Death, Grief, and Money.

I promise, this is a money love letter. But before I dive in, I want to give a trigger warning as this love letter will talk about grief and death.

The first time I realized that I needed to get my financial sh*t together is when my Dad unexpectedly passed away. I was 24 years old, living in NYC, and the only thing on my financial radar was to make rent on the 1st of every month.

When he died, I had many financial meetings with financial advisors, accountants, and government employees. The lack of empathy, patience, and kindness I received during the most excruciating time in my life was horrifying but also, enlightening.

It got me thinking that no one should ever have to go through any financial decision making alone and afraid when grieving.

When I started my work as a financial educator, a large majority of the clients I received had lost a parent and were terrified of making financial decisions with the money they inherited. Some would call this coincidence, but I certainly felt like it was meant to be.

I empathized because when I received my Dad's death benefit, I resisted making any decisions with his “death money" as I called it. It was all I had left of him. Every time I spent that money and saw it leave my bank account, it felt like he was disappearing too. Little by little.

I understood where they were coming from and I wanted to be the person I wish I had after my Dad died. I wanted someone to guide me on how to use this money in ways where I can honor myself and honor his life. I wanted someone to tell me to dream big and that I am capable of making smart decisions with this money. I wanted someone to show me all my options and the “how” in getting to my goals.

I wanted this because I really just wanted to grieve in peace, because when you are grieving on top of stressing about making the wrong financial choices? It is painful.

A very special client of mine, let's call her Allie, came to me for financial guidance about a year after her father died. She had a mountain of paperwork she didn't understand and was stressing about taxes, because yes, in a lot of cases your death benefit is taxed as income. She was overwhelmed to the point of tears, to which I assured her I will guide her through all the ins/outs of these decisions and that she is not alone. However, what I really wanted to know is how she wanted to honor this money now that she has it.

She told me she had two dreams: to take a sabbatical to travel the world and to buy a home. She wanted to have something she could see as a visible manifestation of his money.

So, I told her, “We are taking this money and we are buying this house.”

After Allie took her sabbatical, she made a lot of amazing life choices for herself. She moved out of New York City to return to the city she grew up in and to be closer to family. She left an unfulfilling relationship. She took a new higher paying job. Now, all that was left for her to do was to buy her dream home. Earlier this year, she did.

We hopped on a video chat as she couldn't wait to show me her entire home. She shares it with her Mother and her pup, just like she dreamed. We both teared up acknowledging that this was such a milestone for her, and she made it. She made it come true.

I can't even begin to describe the joy it is to see someone exactly where they want to be and to know that you played a role in guiding them there. I don't think there are words invented for that feeling. But my goodness, it is such a good feeling!

End of Life planning and even “After End of Life” planning requires so much empathy and patience. Losing a loved one to death is very traumatic and I have always said financial education and guidance absolutely needs to be trauma informed.

In the words of Joan Didion, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind."

These words have always held so much truth for me. Thankfully, I am seeing more and more spaces where financial education is trauma informed. While it is not nearly enough, it's more than what I had available in 2015 when my Dad passed away.

If you are grieving, feel free to share your story with me. I would love to hear from you and hold space.

For those that made it to the end of this money love letter, thank you for holding space with me.