Notes from a new widow

You will never be prepared enough. Although I taught a continuing education course on Grief and Loss for over 15 years for the UW School of Social Work, there were unexpected issues after the devastating loss of my beloved husband.

When I called my lawyer, a respected colleague, I was surprised when she said, “Don’t tell the bank yet.” Indeed she was correct. My husband and I always had three expenditure accounts: his, hers, and ours. One of the credit cards was in his name only. It had been used for an expensive trip that had to be cancelled. It will now be more complicated to receive the numerous refunds from hotels, airlines, and rental car. Put everything in both your names.

You must of course promptly notify Social Security, 800-772-1213. You can speak to a Social Security representative between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday. They notify Medicare.

Keep in mind that you must then also notify any other health care programs such as the Medicare supplement and drug insurance. I called the prescription provider promptly. Nevertheless they mailed out a $500 prescription after they had been notified of his death. They were kind enough to refund the money but it was an added pain.

Make absolutely certain that the hospital understands your documented end-of-life preferences. These are obviously painful and complicated issues. For example, my husband had a pacemaker/defibrillator. Therefore he was DNR. That literally means do not use cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CPR would not work with a pacemaker. It does not mean comfort care only.

We still wanted broken bones to be mended, fluids and medications maintained, and more. However, when his situation slowly worsened over 10 days, the hospital kept adding interventions such as dialysis, intubation on a ventilator, a feeding tube. His potential for recovery became dimmer and dimmer. Even though I had durable power of attorney for health care and wanted to involve hospice, they refused. “We don’t do hospice here.”

I finally had to bring in a “Values Worksheet” our lawyer had given us. It clearly stated that he did not want extraordinary interventions such as permanent intubation, continuing dialysis, tube feeding.

My heart is breaking writing all this. My last piece of advice in this article is sign up for People’s Memorial. The web site for Washington State is They can refer you other organizations in your area. They were wonderful. It is a non-profit co-operative, providing education and affordable cremations, burials, and green funerals. There is a one-time $50 fee and we were long-time members. One of the most difficult aspects of saying goodbye was made smooth and easy and cost less than $1000. My husband was always thrifty, and I respect that. Death is not cheap. Or easy.IMG_2861

Published by jeannettefranks

Jeannette Franks, PhD, is a passionate gerontologist and for over 20 years has taught ethics, grief and loss, and courses on geriatrics and gerontology for the University of Washington. Franks' most recent book is, To Move or To Stay Put: A Guide for Your Last Decades. Look for it now on the University Bookstore website It is also available at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge. Franks previously published a definitive guide to independent and assisted living titled Washington Retirement Options, and often speaks on retirement options, disability issues, end-of-life issues and is an advocate for accessibility. She has a goal of making Bainbridge an elder-friendly community and is available to groups and families to discuss these issues. She served for nine years on the Kitsap County Advisory Council on Aging and Long-term Care. She also has the privilege of working in a small way for the past 15 years with the Suquamish tribal elders.

2 thoughts on “Notes from a new widow

  1. Sis:
    I am very touched by your sharing your pain and loss in such a way to reduce the pain others may suffer under similar circumstances. I have benefited from your gerontological expertise in the past, and I am learning from my pain and yours over the loss of Dick from our lives. That is what we must continue to do: love and learn.


  2. Hello Jeannette–I am reading your book and came to your website for recipes, which I found. So sorry to read of the passing of your husband and so touched by your generosity in sharing your lessons learned. I am grateful that I was first on the fringes of the deaths of my friend’s parents before my own took their turn. Therefore it wasn’t such a foreign world, so I say to my middle-aged peers–don’t shy away.

    Also taking to heart your hard-earned advice and have given myself and my partner several homework assignments to review plans, make plans, and share plans.

    Thanks for your service. Mary


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