Claudia McMichael of Waxahachie spent 40 years with the love of her life. Dr. Ricky McMichael wasn’t just Claudia’s husband, he was her lover, partner and best friend. Losing him to a sudden heart attack on April 1 in 2012 sent her life into a frenzy and exposed many weaknesses she never knew she had.
As a retired educator with a master’s degree in counseling, Claudia realized how uneducated she was about their personal affairs upon her husband’s death. She said although the past year has been difficult, she is not taking time to sit around and hold pity parties for herself, but she is making it her mission to educate couples about the importance of containing the knowledge it takes to run a household, in the event that one was to suddenly die.
Through her book “The Ignorant Widow,” McMichael shares, with humor and real life circumstances the importance of being prepared for what doctors call the “widow maker.”
“I will never forget the day Ricky died,” McMichael said. “It was a Sunday and I decided not to go to church that day. My daughter and her husband had invited us out to their house to take photos in the bluebonnets. He didn’t want to go, because he wanted to watch a Nascar race.”
McMichael said when she went to the store to pick up some things to prepare for supper, her husband was feeling fine.
“I came home and began cooking,” she said. “Ricky made himself a sandwich and went into the bedroom to watch television. That was the last time I saw him alive.”
She said finding her husband lying on their bedroom floor not breathing was the worst moment of her life. He had taken care of everything and now he was gone leaving it all up to her. She said things would have been OK, except she had no clue how to proceed from there.
“Ricky always handled our business affairs,” she said. “I took care of the house, cooking and cleaning and he took care of everything else. When he died, I was completely lost and didn’t know what to do.”
She said it never registered with her that she would need to know all the details of their business affairs and had no idea where to begin.
“I couldn’t sleep the night Ricky died,” she said. “I was so concerned about what to do, who I should call and how I should go about preparing for his funeral.”
She said all she knew is that he needed to be buried and a funeral had to be planned. Other than that, McMichael was at a loss. That’s when she grabbed a notebook and a pen and began writing down every question she could think of concerning the matter. Even after writing down two pages of questions, she still had no answers or where to go to find them.
“Planning for a parents funeral is totally different than planning for a spouse of 40 years,” she said. “I was at such a loss on what to do, because my husband had always done everything.”
McMichael said three weeks before he passed away, her husband tried to get her to spend some time with him in their home office to discuss the new computer and online bill pay. She said things like that never interested her and she didn’t feel it was something she needed to know. Now she wishes she would have taken the time.
“I hated to admit it, but I didn’t know what day the trash pick up was or anything,” she said. “I didn’t even have enough common sense to check the mail for sympathy cards.”
Their whole married life, he did everything including check the mail. She said that was something he looked forward to doing each and every day. McMichael said it gave him an opportunity to visit with the neighbor across the street and the mail carrier.
“Grabbing the mail was just something I never did,” she said. “Ricky loved checking the mail and visiting with our neighbors. It was one of the many things he took care of, because it was a joy for him to do.”
She said it wasn’t until one of her cousins asked her about receiving sympathy cards that she actually thought about the importance of checking the mail.
“When I finally did go out to the mailbox and open it, cards began falling out of it,” McMichael said. “It just didn’t compute that I would need to check the mail or anything else.”
The next several months would prove to be very difficult for her. The emotional toll of losing her husband along with the financial strain would cause McMichael to suffer from post traumatic stress.
In discussing this situation, she said that is what caused her to write the chapter called Stages of Me.
“Stages of Me is a chapter in which I talk about the many physical changes I went through,” she said. “One of those being suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I began scratching my head to the point that it bled, and I developed blisters on myabdomen.”
McMichael said the doctors had prescribed medicine to help her cope with the situation. She chose not to take them at that time, because she wanted to be alert and focused during this time in her life. Realizing that her symptoms were due to the added stress, she decided to take the medication. She said two weeks later all of the symptoms were gone and she took herself off of the mediciation.
Another coping mechanism for her was shopping at Walmart. She said while strolling up and down the aisles of the store, she would see women who had the same distant and lost look on their faces that she often displayed. That led her to write the chapter in her book titled the Walmart Widow.
“There were many times I felt lost,” she said. “I would go shopping at Walmart just to take my mind off of things. I often saw many others who had the same look as me and it brought me comfort.”
She said it didn’t take conversation to bring that comforting feeling or thought, it was being in the same place physically and emotionally that provided the comfort. Also, having understanding employees at the store helped her get through that difficult time. One of the checkers knew McMichael, because she is a regular customer at the store. She said the checker showed great concern for her, and when she discovered that McMichael’s husband had passed away she provided words of encouragement.
During this time in her life, McMichael said she definitely needed moments like that and looked forward to going to Walmart to experience them.
“This was indeed one of the most stressful times I’ve ever been through in my life,” McMichael said. “I knew we had money in the bank, but I didn’t know how much. There were bills to pay, but Ricky paid most of them online and I had no idea how to do that. I tried to sell his truck, but didn’t realize the amount of paperwork and time it would take to do that.”
She said they were both retired educators, but in order to claim his retirement money she had to fill out a mountain of paperwork. Also, receiving his social security proved to be very strenuous and emotionally rough.
“The social security office knew about his death before I had the chance to talk with them myself,” she said. “They told me that I had a certain amount of days to get them a death certificate if I wanted to receive the funds. I didn’t know the first thing about obtaining a death certificate or how many I would need.”
McMichael said if she had just taken the time to be more involved in the business aspect of their lives, she would have gotten through that situation a lot better. However, she said if she hadn’t experienced all of that, then the book wouldn’t have been possible.
“It’s important for spouses to know the ins and outs of their household,” she said. “Everybody talks about the financial side of preparing for a funeral, but nobody ever talks about this kind of stuff. Couples need to know everything that goes on in the affairs of their homes.”
McMichael said she has purposed in her heart to share the details of her experience so that others can avoid the added heartache when dealing with the loss of a loved one. She said it’s important to expect the unexpected.
To purchase a copy of McMichael’s book send $13 to PO Box 3031, Waxahachie, Texas 75168 or send an email to email@example.com.
Follow Melissa on Facebook.com/MelissaCadeWDL. Contact her at 469-517-1450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.