Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The financial cost of a child's death

 Recently, a family I know lost two children in a house fire. A week ago, a 3 year old and his father were killed in a wreck in front of our house. I knew the family. They have since set up a fund for that family for people to help with expenses. 

With all of the horrible things that happen after a child's death, the last thing you want to think about is money. Yet, there it is...You would think that with everything else going on you'd at least get a reprieve from that part of the burden, but you don't. 

The funeral parlor and director cut us a break (thank goodness) and only charged us for the coffin and burial plot. In total, it was about $2500. My father-in-law paid $1,000 of that. We later paid $600 for the headstone. In expenses, we paid close to $3,000. Still, that wasn't terrible considering that funerals generally start at around $6,000. 

We could not afford to take much time off from work in our grief. Toby died on Saturday, Pete started teaching on Monday. He went to all of his classes.  The funeral was Wednesday and he took that day off but then went back on Thursday. I took two weeks off because a very nice client gave me $500 and that covered me for the rest of the month. (Clearly, my bills were not that high at the time.)

A month after Toby died, Pete's full time job let him go. I know this made some people angry because they felt like his office should have given him some slack considering what was going on but we understood. He just couldn't do it at the time. They were nice about it, but it hit us hard. 

 As a result, we had to pull Sam out of daycare because we could no longer afford it. That meant that I had to crunch my 40 hour workweek down to about 15 hours. I was doing the same amount of work, but in less than half the time. 

A friend had a yardsale for us and raised about $250. (The exact amount escapes me at the moment.) We used it to buy flowers for Toby's grave for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We also used to it pay a bill because I got behind with one of my clients when I just couldn't get out of bed for a week. 

Even though the funeral costs were less than $3,000 it took us a year to pay them off. I felt so guilty visiting the cemetery and not seeing a headstone. We got one on in May (about 9 months after he died) and I felt such relief. 

Friends did send $25 or $50 here and there and that helped A LOT. We were very grateful for that. I lost a lot of regular clients and jobs during those first few months. I was working as hard as ever, but it took me longer and I made mistakes that needed to be corrected. With some of the money, we created a scholarship for the writer's retreat we had attended with Toby. 

People said that they were sending it to help with funeral expenses and such, but what some didn't understand is that the financial burdens that come with losing a child are not limited to expenses directly associated with the death. Pete lost his job because of Toby's death. We needed money for groceries. We needed money for gas to get him back and forth to the one job he DID have. Some of our friends understood that. One even sent ME a check for $30 and told me NOT to use it for anything except taking myself to get a manicure or something. Pete and I went to the movies. 

For weeks, we ate nothing but plain chicken legs, canned beans, and pasta.I made a lot of tea. 

We are still feeling the financial effects of his death. We don't even live paycheck to paycheck anymore. Some months, we have no idea where our money is coming from. We spend less than $250 per month on eating out, buying clothes, and going to the movies. I have pawned my wedding ring, sold the designer dresses I collected when I was younger, and held so many yardsales that we barely have any furniture left. We sold our living room furniture, our desk, bedroom furniture, and our dining room set. Pete sold his brand new riding mower. We have to mow our 7 acres with a push mower now. He sold off his knife collection in order to pay our car insurance. 

Pete applies for every job he can find. He has applied for teaching jobs throughout the state. This semester he did better and another dpeartment at the university offered him classes. That enabled us to take a vacation and put some back for this summer. He has been unable to find a new full time job like the one he lost when Toby died, though. 

We did not have insurance on Toby. We thought about it but decided against it at the time. I am not sure that would have helped. Some parents I know have Gerber Life Insurance and lost their babies and now Gerber won't pay out. So maybe we wouldn't be any better off. I don't know. 

On top of everything else, it sucks that we think of money and financial hardship in regards to our son's death. Losing a child sends you on a downwards spiral in so many ways. We are just now starting to get back on our feet. 

When I see a family that has lost a child I now look at them differently. Not only is there the emotional damage, but there's the humiliation of the financial struggle on top of that to contend with. 

The Nelson Family that lost their husband and son in Waco has an account set up at the bank in Waco. I know that when the Chesnut's get their new house they will need furniture. Reaching out to people in a financial way if you can't do it emotionally is just as appreciated. Easing that burden means a lot, even though it's embarrassing. 

If I ever start a foundation in Toby's name, part of it will go to assisting families with funeral expenses. I'd like to create a grant, too, that will help them get through the first couple of months. Perhaps buy their groceries, help the with bills, or even just allow them to get away for the weekend. 


Katie said...

I just found your blog today while googling for some sids bloggers. We lost our only son two weeks ago tomorrow. Nolan was only seven weeks old. We are heartbroken and quickly realizing the financial strains we have coming too. Several people have sent us checks and one of my close friends set up an online fund to help with expenses. I am just so devastated and in shock still so the last thing I even think about is money. Thanks for your blog and I will be reading more. So sorry that someone else has had to go through the same tragedy though.

Rebecca said...

I am so sorry about the loss of Nolan and sorry that you had to find me.

Thinking about money is the last thing you want to think about at this time and it's a slap in the face that we have to. I wrote the post because there are all kinds of different aspects of grief that we have to contend with and some of them people don't even realize. Sometimes it seems like every step we take just gets harder.

Jayden's Mommy said...


Its 3 months and I know there is no way I could ever go back to work. I ran a 10 million dollar business for a baby retail store. I was planning to stay out with Jayden for a while but how can I go back and see many moms with their newborns, with babies my sons age... We been fortunate that my husbands boss allowed him to stay out for almost a month.. And since Jayden was one of 2 grandsons in my husband family of 9 children and the only grandson in my family; the family took care of almost everything. But now im quickly finishing our savings and I might have to be back at work soon. Im now feeling the pain more than ever. But like u said its the months later and how affected you can be later even years later. Im sorry.