What It Cost Me When My Boyfriend Died

I met Chris at a mutual friend’s concert in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in early 2011. We bonded over the fact that we had both been in junior high productions of the same, very obscure, musical, Angels Aware. He sang me one of the songs from the production and I was instantly smitten. He was handsome, smart, funny and driven. What I didn’t know that night was that he was also hopeful for the first time in his life. He had just returned to work after a double lung transplant to replace his diseased lungs, which had been ravaged by cystic fibrosis.

Chris passed away on Feb. 20, 2013 at the age of 31. I spent the day after he died lying face down on my carpet waiting for my younger sister to fly in from out of town. The next day, I went on a shopping spree of epic proportions.

That kind of irresponsible spending is against my nature. I work in a notoriously low-paying industry (book publishing), and I have always been good at setting and sticking to budgets. I am not a reckless, impulsive spender. My budget is divided into weekly and monthly spending allocations. I use transit check and a flexible spending account to get as much mileage out of my pretax dollars as possible, and I contribute enough to my 401(k) to receive all of my company’s matching funds. My multiple savings accounts for different savings goals pull money from my checking account as soon as my paycheck lands. I love to save money for well-considered, big-ticket items. I once saved for five years to be able to quit my job and travel around the world with my sister. For me, it’s worth it to not carelessly spend on the small things that add up—I’m always looking at the bigger picture.

But the Friday after Chris died, I didn’t care about any of my budgets. My high school tutor once told me I should always dress up for an exam, because if I looked good I would feel confident as well. I knew I would be visible at the wake and the funeral, and I thought that if I looked my best, I would be able to make it through the day. I bought a $268 dress for the wake, $182 black shoes I could stand in all day, a $160 black sweater, and a $43 purse. I spent $70 on makeup at Sephora. I got a $40 blowout and a $10 manicure. My sister looked at me and said, “You look stressed. A chair massage would make you feel better.” So I opened my wallet and paid $20 for one.

That night I took my sister out to a cocktail bar I’d wanted to try, and to and a nice dinner at Momofuku Ssam Bar. We took an unnecessary taxi back to my apartment. Another $236 was deducted from my bank account.

My spending spree continued over the next few months. I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning, so I registered for races to run ($70). I needed something to look forward to, so I joined a summer share with my friends on Fire Island ($1,200). I signed up for kickball and bowling leagues so that I had somewhere to be during the week ($375). Then, of course, I needed cute clothes for all of these social events ($500).

My therapist suggested that I sign up for a writing class to help me process my grief ($445). Therapy? That’s not cheap ($2,100 since the day Chris and his nurse called to tell me it was time to say goodbye). On what would have been Chris’s 32nd birthday, I sent his mother flowers ($75).

Since Chris died, I’ve gone out to dinner or drinks almost every night. I am desperate to feel connected and I avoid being alone. I buy rounds at dive bars ($40), and eat long leisurely brunches on the weekends ($55). I take taxis all the time that I never would have taken before ($262). I have thrown my credit card down over and over and spent money without a second thought. My therapist says that this type of spending is a typical reaction for women who lose their partner, especially after a long illness. She says that spending money on things like classes and vacations is a way for me to reenter the world of the living.

Three months later I’m just starting to feel like I can control myself, but I’m still burning through my carefully saved money at a rate I would have panicked about earlier. I don’t care—I just want something concrete to hold onto. When I swipe my card I think: I deserve this. I have been through so much. I think: I will do anything to make myself feel better. Or I think: Who cares about this money anyway? Chris worked hard and saved money his whole life and look where it got him. Chris is dead and nothing else matters.


A native Midwesterner, Sarah has spent time living in Boston, Auckland and Berlin. She is currently grounded in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she balances a career in publishing with freelance writing (when she’s not balancing her checkbook). Photo: senhormario


19 Comments / Post A Comment

ellabella (#1,480)

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing to get through what you’re going through.

honey cowl (#1,510)

This is beautiful & perfect. I’m so sorry you lost him.

snoopygirrl (#1,710)

Thank you for sharing – I felt the same way after my mom passed away. I became very good friends with QVC…

pandaonaplane (#1,528)

This is fantastic. I can really relate. I’m dealing with the recent loss of an unborn child and I am doing similar things. In the past week I have spent hundreds of dollars on a massage, a pedicure, and endless online clothes shopping. I should not be doing any of this with my minimal salary but clicking “order” is the only thing that keeps me from crying at my desk.
I know things like this gets better over time, but it really sucks right now.

probs (#296)


Lily Rowan (#70)

I’m so, so sorry for your loss.

Tatiana (#194)

This piece is beautifully written. I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Hi Sarah.
Thank you for writing this beautiful piece.
My sister died in 2008, and I spent loads of money on my funeral outfit, including a $300 pearl necklace.
I then continued to spend money indiscriminately, not caring. I’m sure you know how that feels.

The thing that has helped me the most is reading John Green’s novel, “The Fault in Our Stars”. It lightened my heart and gave me peace in a way no shopping spree ever could.

Best wishes for you.

pterodactylish (#2,321)

This read like a catharsis; I hope it felt like one, too. Thank you for sharing.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Oh man. Crying at my desk over this one. This is beautiful and so “real life economics that defies best laid plans.” I actually have a contingency plan in case I ever lose my husband (that I hope to NEVER have to use), and it involves some reckless spending in the form of a day after the funeral plane ticket to a VERY expensive ranch out west where I can just… be and grieve. And then more therapy then I can imagine at the moment.

Thank you for sharing and I’m so sorry for your unimaginable loss.

atruck (#1,312)

Hi Sarah. Thank you for sharing your story – that takes so much courage. I can understand the pain – I lost a significant other to suicide over two years ago and am still working on every day, and I’ve never had the courage to write about it like you have.

It sounds like you are doing really healthy things – therapy, classes, activities, and already starting to slow down the uncharacteristic spending, which is a great accomplishment. It’s also okay to rely on friends to get you through this time – they’ll be there for you, regardless of whether you can buy rounds or dinner. All that said, money is important and necessary, but it’s not as important as life and living.

Celebrate surviving each day without Chris and appreciate every moment you feel better, even if there are many where you still feel terrible. One day you’ll finish the day and realize that you had more good hours than bad ones. When that happens, you celebrate some more, and then you also forgive yourself for feeling happy even though he’s gone.

Please keep us posted on how you are. There are a lot of people rooting for you, friends and strangers alike.

mygoldies (#2,349)

Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing this. My best friend died last year, and I absolutely know from that unmoored feeling. The things you’re spending on are good for you though – rejoining the land of the living is so important, but so hard. Be kind to yourself, and let others be kind to you. It never gets less sad, but it gets easier.

chic noir (#713)

I once saved for five years to be able to quit my job and travel around the world with my sister. For me, it’s worth it to not carelessly spend on the small things that add up—I’m always looking at the bigger picture.

Wow! and this ladies and gentleman was/is enough to make me quite playing the Powerball but not the Megamillions. With this extra 32 bucks per month I will have saved $576 after eigthteen months.

chic noir (#713)

@chic noir – After reading the rest of the post I realize how crass my first comment comes across. I really do apologize and I have total empathy for what Sara Fox is feeling inside.

I wonder if she has thought about giving her parents a large chuck of her money to hold onto just so she won’t spend it all.

chevyvan (#2,956)

I’m so sorry. Take care of yourself. I wish the internet could do hugs.

Jenn@twitter (#2,325)

I’m so sorry for your loss. I had to comment as I was in a production of “Angels Aware” in 6th grade and I was sure that no one outside my church had ever heard of it! Take care of yourself!

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

I’m terribly sorry to hear this. Please accept my wife’s and my best wishes.

Grieving takes time. Sometime in the future, you’ll feel better, but not yet. Our thoughts are with you.

emmy (#324)

Oh my… This was really sad. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hate that anyone has to go through things like this, but it seems like you’re making remarkable progress. In situations like this, savings be damned. Do what you need to do, and you’ll get back to [a new] normal eventually.

Lecarlso (#4,241)

I just read your article online while looking for information, advice, personal stories… Well anything. My boyfriend died unexpectedly two weeks ago today. I am currently at home, alone, trying to deal with the all consuming grief, loss, despair, and twenty other emotions I am feeling all at once. My friends want to take me out, show me a good time, cook me dinners, go to dinners, have drinks, etc. However, right now, I am at a point where I am comfortable being alone. I have been surrounded by people for days and I’m enjoying the silence. But I know there are worse days to come, and by nature I tend to be impulsive. Are you still viewing things the same way? Or have you moved into a different phase or gained a new perspective? Just interested in hearing more about your story and what you are going through.


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