Tragedy of “Financial Spiral” Double Suicide in NYC: Choose Hope

Financial distress is widespread and urgent

Laurie’s post earlier this week was a response to the double suicide of a couple from New York City who, according to the notes they left, could not live with their financial reality. I hadn’t heard of the tragedy before reading the post, and when I looked up news accounts of it, I was stunned with grief. Two people with beautiful children, close extended family, friends, community, with education, accomplishment, options … All seemingly incompatible with their spiraling debt and the choice they made to deal with it.

It hit home to me. There is a continuum of financial distress, and I had some understanding of this couple. I know what it is to have many advantages and to mess up financially anyway. I know what it is to feel so burdened by financial stress that all joy is sucked out of life. I can even relate to their ages. He was 53 and she was 50. When my husband and I started our journey out of debt 5 years ago, he was 53 and I was 49. It’s terrible to be middle-aged and know that you’ve got yourself in a bad financial situation. There’s a sense of hopelessness – of being too late to change things.

Although most people don’t talk about it, I suspect there are many, many of us who can relate to some degree to this couple. But I join Laurie in saying, “no matter how bad your money situation is, it certainly isn’t worth the end of your life.” As I read an article about the tragedy, there were several points that stood out to me as representing what many of us face when we recognize our finances have spiraled.

“Their kids didn’t know anything about their financial problems … None of us did.”

Don’t be muzzled by our society’s taboo against money talk. Don’t keep your financial distress a secret. Our society has become so open about all kinds of things, but there is still a terrible awkwardness about money talk. No problem gets resolved when it’s kept in the dark. Hidden issues get distorted and enlarged, and they appear to be more threatening than they really are. Financial panic is a sensitive issue, so choose your person wisely – perhaps a professional counsellor – perhaps a trusted friend – but choose someone. You will find that as soon as you share this hidden issue, it will become less threatening.

“… tuition is nearly $38,000 a year.”

It is not important to maintain your current lifestyle. The couple from New York maintained a high style of living, as the tuition they paid for each of their 2 children for private school indicates. It’s easy for most of us to say, “If only they had sent their kids to regular schools …” but we all have elements to our style of living that we find hard to change.

No matter what it is that your financial situation requires you to let go of, know that it’s worth the sacrifice. The people in  your life who are worth having around will not judge you for it. They’ll accept your changes – probably even respect them. And those who don’t … Do yourself a favour and distance yourself from them.

“They were … happy-go-lucky … the embodiment of serving out of love, and giving out of abundance … “

Your public image can absorb changes. Don’t be enslaved to maintaining it as is. These people were obviously much-loved and well thought of. But clearly, they weren’t “happy-go-lucky”. Clearly, they weren’t “giving out of abundance”. They were living with terrible stress. They did not have an abundance from which to give. It is wonderful to earn a great reputation and to have a positive public image, but it’s slavery to feel compelled to live up to people’s expectations.

Again, your real friends will stick by you as you change things like your socializing, your hosting, your gift-giving … If you lose anyone’s respect or friendship because you no longer play the charade involved in meeting their expectations, it’s no loss at all.

“… the No. 1 cause of financial stress for people in New York is debt …”

Debt is a stress everywhere – an invisible one. In your neighbourhood, at your place of work, in the gatherings where you socialize, there are many people struggling with debt. They just look like everyone else. The same appearance and lifestyle can be presented by people in critical financial condition as by those in great financial health. If you are in financial distress, know that you are not the only one.

“Even with all that debt, it still doesn’t make sense.’’

Debt stress is a multi-faceted issue. It involves way more than numbers. Mental health, self-worth, and faith are all casualties of the force it can have. Don’t underestimate it.

Financial distress can be resolved. It’s not too late.

Start now by talking with someone or by reaching out online. There is hope. I know.

What do you think are the most effective ways to diminish severe financial distress? What can individuals do? What can society as a whole do? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of flickr.

17 comments on “Tragedy of “Financial Spiral” Double Suicide in NYC: Choose Hope

  1. Thank you so much for expanding on this, Ruth. I still find myself thinking about this couple and about how they could have avoided this terrible fate and pain inflicted on their children and other loved ones. I pray our words together have an impact for good on all those struggling with debt and money issues.

    1. There’s such shame and fear associated with financial distress. Time to get this monster out of the darkness and into the light where there really is hope.

  2. Thanks for continuing this conversation. Financial stress can be a huge burden to families, and relationships. Our family has felt it too. We as individual and as a society need to continue to bubble the money talk up and make sure people understand that it’s okay to speak about these things and that help is available.

    1. Exactly, Brian. The more we talk about it, the more that taboo against money-talk will be diminished, and the more others will be comfortable sharing their financial stress – half the battle right there!

  3. Absolutely tragic, my prayers are with their family, especially their kids.

    It pains me to think that this may have been fueled by a need to keep up an outer appearance of “wealth and prosperity”. In a way, it is hard for me to imagine sacrificing my finances for a public image. But at the same time, I realize that I could have taken the same path in life if I had not been fortunate enough to be directed towards responsible finances by people who cared for me along the way. I could easily be trying to out-lifestyle my neighbors and peers right now.

    It is a problem both on the individual and societal level today… we put so much emphasis on visible success, items and an apparent show of wealth, spurring people into harsh financial situations in order to “keep up”. I don’t have the answer, but I am sure sound financial education and the praising of solid financial success would go a long way.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. A.R. “I could have taken the same path in life if I had not been fortunate enough to be directed towards responsible finances by people who cared for me along the way.” That is exactly what we can do as a pf community. And you’re right about the mixed messages society gives: “buy, buy, buy”, and then “shame on you” for buying too much.

  4. I think pride is the toughest thing with these situations. I know, for us, I felt as though we were reasonably intelligent human beings. What would people think? How could we be so stupid as to get in such financial doodoo. Sometimes we have to hit a reset button and start over. We have to move. Or we have to do things like cutting cable and eating home instead of restaurants. Buying clothes at less fancy stores (maybe even Goodwill *gasp). Give up some beloved pets even because of the expense. I do have one piece of advice to share from experience. If you have one last dime, ask God where to give it. You will not go unrewarded.

    1. Pride is certainly a big factor in the difficulty of facing financial mess – perhaps the biggest. “Sometimes we have to hit a reset button and start over.” Amen to that! And the new reality isn’t so bad at all! I really admire you, Kay, for always giving even through the tough times. A challenge for many of us – and a great witness.

  5. This is a really tough issue, Debt is extremely common, and while it’s no longer considered shameful to have debt, a lot of vocal folks get judgemental when you admit to struggling with debt. The fact that it can be a very small thing that tips you over the edge from having to struggling doesn’t seem to matter…for a lot of people, it’s just the difference between being able to collect a single paycheck and not.

    I agree that the jerks who react to your struggles with snide remarks instead of support aren’t worth worrying about, and they’re probably way less common than people think. But in an age of declining courtesy and toxic social media, I see why people are afraid because there are a lot of noisy people who’ll spend more energy trying to figure out whether someone deserves their support and sympathy than they ever will spend offering it.

    The best way to get over the fear of admitting the struggle with debt is with a support group, either formal or informal, and that’s where all of us can help. You and Laurie have created a safe space to say “Hey, debt sucks. It’s easy to get in, and hard to get out, but you can do it. We’re here, we’ve been there, and we’re here to encourage you when you start, celebrate with your triumphs, commiserate with your setbacks, and cheer you on when you try again. ”

    And I think a lot of us PF bloggers try to do the same thing, if not explicitly on our blogs then at least in our personal interactions. While it’s important for someone who struggles with debt to figure out how they got there, it’s also important for those of us who hear someone struggling not to worry about whether that person is deserving of our support or sympathy and just give it.

    1. Great comment, Emily. Sometimes those “jerks” can really bring a struggling person to the end. I remember a few years back I had two of them in one week give me a serious tail-chewing for the fact that we got into such a financial mess. I spent a month in a deep depression condemning myself and nearly gave up on our journey to be debt free. Then something clicked and I thought “What the hell am I giving these two people so much power over me for?”

      We have to get to that point where our own personal success is more important than what the others think. Only then can we win – at debt and at life.

    2. “You and Laurie have created a safe space …” Emily, you can’t know how timely that comment is! And how affirming. That is exactly what Laurie and I wanted to do with Fruclassity, and now that we are saying “Good-bye” to it, it’s great to know that we’ve done just that. And a big yes! to the power of pf bloggers to support people who are willing to make a change.

        1. We have sold it, Nancy. Mixed feelings, but the right thing to do. Laurie wrote a post about it (the one right after this one). You will still be able to find us at The Frugal Farmer and Prudence Debtfree. Thanks, Nancy.

  6. I think the more we talk about it and share our own experiences, the better. So that people who feel hopeless see how others have made it through. So they can see that they aren’t alone. So they can see that there are answers…maybe not always easy answers, but answers that are better than the answer this couple found. Talking about it and sharing resources is a good first step.

    1. Bringing the topic into the open is difficult to do, but if we’re willing to talk about it, it makes it that much easier for others to do the same. Thank you, Amanda : )

  7. So sorry to hear of this tragedy…those poor kids, now without parents. So sad.

    I think with debt, as with depression, it needs to be brought out into the proverbial sunlight. Secrets make us sick. We have to talk about the big issues even though it hurts.

    1. Anything that stays hidden seems way more ominous than it actually is. Thanks Mackenzie. Sunlight is a wonderful thing – even when it shines on something ugly – like debt.

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