When it is too late to re-evaluate your Life Insurance….
Life insurance is something we know we need, but it really isn’t something we want to think about. My friend, Kara speaks publicly about how she lost her husband tragically and unexpectedly at just 46 years old. Kara was a stay at home mom before her husband’s swift but courageous cancer battle. Kara shared with those close to her then, and now with audiences who will listen that one of her husband’s greatest regrets and concerns during his time in the hospital was that he did not increase his life insurance when he had the chance. I know my husband and I have often wondered if we have enough life insurance. Kara’s story has been a wake up call to many who simply don’t know how much life insurance is needed. Kara is sharing her story because the unimaginable happened to them and it was too late to re-evaluate their life insurance, but it is likely not too late for your family. Kara shared that their life insurance gave them breathing room for now, but did not set them up for the years to come.
I feel I should confirm that this post is in no way sponsored by a company. I’m not here to sell life insurance or point you to someone who is. Kara simply wants to share her story for those who may have the same unexpected changes in the future. She hopes it might help other families. I hope our readers might be helped, and I hope that you will leave an encouraging note for Kara. Kara’s contact information is at the end of this post if you would like to discuss her speaking at an event about Life Insurance and life after losing your partner to cancer. Her family’s meal train fundraiser is also still open if you would like to read updates or donate as they still try to put the pieces back together. I am thankful Kara is brave enough to share her story both as a speaker and today on our site. Kara and her boys will get through this; but I wish they did not have the concerns they do about money while they are trying to heal from a sudden loss. Please consider sharing this post if you believe it might be helpful to others. Any ad revenue from this blog post will also be donated to Kara’s family, so please share! With no further delay, here is Kara in her own words….
On April 2, 2019 our lives changed forever. I will never be the person I was when I drove up to that emergency room. I will never be the same woman that pushed her husband through those doors in a wheelchair, because he could no longer walk and was in excruciating pain. That sounds overly dramatic, but is true. We knew that whatever was going on would require serious intervention, but what we were told many hours after entering the ER was not even in our realm of possibilities. My name is Kara. I’m 44, and a mother of two young boys under the age of 12. I am a stay at home mom and a widow. I am now part of a club I never wanted to join, and it all happened so quickly.
My husband, Leon, was a healthy, kind, and handsome 46 year old man from the Netherlands. Our story began working on cruise ships together and we married in June of 2000. We lived in the Netherlands during our first 5 years, but decided to make the United States our home after that. Leon was an excellent provider for his family and loved his job. We are very responsible people in our decision making, and prided ourselves on our financial foresight. We had investments,401K’s, IRA’s, savings with the recommended banked salary there, and the very important term life insurance for both of us. We looked ahead to begin a 529 College Fund, that we added to every month. We topped this off with a Living Will and Trust to protect our assets.
Leon worked all over the world, and he would be gone for about a month and then home for a month on vacation. During January of 2019,this year, Leon decided he wanted to use his talents and abilities to remodel the master bathroom. He worked hard demolishing it with the help of our boys. He tiled the floor, installed cabinets, countertop and sinks. He also made sure, before leaving in February, that the toilet was installed and functioning! Thanks honey! Leon never got the opportunity to complete his remodel, as it still sits unfinished to this day.
While he was in Malaysia in February, he was complaining that his wrist seemed to be less useful coupled with some pain, numbness and tingling. Even though he was no longer overusing his wrist as he did with the remodel, it felt like it was getting worse. When he returned home in March, and after a suggested wrist splint for possible carpal tunnel with no improvement, specialists were enlisted and couldn’t figure out what was going on.
During this time of less mobility in his hand and wrist,his mid back started bothering him. He was prone to lower back pain, so sought the help of a chiropractor for some relief. After sleepless nights in the chair because of extreme discomfort and no relief, Monday, April 1, his legs started tingling. During the night, Leon ceased to be able to walk at all unassisted. Leon was scheduled to return to work on the 2nd of April, but by then had a doctor’s note saying he was not capable of doing his job, and would need surgery on his hand. Although no conclusions were drawn regarding what was going on with the wrist, it was determined there would be a loss of mobility at the very least. Everything was already happening so quickly, and at the time, I didn’t realize how quickly things were progressing.
Five hours after wheeling Leon into the ER we were notified that he most likely had cancer, and they weren’t specific as to what type, but it had spread to his lungs, pelvis, spine and brain. He would be paralyzed if he didn’t have back surgery the next day to remove the tumors wrapped around his spine, and pathology would then ascertain the source. We were just told the day before,by a spine doctor, that he probably had a compressed disc. We were told the previous week that he for sure didn’t have a cancerous tumor in his wrist, so how could this be? Leon and I were both in a state of total disbelief. Paralyzed? He’d been on top of this, going to the doctor weeks prior with X-Rays and blood work that all came back totally normal! An MRI on the wrist was inconclusive.
Waves of panic, anxiety, and finally sadness washed over me. These waves were a constant knot in the pit of my stomach that lasted all day, every day for over a week. Leon lamented that he would miss watching our boys grow up, and all of the many unrealized plans for our family. He was concerned about not being able to go back to work soon, if ever, and not even sure what his company benefits even were anymore! Then he said, “I should’ve listened to you and upped my life insurance. I just didn’t think it was necessary, I’m healthy. You won’t have enough, the boys won’t have enough.” Panic set in. The man who had always supported us, felt like he’d failed us.
I wanted to be reassuring and told him not to worry about that. The focus had to be on a course of treatment that might buy him not only quality but some quantity of life. But all he did, the short remainder of his life, was worry about his family and how the bills would be paid. We felt like we’d done everything “right”. As soon as our first son was born, we got life insurance for both of us. We lived in New Mexico, and at that time, Leon was making about one third of what he was making at the time of his death. The mortgage in New Mexico was significantly less than the one in Southern California. So when we moved to CA, we just didn’t think about how much our life circumstances had changed, and our life insurance agent never brought it to our attention. Over time, we received a few postcards that said to call if we needed to reevaluate our life insurance. But there was never a call to check in or reach out that said, “Hey you two, your life circumstance looks to have changed. You are now under insured in the event the unimaginable happens.” The unimaginable did happen to us.
For about three or four days we waited to get the official diagnosis and prognosis. We had a glimmer of hope that it was just a rare infection contracted in Malaysia (where he had been working every other month for the previous six months). Then we received the devastating news that the diagnosis was small cell lung cancer. Since Leon was a totally healthy and fit guy going into this cancer diagnosis, he was given six months to a year at the outset. But make no mistake; this cancer was not curable. The doctors said that if this cancer responded to chemo, which was the anticipated outcome, he would feel much better and have a good short term quality of life. But he was told if it was beaten back, it would definitely return, and when it did the chance of survival would be nearly zero.
There hit another shock wave of disbelief. He seemed so healthy even then, and was recovering well from back surgery. He was relearning to walk with the assistance of a walker, and was accomplishing more distance each day. But best case scenario was six months? There might be less, or maybe more? But 3-6 months was the most likely? Three days earlier we were talking about how we were going to celebrate our 20 year anniversary. We knew we had enough money saved to take a trip to Hawaii. Three days earlier we were completely unaware, that my seemingly healthy 46 year old husband was, in fact, dying of small cell lung cancer with zero lung symptoms.
Since he worked for an international company, he hadn’t paid enough quarters into Social Security to achieve dependent benefits for us and we were not eligible for COBRA. I then realized I am a stay at home mom with Multiple Sclerosis, a history of melanoma, and haven’t worked in over 12 years. I have no idea how I will support my two young boys moving forward. I always thought it would be me in that hospital bed, not him.
In the beginning, Leon was very concerned with how much everything was costing. The concerns were how much was it going to cost for each day he was in the hospital? What were all these tests going to cost along with the medications? How much would radiation cost? They did offer chemo in the hospital, but didn’t have radiation there, so he would need to be transported to an offsite facility and back. Now how much would THAT cost? “Is it even worth getting treatment if I’m going to be dead anyway?”, he asked. The cost and the toll it would take on his body concerned him. He said several times, “We should just save the money and not do the treatment.” Doctors told us that small cell lung cancer responds very well to chemotherapy. It is a very aggressive cancer, but that also means it sucks up the chemo and dies off easier too. The chemo didn’t work. He said, “Well, there goes more money out the window. Why did we just waste money on trying to save me, when I can’t be saved?”
He was mobile enough and doing well enough that they discharged him from the hospital on the eve of Easter. We were going to have to modify the doorways of the bathroom downstairs, so he could either wheel in using his wheelchair or his walker. With the help of a Meal Train and Go Fund Me, that was set up by friends, we rented a lift van that had a ramp where he could be wheeled in, and strapped down, thus eliminating the chance of falling during transferring in and out. We used that van twice before he ended up back in the hospital. It was a total cost to us of an astonishing $3000. Between the modifications to the house, the van, and possibly getting a nurse to come and care for him, we were looking at over $5000 in just one week. How could this be sustained? The cost of caring for someone is significant, and not something always prepared for. Leon could think of nothing else. He would talk about our financial situation all of the time. He started to want to make decisions not based on what he needed to get better or feel better, but based on the financial impact it would have on us after he died.
I told him, we would be okay, and we had a wonderful community who came together to start the Go Fund Me page, and various fundraisers. I reassured him I was going to get a job and we would be fine. It would certainly be different, but we would be ok. Did I totally believe this? NO! But I wanted him to be totally focused on getting better, making videos and writing cards to our children for the future. He needed to spend time with his parents, sister, our kids, and my parents, and not think about the financial impact of everything.
Sadly, Leon died May 3rd, 2019 in the hospital less than four weeks from his diagnosis.
I am usually a pretty decisive person and right now decisions seem elusive. I’m trying to figure out what our new future looks like. Counselors have advised to keep the kids’ lives as close to normal as possible. But I have been partnering with a charter school and need to find a job to support us, which would definitely change the norm. Yes, we have saved for a rainy day, but not a storm. Yes we are getting some life insurance. But we can’t just live off of investments or assets and maintain our current home and lifestyle. Life insurance has given us some room to breathe, but it hasn’t set us up for years to come.
While Leon was in the hospital, we reached the conclusion that even if we had to pay what amounted to triple the amount in a life insurance premium over the last 10 years, it would have been more than doable. We didn’t realize how much insurance we should have had, and how much would be needed should the unimaginable happen. Now most of my decisions are based on what I want to be when I grow up? Will that decision come with health insurance and a wage that can support our children? What corners can I cut so that we have what we need, but I can pay all the bills? Just months ago this never crossed my radar. Now it is all consuming.
In the first month after a spouse dies there is a ton of paperwork to handle. The amount of mail I get daily is a joke, along with the decisions to be made and innumerable emotions to be dealt with. I must say, if I was getting a higher payout from life insurance, many of the financial burdens would be lifted and my focus would be on healing my children, myself and living a life Leon would be proud of. That is a gift I wish I could give Leon too and will never have the opportunity. I wish I could go back and lift that financial burden from him, so that in his last weeks he wasn’t so focused on finances and if we would be ok or not. I wish I could go back and convince him, that no matter how high the increase for the cost of our premium, it would’ve been worth it, and we could have afforded it. When you are sick, and when you are fighting for your life is not the time to be distressed about your financial future. The need is to focus on yourself and giving and receiving love to those closest to you. In his last couple of days, I reassured Leon we were going to be ok. He stopped talking finances about 18 hours before he died, and just focused on those he loved and who loved him.
We knew that he didn’t have much time. We didn’t know it was only going to be one month, but we did have that month. Many families are not that fortunate. Lucky isn’t the right word, but I am grateful that my kids were able to say goodbye, that his parents and sister we able to say goodbye, and that he was able to make a few videos for the kids and to write a few cards I can give them in the years to come. I don’t believe we could’ve ever had enough time with him. I feel robbed of sharing all the adventures we would’ve had and children’s milestones with him. But we had that month, and I am grateful.
Now it’s up to me, as I am the sole provider for the children. The burden now falls on my shoulders in providing a roof over their heads, food on the table, clothes to wear, save for college, and save for my own retirement. We felt we had a good solid plan as a couple. We saved. We invested. We started college funds for the kids. We were doing it, and we thought we were completely covered, but we weren’t and now it is up to me. We had so many plans. I will do it. I know I can do it. I will now be doing it as Kara, single mother of two boys, with Multiple Sclerosis and a widow at age 44.
Kara speaks to groups and organizations about her experience. To check her availability contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org