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