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Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20: Fern Valley

Today is the 26th anniversary of the day Steve asked me out.  I think the Holy Spirit did a little work on us that day.

I knew that Steve was thinking of asking me out on a date. I had already accepted his offer to go to prom...as friends, or so I thought. We hung out a lot with friends, and I had no idea that he wanted me to be his girlfriend.

On April 20 of our junior year, we had been out with friends that afternoon. We had separate cars and when we were leaving wherever we were, he told me that he was going to follow me home.  When he pulled in his drive way I pulled over too. I didn't even think about it. When he came up to my window, I asked him, "I thought you were going to follow me home?".
Steve didn't really answer me, but instead asked me, "Do you want to go to see Fern Valley tonight?".
I answered him, "No, but I'll see Fern Gully. I need to ask my mom if it's okay.  I'll call when I get home."  When I got home, I asked and my mom told me it was fine. I was so excited!

He came to pick me up that evening and we went and played pool before going to the movies. When we got to the theater, "Fern Gully" had only been an early showing.  We went to see "White Men Can't Jump" instead.  Afterwards, we stopped at Burger King.  Some people we knew were there and they were so excited that he had finally asked.  I am sure if this was happening now, there would be a lot of social media posts happening.

I thank God that I pulled over that day, he finally asked, I agreed and my mom said yes! It was the start of something I couldn't even hope for.

My Facebook memory reminder today was from two years ago.  I say in the post that I can't imagine living without him.  Even though it was 4 months yesterday, I still struggle to believe he is gone and that I am surviving and living without him.

Today is the day we go to the funeral home too to plan for a spring burial.  We get to re-live a lot of it again. God will continue to grant me strength to keep taking another step.

Insurance Company

I received a call from my agent, who I know personally, on Wednesday. He offered condolences and then said they had started the paperwork. They would eventually need a copy of the death certificate to send in. I did not end up giving them one as they contacted the funeral home and it was taken care of.

We had all of our policies there: life, camper, boat, house and vehicles as well as small policies for the boys. I needed to go in and sign the claim forms. They made my name the primary on the accounts.

They were able to file the claim at the beginning of January and it took about two weeks after that for the check for the life insurance to be ready. I requested a lump sum. I could have had monthly payments made, but I wanted to pay off the mortgage.  I stopped by and picked it up. When I went to deposit it, the bank needed to place a hold because of the large amount.

Before Steve died, we had talked about the life insurance money hopefully being enough to pay for the funeral as well as a majority if not all of the mortgage and home equity loan. Pretty much one our regular paychecks went to cover the mortgage expense and with only receiving partial pay in the form of retirement, that expense needed to be taken care of.

I thank God that Steve was a planner and smart about money. I am blessed that we had the money to purchase policies because I know many, if not most people, have not planned for something like this.

When we got home from the hospital one of the first questions my oldest asked was if we would have enough money to pay off the house and what we would do about the truck. I told him we were not making any major decisions, especially that night. Oh, how quickly he took over as the role of the "man of the house".

Most material I have read says to not make any big financial decisions for the first 6 months but I did not feel the use of the life insurance was a decision.  It had been decided when we opened the policy. It financially made the most sense.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Place of Employment

Someone called from the hospital to tell the superintendent what had happened and that I would not be in the next day.  I assume that my priest told them a least a little bit while he waited for me to get my jacket. An emergency meeting was held at the end of the day to let the teachers know. A few stopped by the house that day after school to see what I needed. One person offered to come and throw in laundry or run to the store for me. It was odd to see my colleagues at my house. Many from Steve's school came as well. I remember telling someone what a strange mix of people, as I am sure most of the people did not know each other. Another thing that I kept on a list were peoples cell phone numbers.  A few people offered to help if I needed it but then I didn't have a way to get a hold of them. 

The students were told in their homerooms Wednesday morning that he had passed away and that I would be going through a rough time and that they were not sure when I would be back. 

The next day (Wednesday) was last day of school before the start of Christmas Break. I am not sure when I told them that I would be back after break or if I just went back in January. I felt that I needed to go back, to be distracted, to help the kids, and to not be home anymore.  No one wants to be back the day after a vacation and everyone was tired,so I think I fit in.  It was awkward to see staff that had not attended the funeral and the students were not sure what to say.  I made it through most of the day without a lot of tears. I didn't work everyday that week. It was overwhelming and I felt I needed to be with my kids if they stayed home. Everyone kept asking if there was anything they could do and if I needed anything.  My time off the first few days was listed as bereavement/funeral time since the funeral had been on days that were were on break. 

I worked with the secretary in the superintendents office to make changes to my tax form. I needed to list myself as single instead of married.  That was really hard to do because I still felt (feel) married. I also made changes to my health insurance to make sure that my children were listed as the primary beneficiaries now.  I am not sure if she needed a copy of the death certificate or not. 

I eventually made some changes to my direct deposit amounts too after certain things were paid off. 




Death Certificate

It was a couple days after he passed away before I received a copy of the death certificate. I received it from the funeral home director.  I thought I would have to pick it up from the court house or in would be mailed.

Many places needed a copy of the death certificate mailed or dropped off. The funeral home director made me multiple copies. I was told that the more you buy at a time, the cheaper they are. I think the director made me twelve copies.  Many places/businesses made a photocopy and gave the original back to me. 

I still keep a copy in my purse because I never know who will need it.

I was told by another widow that she needed to bring her husband's certificate three years later when she went to change the account name at the TV company. I guess it's another thing to file in the safe.


List of Contacts

In a small (4x6) notebook I recorded who I talked to and the date, when paperwork was mailed, and when checks were received.  It was easy to carry it with me and I had all the information when I needed to call again as I had to do.

I contacted the following:

the school where I work
insurance companies (we had more than one)
the NEA (an organization for teachers)
Social Security
Office of Retirement Services
My health insurance company
My husbands school where he worked
The Secretary of State
MEA (another organization for teachers)
My banks (we have two)
My husbands school loan company
Financial Adviser
Credit Card companies
About the loan on our truck
Asuncion Point
Cigna (life insurance)
Mortgage Company
A lawyer about our wills
The school board and our church with files and paperwork of Steve's
Utility companies (water, gas, TV/internet, electricity)

After four months I think I have contacted all of the places and filed the necessary paperwork with them. I kept photocopies of all of the documents I sent. I even copied the envelopes and then added the date on the copy. I had a large basket that anything related to Steve and his passing.






Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Notebook

I started a notebook to keep track of who I had talked to, when I had talked to them, what details about the situation and when I received paperwork back from them or checks that were deposited.

After a few pages I decided I needed to make a table of contents at the beginning of the notebook to be able to find the pages easily as I talked to different people over time.

Over the next few posts will be each of the people I contacted and the places that I needed to work with. My father-in-law and my dad both worked with me a lot by helping me fill out papers and drop things off. They also knew the names of people to contact which saved me some time. Every time I had to talk to somebody I had to relive the whole thing over again. I had to give details of the time he died, what he died from, if it was accidental or not, and some places I had to argue with.

I'm very thankful that I live in a small community and that many of the companies I talked to I was able to actually speak to people I knew. I know that made the whole thing a lot easier than if I lived in a big city. Most of the people I was working with knew Steve personally.

I found most people to be sympathetic and wanting to help. I also found that it took a tremendous amount of energy to do the paperwork part of this. I ended up taking time off of my job to be able to contact some of the companies and go to certain places that were only open during the school day.

It was frustrating to not know what I was talking about and to not understand some of the language that the places were using. I didn't know what type of policy we had for insurance if it was whole life or not, I didn't know which companies were in my name and which ones were in his name and I had to find all of those documents before I could make phone calls. Luckily I'm pretty organized and knew where most of the stuff was. I'm also thankful for the internet where I was able to find information, answers to my questions and phone numbers for places that I needed to call.

The other confusing part was knowing a time frame of who needed to be contacted when and if I was waiting too long or not waiting long enough before making the second or third contact. I kept wishing there was somebody like a wedding planner who would come and do death planning because there's so much paperwork, so many emotions, and too many things to do on my own that I couldn't let somebody else help with. If somebody could have come in, with even a check list in order of who to contact, it would have been amazing.

Part of the reason I started this blog is because a friend recommended that there needs to be something out there for people that are going through the same situation I've gone through. I'm not an expert by any means, but I feel I can share my story and hopefully it helps somebody go through this horrific situation.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

thank you notes

The spreadsheet was an amazing way to keep track of how much money we received, who had dropped off or made food, and sent flowers and other gifts. We made a column where we checked off once the thank you note was written. We could sort alphabetically to look for a family name or we could sort it by if the donation was made for the college fund or by what food they made when we needed to check an allergy question.

Two cousins of mine came over for the afternoon and took mailing labels and stamps and filled out the envelopes as much as possible. They also took all of the thank you notes from the funeral home and wrote "The family of Steve Lancour" inside of each one. The amount of time they saved us was incredible.

My mother-in-law, mom, sister-in-law, sister and I all sat down to write out the personal note for each of the thank you notes. I let them do a majority of them and pulled out the few that I wanted to do personally. It took us many hours but we got a lot of it done over a couple of days.

The sympathy cards continue to come in the mail and it's been almost 4 months. I write the thank you notes in small batches. Getting it done right away was one thing we could actually do as a lot of the other paperwork took time, phone calls and meetings.

Receiving a roll of stamps was an awesome thing as it gets expensive when you send out over 350 thank you notes.

The other nice thing about having the spreadsheet is when you need it for things like graduation we have all of the names and addresses already set.

The funeral and visitation

For the funeral there were a lot of decisions that needed to be made. We had to decide on what he was going to wear, what type of casket to order, what songs would be sung, what to do about food for a luncheon, the times of the visitation in the funeral, picture boards and guest books, burial plots, if we wanted to walk in with the casket or not, and what readings would be said during the service.

Again I had a lot of support from family to help make these difficult choices. Part of them being difficult was that there are four of us and I tried to make sure that everybody had a voice and got what they wanted or felt they needed at that time. It's really hard when one is 11, one is 15, one is 18 and I was 42. Being in a different role for everybody also made it really hard. We had to do a lot of things we didn't want to but knew we had to. I think the whole situation has brought us closer and I hope that's part of God's plan.

Emotionally it is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. The worst part was watching my three boys say goodbye to their dad. The whole time I was thinking that the last time I had stood was Steve at that alter was when we got married. The kneelers were the same kneelers we had when we said our wedding vows and now I'm here saying goodbye. My faith kept me going to that church from the time I was in Middle School and I still continue to go because that's where I get my strength from.

The amount of support from the community was absolutely overwhelming. We held the visitation at our church and we figure at least 700 people attended. People stood in line for over 2 hours to give condolences and love to my in my family. Some people are unable to stay and sign the guestbook anyway. For the funeral itself they had to stop the lines of the funeral could start. Many people stayed for lunch. A huge number of people contributed food and worked in the kitchen for hours getting everything set up and cleaned up. A list was kept of who had donated food. Another list was made for the flower donations for the altar. My sister took a picture of each bouquet with the small card attached so we would know which ones were which ones we got them home.

Ahead of time we made picture boards. Collecting the photos was fun as there was lots of laughter and memories amongst the tears that we shed. My sister-in-law found an app on her phone that allowed her to scan in pictures from old photo albums and put them on to a Google Drive. We asked friends and family to send pictures that they had to the drive and were able to print them at our local Walgreens. After the funeral I was able to collect the pictures and make small photo albums for each of my boys, myself and had quite a few photos to send to other people.

During the funeral I found myself thanking God for the time that we had together. I asked him for guidance on how to do this alone. I asked him to watch over my boys and prayed that the relationship that Steve and I had was enough that the boys would be able to be amazing dads and husbands like he was to me and them.

A friend of the family did the readings and she did an amazing job. She said when she went to practice them at home she was at the window in the sunshine and felt either her mom or Steve looking after her, giving her the confidence to be able to read.

Our priest gave an amazing eulogy about the man he was and how he affected the entire community by being an active member of the parish, a teacher for almost 20 years in many schools, an amazing dad to three boys, a wonderful husband, a son, a brother, and a friend. He touched lives in no matter what he did and he didn't ever do it for the recognition. He hated being put in the spotlight. He lived a life that we should all strive to live. He was kind, loving and funny. He was always there for everyone and I feel that sometimes we took advantage of that.

I know Steve is in heaven. I know he was watching all of us that day. I know he continues to be a guardian angel and will continue to watch over us as we grow into a new normal.

Love, Friends and Family

We get an enormous amount of love from friends and family. People are dropping off food, drinks, and more paper products. Some of the best things we got were paper plates, kleenex boxes, fresh fruit, pasta sauce in small containers, postage stamps and gift certificates for local restaurants. We laughed at the amount of chicken, grapes, and pears we received.

We started a notebook to record who brought what so we could write thank you notes later.  Another notebook was started with who we had talked to and with phone numbers for people like the funeral home director and things that would have to happen. Random things would pop into my head, like who would change the bell schedule at church and that I had a commision at a thrift store to pick up.

My sister and sister-in-law started a spreadsheet to record who brought food and/or made donations.  We have a basket where all the cards are collected. We start another basket of paperwork related to the funeral.

I feel overwhelmed by the love and support.  My sisters are staying with me.  My mom stays over many nights. My youngest is sleeping with me every night. We are on Christmas break and so everyone is around. My oldest's girlfriend is often over and many times he goes to her house.

The agent from my insurance company called and offered his sympathy and told me he had started the process there for life insurance etc and that they would call when I needed to do anything.

I am in constant communication with the funeral home and we have a meeting to decided on a casket and cemetery. I mention that spring burial will not be Memorial Day weekend as my son is graduating.  We bring clothes to the funeral home...and then again as the shirt needed long sleeves and we had sent a short sleeve polo.

We have a meeting with the church to decide on readings, songs, altar servers, and pallbearers. My oldest picked one of the readings. Steve's family helped make choices. I had people come with me to all the meetings because I felt like my brain was mushy and wasn't sure I could make decisions.

During these first few days, I am almost constantly in tears. I am lonely even though my house is full. I am tired and am able to sleep.  I am continuing with my Bible study, prayers and gratitude journal.  I start a new notebook with things related to Steve. I am still numb and in disbelief. I am praying as to answers of why this had to happen.  I knew it was part of God's plan even though I was upset.

Finding out

Tuesday, December 19th, I am at work and head into a meeting.  I have kept my phone with me most of the day in case I was needed at home but did not receive a call or text.  I had emailed Steve to remind him it was his dad's birthday. A few minutes into the meeting, the secretary knocks on the door and tells me that I am going to need come out of the office and then head home.  I am so confused and then I see my priest there and a woman I know. Father says to me that I need to go with him.  I am angry and confused and keep trying to get him to tell me why and what is going on. I know in my heart that something bad has happened.  He didn't really know the whole situation either but someone needed to get me.  He says he will drive my car.

I ran upstairs and got my coat and purse and told someone in my classroom that I needed to go, that Steve was at the hospital and I left.  I then asked about my boys.  Sarah, the woman with Father, said she had already gotten my youngest, would head to the high school to get the other two and would bring them to the hospital. When I got the hospital my parent's car was there and a lot of people were in in the waiting room: my in-laws, my sister-in-law, my parents, and my youngest. Everyone was in tears.

I was taken into a room by the nurse and told that they had tried everything but he had stopped breathing and they could not resuscitate him.  I could not believe what I was hearing; he was fine when I left in the morning.

I was taken into the room to see him.  I cried on his chest for quite a while and held his hand. I said goodbye to the love of my life and the dad of my boys.  My oldest did come in at some point.  My other boys did not want to and I was okay with that.  His mom and dad were there and his mom kept saying that it wasn't supposed to be this way; that she was supposed to go first.  I was in shock.  I couldn't believe it was true.

Once I was back in the waiting room, I realized that the funeral home needed to be called. I am not sure if I called or who did it, but that started everything that would take place over the next few days.

I was talked to by the medical examiner about how the autopsy and death certificate would work and signed some papers.

The funeral home director called that evening to keep us up to date on what was happening and to discuss when we would like to try to hold the funeral with the Christmas Holiday only a few days away. We decided that before Christmas would be the best.

Many people were called and a lot of them came to my house with food and paper products. Everyone was in shock and disbelief.  He had been to work on Friday and church on Sunday. He was 42 years old.

My sisters headed for home from Chicago and Florida with their spouses. A new chapter in my life has begun.

last breath

He had routine hernia surgery on Monday morning that went very well. On Tuesday morning the kids and I said goodbye and left for school and work.  He was up and talking and had slept okay through the night.

Per doctor's orders, he needed someone with him for 24 hours so his dad came over to be there for the morning. They watched TV. Steve threw a remote at his dad when he fell asleep teasing him about who was the one watching who.

Steve's mom came over in the afternoon and asked if he wanted anything for lunch and he asked for chicken nuggets from McDonald's as they had tasted good the afternoon before.  She ran out to get them. She was gone about 15 minutes.

While she was gone, Steve got up to go to the bathroom and after a few minutes his dad called out to see if he was okay. He answered, "Yes".  A few more minutes pass and he asks again. This time the answer is "I am having trouble breathing". An ambulance is called and his mom returns to find his dad saying "Steve, you need to stay with me.".  The ambulance came and worked on him for awhile and then brought him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

No pain, No feeling that it was happening. God needed him more than us, I guess.

I thank God everyday that he was not home alone and that his parents were with him when he came into the world and again when he left. I am also thankful that we did not come home to find him. God knew what needed to be that day.

(*The cause of death was listed as Fatty Liver Disease and not connected to the surgery.)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Did he know?

I have asked myself many times if he knew.  Deep down I think he was prepping us.  I think God hinted to him that he was going to be leaving us and gave him opportunities with each of the boys so they would have those moments as memories.

During the fall, there were usual things that happened. He took our youngest shopping one day and asked about going to a hockey game.  He and our middle went to a movie, just the two of them. He taught our oldest how to use the snowblower on the tractor.

He talked about feeling old: that his shoulder wouldn't heal, his belly button was going to pop out and he was tired.

He stopped being on the building and grounds committee at church and had decided to not do lego robotics next year.  He really wanted new carpet in the front room and the bedroom/insulation project done but had our oldest do a lot of it.

A situation he had been helping a friend with was resolved after three years. He was reconnecting with a good friend from a few years ago.

Our finances were finally working out.  We had started monthly date nights and time together on Sunday mornings.

Little things here and there tell me that the Holy Spirit was working through us all to give us quality time that we needed.

Before

When we realized we were meant to be and said our vows we promised that we would be husband and wife until death do us part.We had dated for five years before we were married. We had celebrated our 20th anniversary in the summer.

I am sure we talked about funerals and death but with the idea, we would be old.  In fact, we designed the addition on our home to be handicap accessible for when we may need that or need in-home care. We assumed we would be paying our mortgage until we were in our 80's as we kept refinancing.

Once we had children we purchased life insurance policies.  We had a will drawn up listing who would take care of our children and the finances if something were to happen to both of us at the same time.  With our insurance through our jobs, we bought additional coverage for death and also survivor income assuming that we would pay it but really ever need to use it while we were working. Our income from an in-lieu-of payment was invested to have money for retirement.  Plans to travel and be with our grandchildren were discussed. We added an additional policy in my name through The Knights of Columbus but health issues led Steve to not be eligible.  Through our insurance agent we were able to add a small policy that if the boys were in an accident and wearing their seatbelts, there would be money to help cover funeral expenses.

I know I have somethings that I would like at my funeral: songs, readings etc that I connect with from other people's funerals. I'm not sure Steve ever said these things.  We had joked about him being buried in a truck because he didn't want a lot of money spent on a box that was to be buried.

Discussions were had about how if one of was to die that the other would have to keep on working if the lifestyle we were living was to be continued.  We each had some time built up to be able to take a short leave of absence. I think we planned to attend other funerals long before either of us.

We both had a very strong Catholic Faith.  We attended Mass every Sunday, even when we were out of town, we both prayed for our marriage, each other and our children. We are very involved in our parish and raised our children the same way.  Our oldest starting going to church when he was 6 days old.  We said grace before meals when we ate together.  The church was a second home to us a lot of the time.

Financially and faithfully I was ready to lose him.  Emotionally I am still not ready and it has been 4 months.