Sammi is thinking. She knows something needs attention!
And it’s more than rebalancing my investment portfolio.
There is nothing worse than procrastinating when it comes to ordinary chores, whether cleaning the closet, the garage or the car. In the months after Dan died, I donated Dan’s clothes to change our closet to my closet, and to replace his office space with my desk and my computer. While these changes were material, the emotional responses were profound. In casual conversations, I find it strange referring to “my” house, “my” car, “my” office, or “my” portfolio, instead of the familiar “our” house, “our” car, “our” office, or “our” portfolio.
For 40 years, Dan and I did everything together. Dan was a like a twin brother. We helped each other through college and graduate studies. We made decisions together: trips, investments, spending, donations, time with Sammi, visits to family and friends, sharing in our Buddhist teachings, decided to move from Los Angeles to the desert and remodeling our beautiful Rancho Mirage retirement home. While no relationship is perfect, we respected our individual contributions to these decisions.
Yeah, the tears flowed when I changed “our” bedroom closet and office to “mine,” but I knew Dan was happy that I was giving away his stuff. Several months ago, my Buddhist Center sponsored a garage sale to raise money. Dan would have been happy that I donated his clothes to this worthy cause mentioned above. I can hear him saying, “give my stuff away so others can use it.”
There were several other “rebalancing” acts I discovered. Thank goodness I have the necessary life skills of managing our finances investments that Dan and I worked hard to learn to save and invest over many years. I can also cook, entertain, and live peacefully within my skin. For the first time I filed federal and state taxes using Turbo Tax.
Far too many widows and widowers have little preparation for living alone. Many men do not know how to cook, take care of the house, or even grocery shop! Many other single seniors (and young folks too) don’t have a clue on managing their investments and eventually fall prey to the financial sharks that lurk everywhere.
My life and circumstances are far from grim. People in my bereavement group have horrific challenges I don’t. We know the grief parents experience losing a child. Two women each lost their adult daughter to cancer and are struggling with difficult sons-in-law to see their grandchildren! With these experiences, the group constantly reminds me that others suffer from tragic losses too. It’s important to keep my loss, my pain and my ongoing challenges of living alone in perspective. I am not the only one who got a bad rap!
Thank goodness for my bereavement group and my Buddhist center teachings. I am getting through this painful time with support and perspective. My Buddhist teachings and meditations offer relief by a perspective of life that is loving, nonjudgmental, and reminds me what I have right now–a precious human life.
My challenges are straightforward: How do I function in an empty house or grocery shop for one person? On July 4th, I was blindsided by another unintended consequence of this unplanned single life–I was sick on the 4th of July, probably from food poisoning. Luckily, I recovered quickly this time, and I have a friend who will act on my behalf in case I cannot make my own medical decisions.
Everything has changed. Writing in this blog and in my personal journal, exercising, eating healthily, maintain an active social calendar and volunteering are proven ways to heal. It is okay to survive, to grieve, to talk to your loved one’s picture about the news and events of your day and to miss him or her. My bereavement group laughs, weeps, talks about our losses, and make plans for our future.
Transitioning from our retirement savings portfolio to my portfolio was straightforward. I did not need much transitioning–writing on this blog and reporting on my portfolio. Dan and I addressed the possibility of carrying on alone over many conversations. We knew we were lucky to have each other, but we also knew that all the emotional issues surrounding living alone and the single life cannot be preplanned. At least, I don’t worry about financial insecurity and the subsequent negative implications: downsizing, moving, balancing bill paying, and living on less income.
I had two sources of assistance for rebalancing my portfolio: Sammi and Vanguard’s outstanding financial advisers. Through Sammi’s nagging I finally got around to calling Vanguard and setting up a phone consulting to simplify and to rebalance from “our” portfolio to mine.
I reported the activities I am doing to rebalance my grieving life. The easiest project would be my financial portfolio. Below is the portfolio that Dan and I decided to use for much of the last decade. When Dan died everything changed. So in addition to many day-to-day emotional issues of living alone, I decided that I need to simplify and rebalance my complicated portfolio.
Sammi and I and two Vanguard personal investment advisers assisted me in rebalancing my portfolio.
Below is my current portfolio. It contains six investments and one cash account (Less than have the accounts from my old portfolio illustrated above).
To get to this stock/bond split, I had to sell stock mutual fund holdings and purchase additional bond holdings.
Sammi and I have grown closer since Dan left us eight months ago. Together we are thriving and surviving one day at a time. I just got back from a wonderful trip to Tanzania, Africa with Dan’s sister Cathy and her husband Glenn. We toured Louis and Mary Leakey’s museum in Olduvai Gorge, visited villages, big cities, the regal Maasai people, a middle school and the most famous natural park in the world, The Serengeti National Park.
Which investment company paid for my African trip?
While I rebalanced my portfolio, rebalancing my life without Dan is a complicated and challenging process. The other evening, I had the pleasure of having a great time at a wonderful Indian restaurant with three beautiful friends, left to right, Mallory, Luce and Felina. We share our loss of a loved one and shed a tear or two together. I am comforted by friends as I move forward, as we all move forward, and look towards sharing good times in our precious human lives.
This terrible time will subside. My grief is relieved when I plan ahead. I look forward to driving my beautiful Tesla with Sammi in-tow to my hometown, Cumberland Wisconsin. My 50th high school reunion awaits. Sammi and I will visit friends and family, and staying at AirBnbs along my trek across the western United States. Driving on the open road feels liberating from my grief. Sammi remains a wonderful companion, an antidote to my phantom pain.
In this blog post, I presented the details of rebalancing my portfolio. But I also hope that you felt comfortable enough to read the difficult, emotional rebalancing act any surviving spouse must address. Picking up the pieces and rebalancing my life are necessary and positive. Dan told me before he died that he wanted me to continue with my life, and he apologized for leaving me behind. I am both strengthened and saddened by his dying comments. Strengthen by recognizing how and when all of my rebalancing to being single and happy again is uncertain. Sadden because we both knew he was not coming home.
I can live with uncertainty. I pray and meditate that all people who have lost a precious loved one will survive to live peacefully and happily once again as the days, weeks and years pass. For those who are not grieving, tell your loved ones, starting with your spouse or significant other just how important they are to you. You’ll never regret it.