I always associated being 20something with being dirt broke. After college, you’re supposed to start a new life with nothing to your name and barely scrape by after covering the costs of rent, utilities and food (i.e., ramen noodles and cereal). It’s like a rite of passage –- something you bitch about at the time then look back on fondly when you’re in your thirties and your savings account has more than $30 in it.
During my senior year at Temple University, I was prepping for that stage of my life, trying to save up enough to make my move to New York by working a couple of part time jobs and cutting back on college staples like forties and Marlboros. But then something terrible happened: My Dad passed away. My worries went from starting my new journey to learning how to be fatherless at 22.
(Although I won’t get into the details of my Dad’s death, I will say this: Nothing will ever prepare you for the passing of a parent, regardless of how ill they were, how close you were, or how quickly it happened. Finding out he died was like getting punched in the stomach, face, chest and heart simultaneously then being thrown into a fire pit with rabid dogs.)
I never really thought about what happens after a parent dies. Why would I? I was supposed to get all the good stuff, like having him walk me down the aisle and hold my grandkids and tell me how to buy a car or house. I was supposed to have years before he died. I was supposed to take care of him and get to say goodbye. Instead, all I got was a lump sum of money in my savings account that I had no clue what to do with.
Now I fully realize that most people my age would do just about anything to get a few hundred extra bucks, let alone thousands. (It doesn’t feel right in my heart to share with the world how much my father left me, but he put enough away for me that I should never have to stress over my finances again.) But that money came with the worst sort of circumstances.
I would give every cent of it back and more to have one more second with my Dad. I would be broke for the rest of my adult life for a chance to say goodbye. And in that truth rests my new financial dilemma: not being able to spend a single dollar without an underlying guilt, a sense of I-didn’t-earn-this and this-isn’t-mine. My bank account is a constant reminder that I only have one parent and that the other one is never coming back.
I graduated from school two months after my Dad died. Three months later I moved to New York as planned, only this time I didn’t go into debt doing so. It felt uncomfortable and wrong to be my age and not have to deplete my bank account to set myself up. It felt even weirder to live with three girls who busted their asses to make our rent while I knew I would be OK month after month (not saying I didn’t work, but a fresh-outta-college editor’s salary in New York is less than impressive).
I know it's annoying to complain about having money, but it’s not like I won the lottery. There’s no support group for girls who feel privileged and undeserving of their money when a parent dies. There’s no hotline for people who need to cope with their seemingly awesome financial situations, and there definitely isn’t a self-help book on doing away with the remorse that comes with each deceased parent’s penny spent.
While my Dad, who happened to be the most generous person in the world and also the most lenient with money, would have sincerely told me to go out and buy a new wardrobe or an apartment on Park Avenue (a.k.a. things I would never do), I still have trouble seeing his money as a gift to me. It almost feels like the more I spend, the more real it is that he’s gone. And even a year after his death, I’m not ready to accept that.
My only hope is that I can start to lose the guilt and replace it with a sense that my Dad is taking care of me in the only way he now can. I recently married and moved to a man whom I am positive he would adore; I don’t think I could have ever afforded to do so without my Dad’s help.
So, no, my Father will not get to see my wedding next year or watch my family eventually grow, but I hope his heart would be full knowing he helped make it possible and that he is a constant presence in our lives. He taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: Money truly loses its value without the people you love.