NICU nurse and writer living in Fairfax, Vermont. You can find out more about how Jessica and two-year-old Sawyer are getting on by following her Instagram account, @Jess.Marcellus.