Friday, August 22, 2008

Money Isn't Everything

Two recent news items have left me both depressed and thoughtful about the loss of financial security and the subsequent impact on one's mental health.

The first was the death of 53 year old Carlene Balderrama who could not face the debt she had hidden from her family nor the impending foreclosure on their 4-year old home.

The second and most recent was adoptive mother, Sylvia Sieferman, age 60, in Minnesota. She not only tried to kill herself, but her two 11 year old Chinese daughters as well.

Sylvia's story struck me the hardest. She is closer to my age, she has adopted children, she is a single parent, and she is participating in an age-discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. She was having trouble finding a new job, her home was in foreclosure and she was severely depressed. It was a lot for one woman to bear.

And yet. . .

Maybe it's me or maybe it's because I was reared in a working class family that toppled into poverty whenever work was not available, but I just can't imagine getting suicidal if I were suddenly poor.

Frustrated? Sure.

Depressed? You bet.

But suicidal? Or worse yet, homicidal?

How did money ever get to be more important than life itself?

It's not that I would want to lose my job or lose my home. But if I had to, I could work at McDonald's. I could be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I could live in an apartment. I could move in with one of my kids--oh, on second thought, scratch that one. I could live in a shelter.

I might be poor, but I don't think I would consider that enough of a reason to check out of life.

Shouldn't there be more to our imprint on this world than the money we make in it? Shouldn't we have some level of satisfaction in our lives that is not dependent on whether we have money?

For Carlene and Sylvia, weren't their families enough? Wasn't life, itself, enough?

And if not, why not?


Anonymous said...

Money IS everything.

If you think you can find a job at WalMart or whatever, just be advised that everyone and their brother are applying for the same jobs. There will be a good possibility that you can not find nor get a job.

There is nothing more frightening in this world than financial problems. Until you actually experience not having money, a home, food or even clothes, no one can actually grasp the reality of it all. Throw in a couple of kids and the fear widens and deepens.

When I was broke, my family laughed at me. So, even finding solace in a family may not prove to be an aid.

Only my belief in God sustained me through the rough times. God is bigger than a mortgage company, an employer, a credit card, a bank or what-have-you.

To anyone going through a financial crisis, believe that God is in control of your life and He, and only He will get you through the impossible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Grace, I agree with boomie regarding the job situation. When my husband was laid off from his employment as a graphic designer (with 30 yrs. experience) he found himself out of luck due to his age (he is 55). He was willing to work ANYWHERE, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, you name it. Guess what? They didn't have jobs available...everyone is applying for everything, no matter how low paying. McDonald's, BK, ect....
I agree it isn't worth taking your life over, but I don't think even "lower" level jobs are as available as you seem to think they are....

louise said...

I've worked with quite a few people that are suicidal in relation to money problems usually the families don't know the extent of the problem. It's much more common that people realise.

One of the saddest cases was a young man in his early 20's who had over $300,000 in debt, with only $120,000 of that in saleable assests. he is OK now, and paying back the debt slowly but it was touch and go for over a year, he was very suicidal, had no family support at all.

another man I saw for a year or o was in his 50's, he lost his job, and got up every day and pretended to go to work for the first month, he just couldn't face telling his family & losing everything, he made it through, but was suicidal at first

Here in Australia we have one farmer a week committing suicide as a result of the drought and the financial problems it is causing.
It's just an absolute tradgedy.

Once people get depressed, which is a life threatening illness, they just don't have the capacity to think things through rationally or take action to solve things. Those parts of the brain chemistry are not functioning correctly. Unfortunately depression is still very misunderstood in our society and most people don't get the treatment they need to recover. Suicidal thoughts are common in severe depression. The good news is that treatment for depression is very effective.

Shevy said...

I knew about the Balderrama case but the Sieferman one is new to me. Both very, very tragic.

In the Balderrama one they talked a lot about how she hadn't told her family *anything*.

Their house was going to be auctioned that afternoon and the family didn't even know. She hadn't packed or anything because she felt she just couldn't tell them that they were in tons of financial trouble.

The reason she got in so far over her head was that she was in sole control of the family's finances. I think the lesson to take away there is that, even if one person is much more interested in handling the finances or is much better at it, the other partner should have a fairly good idea of where things stand. And that should be because he or she can actually look at the various statements, not just be told "everything's fine".

In this case, obviously, everything wasn't fine.

Grace. said...

I agree that I may have overstated the ease with which one can get a minimum wage job. But I don't lack sympathy for anyone suffering from severe depression. It is a terrible illness and I have lost at least one close friend to it.

My point is more about the fear of imminent poverty being reason enough to commit suicide. I can imagine scenarios for myself where suicide might seem a viable option (terminal illness or intractable pain, for example)but to be so afraid of being poor that I'd rather not be around at all? That's the tough one for me.

Florence said...

"I've never had a problem where having money made the situation worse."--I can't remember who said it but I think it's pretty much true. Would I be suicidal if suddenly I lost everything financially?? Probably not if I had reasonably good health and a job. (As a matter of fact, we did lose everything back in 1987 and were able to work our way out of that mess. However, 21 years later, to start over again would be a bitter pill indeed.) The scenario changes though if there are serious health problems, no money, no job, and no prospects of a job. These people were young though and with some guidance could probably have worked through the situation.

Sylvia B said...

I'm one of those folks lucky enough to have a good pension so am less worried about money than other women who are retiring perhaps. That said, there are no shortage of quality of life issues to think about so I've actually started a blog for women entering retirement at . Hopefully some of you reading this will have good non-financial advice to share as well.

FIRE Finance said...

Thanks for raising this question. We thought deeply about it and wrote a post in response to it. We acquiesce with your observations :).

Grace. said...

Fire Finance--thanks for the link. I admired your post as well. Although I tired of Rocky by the fourth or fifth sequel, that first one was a beauty of a movie.