Thriving After Loss: Three Stories of Resilience

Life’s unexpected turns can challenge even the most carefully laid plans. For women, losing a spouse can bring profound changes, including those that ripple through financial strategies. Below are the inspiring stories of three women who faced unforeseen tragedies in their fifties and found the strength to reshape their financial paths. Each story underscores the importance of reevaluating priorities and adapting strategies, offering valuable insights for women navigating similar journeys.

Rediscovering Independence and Dreams

Jane and Roger retired to Oregon with dreams of a peaceful cabin life. They both spent their careers working in tech in Silicon Valley and were looking forward to a simpler existence. Thanks to being diligent savers and investors, they were able to retire in their 50’s and were planning for a long retirement.

Unfortunately, the universe had different plans. Roger was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed just a few months after their move. Jane was devastated. They had worked so hard for all their lives and had been imagining their cabin in the woods for years. Would she be able to continue with the plans on her own? Or would she need to plan a new future?

Inexperienced with their investments, Jane faced the daunting task of understanding their financial landscape. Fortunately, Roger planned well, and things were as organized as they could have been. This allowed Jane to combine assets seamlessly and feel confident that the nest egg would allow her to follow their dream and continue building the cabin.

Where she was less confident was in managing the investments going forward. She needed her funds to last another forty or fifty years and she did not want to make a mistake that would put her future at risk. She decided to hire a financial planner to help her with the investment management. We worked to craft a strategy based on her new circumstances. She decided that her earlier strategy was too risky and based more on Roger’s risk tolerance than on her own. We repositioned her accounts to fit with the new situation. Every time we meet, she expresses her gratitude for taking a huge burden off her shoulders.

The cabin in the woods is still under construction, and Jane is looking forward to moving in as soon as she can. She still misses Roger all the time, but she has rediscovered confidence in her independence.

Crafting a New Life Beyond the Shoreline

Lisa and Steve cherished their beachside life in South Carolina until Steve’s sudden passing forced Lisa to reimagine her future. They had been vacationing at the beach in South Carolina for years, so when Steve retired from his job running a manufacturing company outside Philadelphia, they were thrilled to move there full time.

One day, about a year into their dream retirement, Steve had a heart attack on the golf course. Lisa’s world was turned upside down. She had always relied on Steve as the primary earner and financial manager. She had no idea what she was going to do without him. Their plan was to spend many years enjoying the beach and all that retirement had to offer.

As she adjusted to the initial shock, Lisa began to rethink being in South Carolina. While she had friends there, and she and Steve enjoyed it together, she didn’t have any family in the area. Her daughter was working in Washington DC, while her son and her first grandchild were in Colorado. Lisa began to contemplate what it might be like to move closer to one of her children. Her first thought was to move to Colorado as her son was more established and more likely to stay there long term. And of course, that would allow her to spend more time with her grandchild. But what would it look like?

She had no idea if she could afford to buy a new house if she sold the condo which was mortgage free. Lisa was also considering different options, from buying in a 55+ community to partnering with her son to help him buy a bigger house with an in-law suite where she could live. She had several ideas but didn’t know where to start in analyzing what was feasible.

As a first step, Lisa and her son decided to reach out for some professional guidance. I worked with them to analyze the three scenarios and create some guidelines for what a reasonable purchase budget would be. We then compared the long-term impact of each of the scenarios so that she felt comfortable that she wasn’t making a mistake that would put her financial future in jeopardy.

Armed with the new financial plan, Lisa gained the confidence to shift directions and move to Colorado to be closer to family. She is thriving living near, but not with, her son and grandchild. While it’s not the life she had envisioned she is incredibly happy and content where she is now.

Transforming Grief into Purposeful Renewal

April and Jeff had been married about ten years. One afternoon, April got the call no one ever wants to get. Jeff was driving home from work when he was in a car accident. April went into shock. How could this happen? They were so young, they had so much they wanted to do. How was she going to move forward?

It took months for April to come to terms with what had happened, and to even start to think about what it would mean for her future. She was only 52. April had been a homemaker, supporting Jeff and his demanding career, for the past ten years. She felt like she was too young to retire, but without Jeff to care for and support, her days weren’t filled anymore. She wanted a reason to get up in the morning, something to focus on. Confronting grief, April realized the need for purpose and decided that she wanted to reenter the workforce.

She had been out of the workforce a long time, but maybe she could find work that she would enjoy.  She researched her options for almost a year, and during this time sought out help from me.  Not only did she want to understand how this plan might affect her finances, but also needed a thinking partner to help in vetting the options. She ultimately decided to go back to school to become a paralegal.  By using a part of Jeff’s life insurance, April invested in herself, embracing education and forging a new career.

In addition to giving her purpose, this new career and the income it provided significantly improved April’s financial plan.  She could have survived on the retirement savings and life insurance that Jeff had left to her but there wouldn’t have been much room in the budget to enjoy life. With the new career, she has discovered a love of travel and is able to take several trips a year. She is also adding to the retirement savings so that when she does finally retire, she will be able maintain the lifestyle that she is so thoroughly enjoying.

Three Paths Forward

The stories of Jane, Lisa, and April highlight the incredible resilience of women in the face of unexpected loss. These narratives offer valuable lessons in adaptability, reevaluation, and the power of seeking professional guidance.

If you find yourself navigating similar circumstances, remember that there’s no single right way to move forward. By partnering with a knowledgeable financial advisor who understands your unique challenges, you can chart a course that aligns with your values and aspirations. The loss of a spouse can be a catalyst for profound change, giving you the opportunity to rebuild not just financially, but emotionally and personally, as well.

As you consider these stories, reflect on your own journey and the support you have at your disposal. Whether it’s aligning investments, exploring new career paths, or crafting a sustainable retirement plan, your financial planner can guide you toward a future that’s as empowering as it is unexpected. Embrace the resilience within you and take each step forward with the knowledge that you’re not alone on this journey of renewal.