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My Husband’s Death Left Me Penniless…With No Home, Would I Have to Sleep On the Road?

After my husband's death, my landlord kicked me out. I had to find a job but what would my resume say...housewife for 15 years?

After my husband’s death, my landlord kicked me out. I had to find a job but what would my resume say…housewife for 15 years?

The pain of losing a loved one can never be overcome and can be life-changing but a significant amount of trauma can be avoided by having a plan.

I lost my love, my husband last month. He was my first love and my only friend. My life revolved around him and our house. We knew each other for over twenty years and we were married for fifteen years. We were never apart except for the time he was in the hospital, it all happened so suddenly that I have still not come to terms with it!

He died while I sat beside him holding his hand and caressing his head. I sang his favourite song –our song; one last time.

“You have such a bad voice Ruchi and so out of tune but it is still music to my ears”, he laughed even though he was in so much pain.

Those were his last words before he got another stroke and passed away. It is not a great memory to look back to but I close my eyes and I see him on the hospital bed, tubes attached to his body, struggling to breathe and fighting for a few moments of life!

People say I shouldn’t remember him like that and dwell on the good times, but they don’t understand that it was our last memory together and the end of our story.

My husband was a good man but he never planned for the future; he believed in living in the present-one day at a time. He always said we have an entire life ahead of us and we will build our future together. We dreamt of our own house even if it was a single room with a roof on our heads- a house we could call home!

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Life had other plans though…

I spent the first few days after his death barely living – just surviving! I hated my life, it had no purpose anymore! My days had no routine, just an emptiness that could not be filled.

I was completely dependent on my husband for my needs; I took care of the house while he took care of the finances- the rent, the groceries, the bills and banking. I never took an initiative because he was always there to handle things.

Soon after his death reality hit me! I didn’t even have time to process my grief or mourn for him and it was time to pay the monthly rent. Our landlord was worried how he would get the rent every month, now that the sole earner was no more. We had exhausted all our meagre savings in his treatment. The last hospital bill was paid by selling some of my jewellery; I didn’t have any money or investments to fall back on.

My grief was overcome by anger! I shouted at death like it could hear me-I don’t deserve this, this isn’t fair! I transformed into an angry and envious widow. Why me? I was jealous of women who had their husbands alive, I was envious of women who had kids to look after them while I had none. I hated people who had money at their disposal and were living their perfect lives.

I realised I never took the initiative to learn things, to make investments or to plan for the future. I had fifteen days to vacate the house and nowhere to go. I barely had the last eleven thousand rupees to my disposal, where would I go? It didn’t seem appropriate to ask friends to lend me money and I didn’t know if anyone would even agree.

There were no sources to pay them back nor was I capable of doing any job as I had never worked in my life. I no longer felt sadness and dark thoughts filled my head. I swung between mind-numbing grief and a fear of living on the streets- that’s where I would be eventually!

I needed to find a job soon and at a time when the pandemic had caused chaos in the world and forced millions of people out of work. How would I go about it? I didn’t have any education or skills to support me and even if I did find a job, would it be possible to afford a place on rent?

I wasn’t very tech savvy and I didn’t even know how to take the first step- what would my resume say? Housewife for fifteen years; knows cooking and cleaning but no experience in anything else!

Time was running out, there were only two days left for me to vacate the place and I had nowhere to go. I wish I could make some money selling the furniture but nothing was mine to sell. Everything we had, everything we thought we owned-was someone else’s. All I could say was my own were my clothes and a few other possessions which wouldn’t get any money in return if sold.

I am ashamed of myself that I was so naïve that I thought life will always be a bed of roses. My husband was in charge of all the large purchases, the bills and the bank accounts. The bill collectors had started to call and they were not really understanding and emphatic of my situation. In the end you realise you are alone in this world and are responsible for yourself.

I tried to check my husband’s email accounts and bank accounts but I didn’t know what the password was. He hadn’t written it anywhere. I called up the bank for help but instead they asked me to come over and close the accounts to get all the details. I didn’t have much time, just a day more and I had to vacate the house. I packed my bags with nowhere to go. My worst nightmare was unravelling itself and I was completely unprepared.

I requested my landlord to let me stay for a few more days but he refused. I had spent the first few of my sleepless nights grieving about my husband, I was stressed, emotional and irritable but now I realise I should have spent it on figuring out the finances since I was homeless and penniless now. Not everyone has the privilege to grieve in peace!

I left the house the next morning with just one suitcase filled with clothes and nothing else. The last few thousands I had were spent paying off debts-the milkman, newspaper boy and the coconut vendor.

As I stepped out of my building I didn’t know where to go so I sat outside the bus-stop of our house; completely blank and staring into space. I had heard of people sleeping on the roads, park benches and station platforms. It was now my turn to figure out where to spend the night.

When your loved one passes away you can literally die of heartbreak but when he is the sole earner of the house; the financial shock that you get can make you forget your heartbreak and turn your world upside down. The financial problems that the spouse faces go far beyond losing an income.

It becomes the worst period of one’s life. When my husband passed away I suddenly went from being a stay-at-home mom to a widow with no career and no income. He used to give me money for the house expenses but I had no knowledge about his saving account-I had no idea about the balance in his account. I had no clue if he had any life insurance or policies.

I was devastated; I couldn’t imagine life being any worse. The buses kept passing by for hours as I sat at the bus-stop. I saw each one pass by and I had half a mind to board one of them and just keep travelling the whole day but I had to save the last few thousands I had. Even if I stayed in a hotel, it would be a minimum of 1000 Rs a day; I had left my life to fate.

My maid saw me sitting at the bus-stop when she passed by, “What are you doing here didi?” I told her my plight and she welcomed me to stay at her one room kitchen. I was overwhelmed and thanked her for her kindness with tears flowing from my eyes but I refused as I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.

She kept insisting and I finally gave in. None of my friends or extended family came forward to offer me any help nor did they ask me about my well-being. I decided to stay at her humble abode till I figured out the next steps to take. I even considered taking up the job of a maid- something is better than nothing.

I couldn’t imagine how my husband would have felt if he saw his dear wife struggling for every rupee. Not only my grief but the hardships that I was facing, he wouldn’t want me to suffer so much.

 I needed to get back on my feet and get my life back on track. I was determined to get a grip on my life and finances as soon as possible.

The first thing I did was ‘Making a list’- A list of the things I need to do. Apply for a death certificate, go to the bank and close his accounts, try to login to his email account to get details, find a job even if it pays me a basic salary, find a place to live- the list was endless and time was running out.

While I was busy in my thoughts I received a call, it was from my husband’s office. They asked me to visit them with the death certificate and few of my personal documents. My husband had insurance in case of his death for fifty lakhs, it was provided by the company he worked in. My husband never mentioned it to me so I had no idea; I am sure he had no idea too. I couldn’t stop crying, finally a ray of light.

My husband and I spoke for hours– talking about each other, our love and our future. The biggest mistake we did was when we spoke about our future; we never spoke about our finances. Money was never a part of our conversation.  No one wants to discuss their own death or the death of their spouse, let alone planning for the loss of a loved one. How I wish we had been better prepared.

The more digging I did, the worse the financial picture became. I learnt how wrong I was to expect my husband to manage all the finances and have no contingency for any emergency.

Looking back I realise that it was so important to have a will- we never even considered making one.

I wish we both realised what the consequences of his death would be for us as a family.

It was important to have a term insurance plan which we never applied for-it was a blessing that his office had a basic plan in place. It doesn’t take much to apply for an insurance policy.

My husband never shared his bank ac details and login passwords. Ideally, he should have written it somewhere so it could be accessible in case of his death but no one ever likes to think of the inevitable leave alone planning for it.

We never discussed our financial goals, I believe it would have helped us save and invest for our retirement and for our dream house.

I didn’t have a list of assets that my husband owned so that I could lay a stake on the same.

My husband didn’t add beneficiaries and nominees to any of his accounts. We should have discussed that.

We never organised our financial documents and they were all over the place.

I needed to be aware of all our bills, outgoings, and debt and how to pay them. This would have saved me so much time and frustration.

End of the tunnel…

It has been two years since my husband passed away. I work as a receptionist in a reputed firm and I make enough money to afford a small flat on rent for myself. I know it is a long way till I can finally afford a house of my own but I’ll take one small step at a time. I read a lot of books and material on finance and investing so as to manage my money better. I organise my accounts, my debts and my assets so it is easy for me to refer to it and access it as and when I want.

My husband’s demise changed my life forever in more ways than I can describe. It forced me to learn how to earn money and manage it well. I am no longer the naïve, ill-informed woman that I was. I choose to be self-sufficient and I want to build a strong financial future for myself.

It is funny how life always teaches you lessons the hard way. I wish I had known this much before I lost my husband and my best friend.

I will continue to work tirelessly and diligently to be independent in every way one can be. I still hate my husband for leaving me so early but as painful as it is, it didn’t have to be so hard.

Image source: Still from Ghost Stories 

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