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An Unexpected Lesson
November 3, 2014 | Nathan Wangerin; excerpted from Thrivent magazine
Thrivent Financial representative uses experience of losing a loved one to urge others to be prepared
I will remember Feb. 12, 2007, for the rest of my life. I was at work when my younger brother called. His voice was trembling and I could tell immediately something wasn't right. When I heard his words, my heart sank. "Maybe I heard him wrong," I thought. I asked him to repeat it. I was confused and shaking, overwhelmed with what he was saying.
Just a few nights earlier, my mom had my family over for dinner. My pregnant wife never stopped smiling. My son had just learned to run. His favorite phrase was, "What's that?" and he relentlessly used it. He and my dad got along like two peas in a pod. The thirst to know everything about anything, even at such a young age, tightened the bond between my son and father. My younger brother was with us, too. My mom made a French toast dinner, which is still my favorite birthday meal. I felt 10 years old again.
I didn't know that would be the last time I would talk to my dad.
I should have been more prepared. As a Thrivent Financial representative, I have helped countless families through tragic situations. As friends and clients have dealt with losing family members, I have tried to be a calming voice of compassion. I had never been on this side of the conversation before, and nothing could have prepared me for the way it feels.
Learning to live in this new reality was one of the most challenging things I had ever faced. Trying to understand why he died was an even greater challenge. Long, lonely sessions of reflection during trail runs didn't provide answers. And crying with family or being held by my wife only provided comfort.
Adding to the difficulty were the logistical elements: coordinating with family, planning a funeral and sorting through my father's affairs. I should have been good with this part. Plainly, it is a large part of what I do professionally. However, the first few days of this passed as a blur of emotions. My bearings were lost, and it was difficult to find the direction I needed.
In the months after my father's death, I decided that I would use my experience as a participant to help me professionally – I could be a better supporter, sharing the scars I now have. I worked with extra care to make sure beneficiary designations, account registrations and portfolio allocations are all accurate and in line with one another. Without having to focus, fight or fret over these important details gives loved ones the ability to support one another in this time of extreme emotion and grief.
I can continue to offer soothing words of care and love. I can be there to help sort through the financial affairs that need to be figured out. But perhaps most important, I can urge people to be organized and prepared for the inevitable family events we all face. The time to do it is before you are called home.
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Nathan Wangerin is a Thrivent Financial representative in Denver, Colorado.