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When Bad Things Happen to Uninsured Good People

This is unfortunately, a true story that I am telling as we approach in one month, the 30thanniversary of a tragic, life-altering event for me and for my children.  If you are a regular reader, or are someone who knows me personally, you may wonder if I have “sold out” when you see the link for ”life insurance” here.  I can assure you that I have not, but want to relay to you something I learned the hard way.
When I was a kid, the life insurance salesman was a regular visitor to our house. I did not think of him as a salesman, but as a friend who was welcomed into our kitchen and served coffee and cake once a month on a Wednesday evening, when he came to collect the small premium due him. He joined the ranks of the Electrolux man, (who made periodic appearances though our Electrolux lasted half a lifetime without repair or replacement) the Egg Man, ( a neighbor down the street,  and also the uncle of my schoolmate) and the doctor, who made house calls when necessary and was served coffee and cake too.
My parents believed in being prepared for the worst. They unfortunately also believed that the worst was likely to happen, so this probably motivated them to buy life insurance even in the days when extra money was pretty scarce. They considered it a necessity when you were raising children.  By the time I came along unexpectedly, my parents had thought their child-rearing days were more done than beginning.  I am guessing that they had purchased their life insurance policies years earlier and made payments of a few dollars a month.
When I grew up and left home, the sixties were in full bloom.  I was often fiercely rebellious and iconoclastic. Though I loved my family, I tended to reject many things in which they believed, and by which they governed their lives.  I hated routines and my mother had many.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday, ironing day, Wednesday, for vacuuming and mopping floors, Thursday, for shopping, etc. They had lived their entire adult years in close proximity to both of my grandparents and saw once-a-week visits and frequent phone calls to their parents as an obligation that was unquestionable. I thought  many of their values were “middle-classed” values that they had little or nothing to do with my own life.
Well…fast forward quite a few years…I was a young married mother.  My husband and I were freshly relocated from San Francisco, to an uninspiring, cookie-cutter apartment in Connecticut where my husband had grown up. My long braids and “hippie” clothes, my handsome husband’s unruly Afro and our son’s longish Dutch Boy haircut,  cute little jeans and work boots, all really stood out, as we played on the Green of our New England town.   We had wanted to be back home, closer to family members in NY and CT. We were raising our young son and thinking about expanding our family by adoption. We had ambitious plans and suddenly found ourselves in a place where it seemed that the big event of the week was heading to the local discount chain store to buy kitchenware and beer right after the paycheck arrived. This just didn’t feel like us.
About a week after we moved in, a neighbor rang our doorbell and tried to sell us a life insurance policy. When we said we didn’t believe in life insurance, had no need for it and it was more for our parents’ generation, he admonished us and told us we were dead wrong. He said if we couldn’t afford a cash value policy we should purchase some inexpensive term insurance. He implied that by not doing so, we were somehow inferior as parents. We bade him goodbye and had a good laugh at that, since we thought of ourselves as very conscientious parents.  Still we perceived of buying life insurance as something for “real grownups”, which we obviously didn’t quite consider ourselves, or for people who were just not “cool” and who worried too much about things.
Eventually we settled in, found a more compatible crowd and started to explore the very rich creative and inspiring community surrounding us in the Litchfield Hills. Our family began to grow, as we had planned.. We felt we had already tested our reproductive equipment and had a commitment to children who might not otherwise easily find loving families. We moved to a different community, but shortly after our move, my husband’s suspected diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was confirmed. We had three kids at the time, with the youngest only an infant, and plans to continue adopting several more children. My husband and I had decided to re-focus on continuing our educations and money was tight.  We were stunned by the diagnosis, but determined not to allow it to control our whole world.  We could not possibly have imagined how things would unfold.
Within a about a year of his diagnosis, it became clear that Kim was on a rapid progressive course of his disease. Not too long after that, following some teases with exacerbating and remitting symptoms, he began to go downhill till he was nearly paralyzed (tripalegic).  By that time we had founded a licensed non-profit adoption agency (that I continued operating until the end of 2010).   Kim became its first executive director, though he needed significant help on a regular basis with his activities of daily living.  We still did our very best not to have his illness govern our entire lives, or detract us from our mission, but we were not always successful.
In March of 1982, on a day none of us will ever be able to forget, a fire in our dryer spread quickly and devastatingly through our home.  Our older kids were in school and our then-four-year-old was watching Sesame Street. My first task was to get our little one out to safety.. I called the fire department and then attempted to rescue Kim, but was unable to.  I was forced to leave without him.  He died a short while after being rushed to the hospital.  Our home did not burn down, but had severe damage and most of our personal belongings were gone. It was some time before we could really begin to pay attention to the “things” that were gone, of course.
Friends and the community rallied, and family members, as much as they were able. My own family had lost my brother, father and young nephew only a short while before this and my family wasn’t in close proximity.  Many people had many questions for us, but the most frequent was, “Do you have enough life insurance?”.  Naturally they were stunned to learn that other than the mortgage insurance the bank had (thankfully) required on our home, we had none.  Fortunately, with perseverance and planning, I was able to figure out how to survive, raise my kids and eventually adopted a fourth as a single parent.  I became a convert as far as my previously held beliefs about the purchase of life insurance.
What have I learned and what do I want to impart to you, the reader?  I know this isn’t the typical message of my writing, but I feel it is an important one.  No, we cannot prepare for every rainstorm or tsunami that comes our way. We can, however, take charge of the things we can control. When we experience tragedy and loss, it is hard enough to pick up the pieces and find the path to healing.  When, in addition to grief, we have to face very real and raw survival issues and worry about whether our family will continue to have a roof over its head, clothing or food on the table, it is beyond painful.   In coping with meeting just our basic needs, healing is often significantly delayed.  Do look into life insurance, particularly if you have a young family!
I will paraphrase and change just a bit, the prologue to Pierre, one of my favorite children’s tales by the wonderful, Maurice Sendak.
“ Read this story, my friend,
for you’ll find at the end
that a suitable moral lies there….

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