Marking Black History Month: Selina’s story
WAY member Selina Flavius set up Black Girl Finance to address the unique challenges Black women face due to gender and ethnicity pay gaps. To mark Black History Month, Selina shares some of the financial and emotional challenges she faced after her fiancé Ray died in 2022…
At the start of 2022, Selina had everything to look forward to. The financial coaching business she had launched for Black women in 2019, Black Girl Finance, was flourishing; she was about to publish the paperback version of her personal finance book, and she had just been named British Bank Awards Online Financial Influencer of the Year. In her early forties and with her career taking off, she was also busy planning her wedding to her fiancé and partner of ten years, Ray, that summer.
Everything was put on hold, though, when Ray was rushed to hospital during his father’s funeral in January 2022. He had been caring for his dad and he hadn’t been feeling himself for a while. But Selina put that down to the stresses of losing his dad. Tragically, he suffered a heart attack in the hospital and was never able to come home.
Instead of planning their wedding, suddenly Selina had to start thinking about planning her fiancé’s funeral. And to make matters worse, because the couple weren’t married, there was very little support available to help Selina navigate the financial aftermath of his sudden death.
“I wasn’t eligible for anything, even though we lived together for seven years or so,” she recalls. “It was very difficult, that whole process of trying to get help and support. I spent a lot of time calling around to solicitors to find out my rights, and quite honestly, if I didn’t have a solicitor who was a friend of a friend, I probably wouldn’t have been able to actually get much help or support.”
Although Selina and her fiancé both had grown up children with former partners, they did not have children together. And because they weren’t married (their wedding had been postponed twice due to the pandemic), unfortunately Selina was not eligible for Bereavement Support Payment, which would have provided her with a financial cushion while she got back on her feet.
“I was fortunate in that I had some savings I could fall back on,” she says. “I had my own home as well. I wasn’t financially dependent. But it’s really tough going from one income to two. There was no protection for someone in my circumstances. If I had a pound for every someone said, ‘you’re a common law wife’… But it’s not a thing…”
How to cope
Selina is now an even stronger believer in planning ahead financially and putting measures in place, in case the worst should happen.
“I’m a big advocate of having your own stuff, having that emergency fund put aside and doing the things like having a will in place, as well as life insurance and a pension,” she says.
Luckily, Selina’s family and friends were incredibly supportive after her fiancé died and rallied around her. With their support, she was able to pick herself up and keep her business going.
She started bereavement counselling as soon as she could and her counsellor recommended she should try yoga and meditation, which she’s found really helpful.
“I just wanted to try and help myself as much as possible,” she says. “I also read quite a few books on bereavement because I wanted to understand what to expect when going through this process. I didn’t want any more surprises.”
Her counsellor also suggested she should reach out for support through the peer support network WAY Widowed and Young.
“It’s sad to be part of WAY but at the same time, it’s brought a lot of comfort and a lot of understanding,”
“Because as much as other people (friends and family) want to be there for you and they want to be able to understand what you’re going through, I just don’t think they can. I remember joining WAY’s new member Zoom meeting and it was nice to be able to talk about what you’ve been through.”
Since joining WAY, Selina has also become active in the charity’s Cultural Diversity Working Group, which is bringing people from different ethnicities together to help create a supportive and inclusive culture, where those with diverse experiences can participate and contribute. In line with our Strategic Plan, it is WAY’s hope that EVERYONE, married or not, with or without children, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender, race and religion, know about WAY and know that they are welcome to join if they have lost their life partner before the age of 51.
“I feel like death and bereavement is not something that we naturally talk about within the community that I come from,” says Selina, whose parents came to the UK with their families from Barbados and St. Lucia when they were both teenagers.
Because of the many challenges and struggles Caribbean families have been through in their lives, she believes there is a certain stoicism within the community that makes people reticent to open up about grief and bereavement.
"I think it’s important to have those spaces where we can talk about it freely, openly and honestly,”
“It can be a really difficult topic to talk about and just feeling included in the conversations is very, very important.”
“When you are going through this experience,” she adds, “it’s natural to want to speak to people who are going through a similar experience, but also who maybe have the same kind of cultural background as you. So just having that space to talk is really helpful.”
To mark Black History Month, Selina will be sharing her story via Instagram Live on Tuesday, 17 October at 8pm. As well as explaining why she was inspired to set up Black Girl Finance, she will also be offering her thoughts and tips on the challenges of navigating finances after losing your life partner.
“Black History Month is always an opportunity to celebrate, to talk about, to reflect on the contribution of Black people in the UK and what they’ve been through as well as what they continue to do,” she says. “Grief is a part of being human and I believe it’s something we need to talk about more. There is also opportunity to explore how other diverse cultures experience and cope with grief.”
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WAY member Johanna has also shared her story for Black History Month:
“The Hot Young Widows Club was something I stumbled upon, and it resonated with me. I downloaded it as an audiobook. They discussed various topics, like friends who promise to be there but aren’t when you need them. That hit close to home because my partner and I were planning our wedding, with best men and best women. A lot of people invited, and as the book prepared me for, after time some people are still present, whilst others drop away. The book helped me to not get offended. Reading the book also prepared me for people saying inappropriate things, which has unfortunately been a common experience, but the reality is what is the right thing to say, no one knows the right thing to say, understanding people’s intentions rather than what they are saying has been key to avoiding disagreements.”
The Urgent Life by Bozoma Saint John
“The Urgent Life is a book I was desperate to read, whilst trying to navigate grief and running a business. It’s written by a very successful businesswoman called Bozoma Saint John. I wanted a book that could help me understand how to keep going in work and business, but it is ultimately her story of multiple losses, her interracial relationship, relationship breakdown after the loss of her child, and the getting back together when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She has learnt so many lessons from experiencing these losses, which includes the importance of appreciating life and living it urgently.”
- Selina also recommends The Grief Gang (Podcast)