Reclaiming Joy with Ella Wall Prichard

October 05, 2018
We sit down with Ella Wall Prichard to discuss her new book, “Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows.”

When her husband of 46 years, Lev, died in 2009, Ella Wall Prichard was unprepared for her journey as a widow. She began writing about the struggles she faced while taking control of her finances, the impact of her husband’s passing on her family and the wisdom she discovered along the way. Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to Nantucket to learn more about Prichard’s new book, “Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows.”

What role does communication play in creating a family unit?

Communication is everything, along with transparency, openness and honesty. This is where advisors can help. In most cases, your children have the right to information. They have a voice, but not a vote, and they want to vote. It’s important to have someone, an authority, whether it’s the lawyer, trust officer or accountant, who explains to them that their father left their mother in charge.

When you’re part of a couple, it’s natural to define yourself in relation to your partner. Then, after going through something like what you went through, you are the whole.

I’ve discussed this with the woman who served as a mentor to me. She said finding your own identity is the hardest thing. The issue is about figuring out who you are and recognizing that you have an identity. Many divorcees face the same problem. Who are we if we’re not someone’s wife?

Traditionally, women have identified themselves through their roles in their family. When you become a widow you lose that, and many women face the question of “Who am I?” Often, your financial situation is affected in some way, and you’re emotionally distraught. You can’t think straight and don’t remember anything.

What did you learn along this journey to help find joy again, despite the tremendous challenges you were facing?

There were many moments of joy with the family and with activities, but the grief and the business and financial issues were so overwhelming that it felt like a joyless time. When you go to bed at the end of the day and can’t sleep because you’re thinking about all the bad things that happened, you need to remember that you can’t change what you did, and you can’t control what tomorrow holds.

A rabbi recommended recording three moments of joy in every day, and that way, you go to bed with some thanksgiving, whether it’s a formal prayer or something else. It is a way to remember the good times with your husband and be grateful for the good memories. Getting to that point is step one. If you record moments of joy, at the end of a year, you have a thousand moments of joy.

Prichard's article, “From Grief to Joy: Rebuilding an Abundant Life,” was first published in the summer 2016 issue of Women & Wealth Magazine, and an excerpt of it is reprinted below

From Grief to Joy: Rebuilding an Abundant Life
As my husband’s health began to fall, I knew that his early death was likely - congestive heart failure is a terminal disease. I began to pay more attention to business and financial issues, and, out of necessity, I took on some of the chores that had always been on Lev's "honey-do" list.

But nothing prepared me for widowhood. I felt completely unequipped for all that had to be done in the aftermath of his death. Bank accounts, his office and business, the new car he bought just four days before his death, filing for probate and taxes, a nuisance lawsuit which he was the defendant - the list of responsibilities, which one day were his and the next day mine, were never-ending.

A friend warned me, "They will not give you time to grieve. "But I welcomed the business, for I did not want to think: not about the pain of the recent past bought on by Lev's declining health and final illness, not of the business that needed to be taken care of immediately, nor the possibility of living decades as a widow. Mustering the courage and will to plow ahead consumed my energy. Trying to grasp my legal and financial situation overloaded my brain. I discovered that if I worked at my desk until I was too tired to hold up my head, I could all asleep without being flooded with too many bad memories from the past or fears about the future.

One week after Lev died, I received an unexcepted call from his financial advisors - three people sitting around a speaker phone in Chicago - without forewarning or an opportunity to have my attorney on the line. The advisor's team leader informed me that the bank - one of the too big-to-fail banks, reacting to the financial catastrophe that was in high gear - would no longer manage my investments as it had for generations of Lev's family. I was given 30 days to decide whether to give the bank total discretion to handle all investments, including asset allocation, or manage them myself.

Through the years, Lev repeatedly told me that I did not need to know the details of his business because "they will be here for you." They were not. He said, "Everything you need is in the four-drawer locked file cabinet." It was not. We quickly realized that all of our estate planning had focused on taxes. I could not remember a conversation in 46 years of marriage where professional advisor advisors discussed with us the difficulty of administration or stresses on the family.

In estate planning meetings, our attorney had assured me, "Nothing will change when Lev dies. "Everything changed. How could it not? This was April 7, 2009, one month after the stock market bottomed. I was a week away from tax day but knew nothing about income tax preparation. Assets were pouring out the door, and there was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding. That first month, I was completely overwhelmed by grief, fear and anxiety.


For more of Prichard’s insights on widowhood, read “Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows” and visit her blog at ellawallprichard.com.

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