Malkie Hirsch

By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

This morning, I squeezed whatever remained from the Crest tube of toothpaste on my bathroom vanity.

Over the last couple of weeks, I had noticed how the tube was being emptied of its contents pretty quickly. Unlike my children, I’m pretty fond of minty fresh breath and clean teeth.

Call me crazy. Or passionate about dental hygiene.

First, I folded the tube from the bottom and started rolling it up until there was nothing coming out of the opening. At that point, I considered cutting open the tube to swipe my brush on the inside to get my ration of paste necessary to adequately clean my pearly whites.

But then I realized I’d have to do the inevitable. I’d have to open my cabinet and actually look for the other tubes of Crest.

As I bent down to inspect the inner contents of my cabinet, a sense of déjà vu enveloped me, taking me back a few years—but also a lifetime ago—to another time when I had to rummage for Crest. I recalled how I couldn’t figure out where Moshe had left the Costco pack of toothpaste we bought every couple of months.

But that’s the way things went here, regularly. We had our roles—I bought the stuff, he’d put it away.

I’d cook the food and he’d pack it in the fridge with a Tetris-like precision I could never achieve.

But now he was gone, and I didn’t know where the toothpaste was, just like I didn’t know the passwords to his phone or pertinent bank account information.

I didn’t know who to call now that this had happened, and I didn’t know what we had and what we didn’t.

I was completely in the dark and it was my fault.

Because I had wanted it this way.

I fashioned my adult life to be in the dark, in some respects. I didn’t want to know about money; I only wanted to know that my credit card would go through when I was at the grocery store.

I wanted to make an expensive purchase somewhere and get a “you deserve it” instead of a “you should’ve asked me” and that was enough for me.

I was old-fashioned in my mentality. I didn’t want to know details—just that we had what we needed to live the lifestyle we were accustomed to living.

But the problem with that sort of naiveté is that, inevitably, someone, somewhere, will be an example someday.

And that someone was me.

And I assure you, it’s not the very first thing you grapple with when dealing with sudden loss of a spouse. But it’s up there as one of the more important aspects of getting affairs in order.

Because even when someone’s life ends suddenly, the world doesn’t stop moving.

Far from it.

Credit card companies still send out their invoices and your mortgage will still be due. Kids’ schools will want some tuition, even if it can’t be the full year’s pay, and the kids will need new items for yom tov.

Questions will be asked about what you need from well-meaning people who want to help you get back on your logistical feet, and for the first time in a long time, you’ll need to be the one to scramble for those answers.

It’s overwhelming and not fun, this adulting aspect of life, which is why I kept my head safely ensconced in the sand for so long. After all, I justified it by noting that I did deal with so much. Working, child-rearing, running the home. I was busy, too.

But asking questions to someone who’s no longer here is way harder than asking them while he still is, and I truly hope you never find yourself in this position. But we never know what can happen. So do yourselves a favor—compile a sheet of essential contact information, passwords, and account info for any banking institutions you and your spouse belong to. Clue each other in on all the divided tasks and responsibilities—just in case. Think of it as an extension of life insurance.

It might be unpleasant to think about the what-ifs, but it can save you a big headache down the road if you’re equipped with the information you need to keep things running smoothly.

There are many layers to the process of grieving the loss of a loved one.

You might not appreciate how important the financial end of life is even in these moments, but I’m telling you from firsthand experience that it’s the one thing you fall back on when life feels completely out of your control. I know that as far as young widowed mothers go, I was relatively cushioned because although I was almost financially clueless, I wasn’t left penniless, thank G-d. I just needed to learn how to manage, access, and utilize what we had.

When you know you have what you need or you know what to ask for, that’s half the battle. It’s been three years and luckily things have settled since his passing.

I needed a CliffsNotes-version tutorial on mail sorting, bill paying, accounts and banks, and the kids’ financial matters, too. I had help enlisting the best people to help me demystify this world of which I was blissfully oblivious for a long time. And while it wasn’t something I initially anticipated having to figure out, it had to be now that I was the one in charge.

So, while it’s scary and overwhelming trying to absorb all this information at such a frenzied pace, it was also empowering to know what I had and what to do with it. And, as it turns out, it’s also really important.

There’s a lot of new that arises in a situation like this, but like everything else in life, eventually routine sets in and there’s once again a predictable rhythm to life.

In my experience, I found that there were so many organizations and resources available to women needing help with financial matters.

Take advantage while life is relatively calm and stable and use the opportunity to organize the administrative responsibilities of your home, make a will, purchase life insurance, set up a savings account. It’s not colorful or exciting or inspiring—it even feels kind of morbid. But it’s so worthwhile to set yourself up to be competent and learn independence before you might actually need it.

Like it says in Pirkei Avos: “Who is wise? One who foresees what’s to come.”

It gives you the sense of relief and renewal akin to rummaging through the contents of the cabinet and finding the brand-new full tube of toothpaste you knew was there all along. 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.


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