Almost exactly two years ago, “life happened” to me in a more sudden and dramatic way than I ever could have imagined possible. Even now, looking back, I can’t believe the circumstances that suddenly came crashing down around me at the same time, creating a perfect storm of emotional, physical and financial vulnerability that threatened to pull me under for good.
On April 27, 2010, I got a terrible call while at my office informing me that my teenage son Henry had suffered a brutal beating and drug overdose, and that he had been rushed to a local hospital in critical condition. For the next five weeks, I sat next to his hospital bed night and day while still attempting to remain employed.
My son died on May 31, 2010, just over a month after entering the hospital. Three weeks after my oldest child passed away, I gave birth via emergency C-section to my youngest child, who arrived six weeks premature.
As our family’s primary wage earner, and the person who provided health insurance through my job, my stress during this unimaginably painful and difficult time was compounded a hundred-fold by my concern that this series of horrible events would lead to me losing my position with the company where I was employed at that time. Soon after my son began his hospitalization, company management made it clear to me that while they regretted the difficulties I was facing attempting to juggle caring for my critically injured child and my challenging job, there were limits to the amount of time I could be off work without jeopardizing my employment. And looking back, I feel certain that the only thing that prevented me from being let go was my ability to draw on the short-term disability insurance policy that I had in place.
This short-term disability policy wasn’t much; it provided for about six weeks of partially paid leave. However, I was able to utilize some of my short-term disability leave during the late stage of my pregnancy, while my son was in the hospital, and then have five weeks of paid leave following my daughter’s early birth. Certainly, I could have used a more robust disability policy at the time. I wanted and needed to take much more time off to heal, but I shudder to think what would have happened to us financially if I hadn’t had the little extra “gap” insurance in place.
Two years later, I continue to grieve my son’s death every day, and I miss him more than words can express. In his memory, I am focused on building the non-profit organization, Henry’s Fund, that my family has launched to honor his legacy (also on Facebook). My youngest child, the baby born prematurely only a few weeks after her big brother died, is 22 months old, and she is a happy, healthy toddler, and the light in our family’s life following our terrible loss. (She’s the youngest in the photo of my kids in front of Henry’s garden.) I also have a new job with a company that I love, and which has been exceptionally supportive and compassionate as I have slowly gotten back up to full speed on the job.
And you know what else I now have? Life insurance and long-term disability insurance. Since first writing here on the LIFE Foundation’s blog about how my husband and I knew we’d delayed this important piece of financial planning for far too long, we’ve begun taking the important first steps toward the fully insured status we have as a goal. We still don’t have as much insurance as I want us to have, but we are well on our way, and I have made the disability insurance piece of our insurance portfolio a primary focus, because I do know firsthand what it’s like to suddenly find yourself in a situation where you may have to choose between your own care and the job that puts food on the table. I never, ever want to be in that position again.