- In a matter of four years, I lost both my mom and dad. After my mom died, my dad made me the beneficiary of his life insurance policy.
- At the time of my dad’s death, I could afford the ticket out to say goodbye — but not much else. The payout from his life insurance allowed me to buy my first home, and completely changed my life.
- When I saw what life insurance could do, I bought a policy of my own to protect my wife.
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On Halloween morning 2013, I received the first in a series of three calls that would change my life forever. It was early, around 7 AM, and receiving calls from family members at that hour is never good news, unless it’s your birthday. This wasn’t my birthday. This was the morning I found out my mom had died.
I had missed the call, but when I checked my phone and saw a voicemail from the contact entry labeled Mom & Dad, my stomach dropped. My body could feel the news I was about to learn, well before I returned that call.
Delaying the switch from living a life that included a mom to one without for a bit longer, I went into the kitchen to smoke a cigarette before calling my dad back. Five minutes later, I’d hear that she’d died from heart failure, primarily caused by being a life-long smoker. And yet still, I didn’t regret that cigarette one bit.
I had spent the time it took to inhale it thinking about her, and how my small family was about to be so much smaller. That voicemail was saved in my phone for four years, until Mom & Dad wasn’t an applicable entry in my contacts anymore.
Losing my dad
On December 2, 2017, I got a voicemail from my dad’s sister-in-law, who lived down the road from him. My dad had been spending a lot of time with my aunt and uncle since my mom’s passing, and I was glad that he had people who cared for him in such close proximity.
I’ve lived a lot of different places in my life: California, Chicago, New York, Washington state, but currently reside in New Orleans. The morning I received this call, my wife and I were getting ready to go get our Christmas tree.
I listened to the message: “Kelly, it’s imperative that you call us back right away,” and bristled at the formality of it. The cold tone. As an only child, my mom, dad, and grandparents on my mom’s side were the main hub of what I considered my family.
I had other family members, sure, but they weren’t the sort to leave messages using words like “imperative.” That’s a word a bill collector would use, not someone on your family tree, regardless if you share DNA with them.
My dad’s body had been found by his youngest brother, a down-and-out sort of guy who’d been living with him for awhile, while he tried to turn his life around.
When I got to the house a few days later, I stood alone in my dad’s bedroom, piecing together clues, breathing in the smell of him, and the remaining smell of my mom, even after all those years.
His cause of death was described to me by the coroner of the small town where he lived as a massive heart attack. His actual phrasing was “the widow maker.” Since no one was left to be widowed, I re-named this in my mind as “the orphan maker.”
He’d collapsed in the bathroom. My uncle said the noise was so loud that it shook the whole house, sending him running to see what had happened. Standing in the bathroom, I saw the intimacy of death. The humbleness of it all.
He had a clean pair of underwear folded up on the bench next to the sink, and a pair of socks. He’d probably been about to freshen up for bed. I took the underwear and threw them away in the kitchen trash. Half annoyed by the constant absence of trash cans in men’s bathrooms, but mostly concerned with wanting to preserve my dad’s dignity.
I couldn’t do much, at that moment, frozen in grief and staring down a daunting laundry list of immediate tasks that I had no idea how to complete, but I’d be damned if anyone was gonna see my dad’s underwear.
My dad’s life insurance payout was more than I could have imagined
My dad was a planner, an organizer up to the minute of any given day. Shortly after my mom’s death, he’d made a handwritten list of instructions for me, very simple, very dad-like. Who to call when he dies. Where he wants to be buried. What to do with his stuff. And how to claim his life insurance.
He’d made me the sole beneficiary, immediately after my mom passed, but I wasn’t made privy to what that amount might be. I thought it would be tacky to ask, so I didn’t.
When I called the insurance company to begin the process of filing the claim, I found that the payout would not only cover the complete cost of his burial, but would also provide me with a remainder that I later used to buy my first home.
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My dad’s careful planning not only made a tragic event a tad more manageable, but it set me up to have a sense of security in my life that I never imagined I would have.
At the time of my dad’s death, I could afford the plane ticket there, but not a whole lot else. If he hadn’t had life insurance, and if he hadn’t spoken directly to me about how to claim it, I don’t know what I would have done. His ashes would probably be in a coffee can on my desk, and not entombed in a beautiful mausoleum next to my mother.
Getting a life insurance policy of my own
Living from his example, I purchased a policy of my own, and talked to my wife about it. For $44 a month, I’m covered until I’m 95 and my wife will get $77,000 when I die — enough to make the loss just a little bit easier.
These are never pleasant conversations to have, but a far less pleasant scenario would be trying to figure it all out during a tragedy, when all you have energy for is crying.
My dad was a rock when I was growing up. Supportive every step of the way. And he stayed that way till the day he died. Past it.
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