Content warning: suicide
10 years ago, on a Friday night, tucked up in bed I was woken by a loud rap at the door. A scene we’ve seen so many times in TV dramas, it’s the police and they ask you if you are Mrs Jones, can they come in, tell you to sit down, they have some bad news. My husband had killed himself at the friend’s house he was staying at following our recent separation.
Yes, the horror. Friends and family were supportive emotionally but no-one was there to witness the sheer terror this provoked in me about how I would survive and bring up 2 kids on my own financially. I knew I could handle the emotional side but the break up had already elicited a severe anxiety in me that went back to my childhood. I wasn’t just afraid of being alone, I was petrified of not being able to survive solely on my salary. Both my husband and I had very stressful all-consuming jobs; we’d gone from the carefree life of being club promoters in the 90s to being parents in the a 2000s. Along with the proper jobs came credit cards, loans to pay off the credit cards, more credit to do up one house, then another, to the point where we had a huge mortgage and over £50k in multiple cards and loans, mainly in my name.
When we split up my husband had cut off his contribution to the household and I descended into a blind panic. We’d lived well beyond our means, he loved paying the bill for the whole table at restaurants on family holidays we couldn’t really afford, he came from a family that had loan parties to celebrate the bank saying yes to a new line of credit, it’s not what you’ve got but what you can get being their family motto.
My own family had struggled with poverty, not so much not having enough to eat but no money for decent clothes and our house was shabby. The shame I felt about our scruffy, black mould-infested bathroom runs deep. The dread of not having enough money to pay my share of the bill when I went to a café after school with friends haunts me still. To this day I find myself mentally adding up what I’ve had when I go to restaurants. I’m petrified of having my card declined at checkouts, my face flushes red with shame just thinking about it.
As the dust settled and I started to face up to the finances. I knew 3 things: we had a life insurance policy with Norwich Union for £250k which I’d set up when our first child was born, we had Mortgage Protection Insurance with our bank, HSBC, taken out when we’d arranged our mortgage and my husband’s employer had a generous death in service benefit, sorted, right? The problem was that my husband had taken his own life and I had no idea whether the policies would pay out under these horrifying circumstances. It turns out they do. There is usually a clause within life insurance policies that stipulates they will not pay out for suicide within the first 12 months, for obvious reasons, but from that point onwards you are generally covered. I breathed a massive sigh of relief when HSBC confirmed that the full outstanding amount of our mortgage would be paid out. When my claim was approved I was sent a form asking me whether or not I wanted to pay off the
mortgage immediately with the funds, or have it transferred into my account. I immediately sent the form back, ticking the pay off in full box.
Then the next bombshell hit: following our acrimonious split and my massively reduced household income the monthly payment to Norwich Union had bounced twice, and the policy was null and void. Yet more bombshells were to follow: my husband had not named a beneficiary for his death in service scheme. It wasn’t clear if there would be any payment at all, as this is at the discretion of the trustees of the company scheme.
I was potentially facing a position where I’d paid off my mortgage, but was left with £50k worth of maxed out credit cards and loans and not enough money to pay the nursery fees for my youngest to allow me to continue working full-time. I’d knee-jerked before fully understanding what my financial position was. I’d have to sell the house and add that upheaval to the already devastated lives of my little ones and move into rented accommodation. Should I up-sticks and move back to my hometown 200 miles away? Despair doesn’t begin to describe my mindset at that time but by some small miracle I got a letter from the bank telling me that I hadn’t signed on the dotted line when I’d returned the form to pay off the mortgage. On this occasion accidentally not signing something had been the best thing I’d ever done.
I then got word from my husband’s employer that the trustees of the death in service scheme had decided to split the settlement three ways between myself and my children, with trust funds set up on their behalves and they both now have a good start financially when they reach 18, which is a slight consolation.
Despite having thought we were sensibly set up for the worst-case scenarios, the ones nobody really wants to think about, circumstances can conspire to throw the best laid plans asunder. I managed to pay off part of my mortgage, making the monthly payments more manageable and had a decent sum left to support my family’s living expenses for 5 years. I paid off the credit via setting up a debt management plan with StepChange, https://www.stepchange.org/ whom I cannot recommend highly enough.
Nothing in my life since has turned out how I expected but my approach now is to live within a budget and feel my financial equilibrium, at least, has been restored. With hindsight, check the details, make sure your wishes are expressed on your company pension scheme if you’re lucky enough to have one, and that your partner has done the same. When the worst happens don’t panic, don’t rush, take your time to get a full understanding of your financial position and seek help from a debt management charity, your bank or a financial advisor. You are not alone.