Dear Mom, I Wish You’d Had Life Insurance …

My aunt and I started looking for resources to get us through the month. At work, where I did customer service for a local newspaper, I asked to have more hours. I tried to get help from the community to help us get through that month and to save the house we had lived in since 2004, but it was a lost cause.

How Did We Get Here?

I grew up in a middle class family, where both of my parents always worked very hard to provide. My parents got divorced in 2006, and my father was no longer in our lives.

In 2010, when I was in high school, my mother got laid off from her company in a major downsizing. It was stressful, because I knew we had always lived paycheck to paycheck, and I didn’t know if everything was going to turn out OK.

She was collecting unemployment, but by the time we went on our Mother’s Day camping trip, it was about to run out and she was looking for another job. Meanwhile, I was working and taking classes toward a degree in education.

RELATED: The Unemployment Diet: How We Saved $1,000 a Month

Picking Up the Pieces

On June 1st, through assistance from Catholic Charities and the HUD program, we were able to move into a small two-bedroom apartment 15 minutes away from where we used to live, near my sisters’ school.

I had to pack up our entire family home. Since we were moving from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment, I had to decide what meant the most to us as a family, and what to let go. I moved through the process slowly, taking box by box to our new apartment. But I didn’t move fast enough. The bank came and foreclosed on the house, and they were able to keep what they wanted. We lost a lot.

We also had to give our pets away. Our two dogs went to family members until we could afford to get them back. Our cats went to the shelter.

One day we woke up, and our life was in a million pieces. It just didn’t click right away that our mother was gone. We were robots going day to day.

During that time, a counselor from a local program came to our house twice a week to help us through the grief processing. I decided to change my major to social work, so I could help other young adults who were going through what I went through.

Currently, I work 40 or more hours a week at the newspaper, then attend school full time after that at the University of South Florida. My sisters are in 11th and 9th grade, and I don’t want them to work while they’re in school. They have enough on their plates.

How We’re Getting By

We still live paycheck to paycheck and struggle. I receive no rent or food assistance. Thankfully, if I run out of grocery money, I am able to borrow from friends and extended family. We never really go out, to movies or anything else. If I have to do without in order for my sisters to have, this is what I am committed to doing.

I do not qualify for Social Security survivor’s benefits because I was over the age of 18 at the time of my mother’s death. Since my sisters are both minors, they qualify. I put the funds into each of their savings accounts so they can attend college after high school graduation.

Up until last year, I had only a grant from the government that paid for 25% of my school tuition. I also took out student loans, but I was limited to two or three classes every semester, and would go to the library to check out textbooks to use. Still, I managed to get honors every semester.

Last year I submitted my essay to the LIFE Foundation, and won a scholarship which allowed me to take the rest of the classes I need to get my bachelors of science in social work. I’ll graduate on May 5th of this year, summa cum laude. That will make me the first one in my family to graduate college. I’ve applied to graduate school, but I have to take off a year, because you have to get experience before you get your master’s. Hopefully, I’ll be able to attend school in the fall of 2014.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Reduce Those Steep College Costs

Brittney and her mother

Brittney and her mother

It Could Have Been Different

People get grief wrong: You don’t move on, you move through it. One day you realize that it is reality. It’s almost been two years, and I wouldn’t say we’ve “dealt” with my mother’s death yet. Some days it’s just not real.

Death is something we tend not to think about and not to prepare for. My mom had a small life insurance policy with her job, but lost it when she was laid off. Because she was only 49, I don’t think she ever thought that it was something she needed.

If my mom had had life insurance and made preparations for her death, my life would be completely different. We would have been able to bury her according to her wishes instead of settling for cremation paid for by the state. We would still be living in our family home with our pets and in our same neighborhood we grew up in. I would not have to struggle to provide my sisters with the basic daily needs others don’t think twice about.

I am determined to make my mom proud and be the first in our family to graduate college. It is now my responsibility to see that my sisters have as close to a normal life as possible. I am their role model. We are the survivors of the unthinkable, and we are going to make it.

RELATED: How to Budget for Anything: The 50/20/30 Rule

For more on Brittney’s story, watch her video.

For information on this year’s LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program, now accepting applications through March 31, 2013, please visit the LIFE Foundation website.

Top photo Credit: Peter Vidor

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48505044 Shannon Smigo

    wow! powerful story. Thank you for sharing. People need to talk about this stuff so we all know we are taking care of ourselves while taking care of others. Thank you to the LIFE Lessons scholarship that helps those in need.

  • anon

    Ugh. I understand all too well. My mom passed at 48, unexpectedly. Luckily, she had a small life insurance policy. Totally agree about moving through the grief process rather than “moving on”. You never stop missing them. The loss is always there. I think you just get used to living with the feeling. have you read “motherless daughters” ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nemorgan Natalie E. Morgan

    You’re a good daughter and a good older sister. I am sure your Mom would be so proud of you for being there for them. I know you’ll never get over losing your mother, but you’ll carry on her memory. Best of luck to you.

  • rebecca

    I am so touched by your story. I am an older mother with 4 year old twins. I want them to be responsible, but to go what you are going through is way above and beyond taking responsibility! You are doing amazing things. I am so sorry for your losses.

  • luvbug

    As sad as her story is I’m pretty certain that her mom wouldn’t have been able to pay the premiums for life insurance anyway. I wish the family all the best and hope the girls can all go to college and hopefully secure their own future.

  • Shannon

    Thanks for sharing your story, I’m so sorry for what you had to go through. I think there’s a lot of people who are at risk for this because they don’t have life insurance and they leave it up to chance. Just goes to show anything can happen at any time and it helps to be prepared. I just lost my mom very suddenly this winter. My brother and I are on our own now (26 and 31) and no longer financially dependent so my Dad received the life insurance money. It’s hard enough to have that sudden loss let alone dealing with the financial aspect of it. Your are handling it with such grace, best of luck to you, sounds like you are doing a great job with the hand that was dealt to you.

  • Lumbee1luv

    Your Mother raised a wonderful daughter who anyone would love to have as their own. I wish your family all the best in the future to come.

  • http://www.qualitytermlife.com/ QualityTermLife

    When my grandfather died he left a widow with 5 school-age kids. They were always poor, relying on the church, government assistance, and the help of relatives to get by.

    When I had kids what happened to my grandmother stayed with me. I have $500,000 of term life on me and $300,000 – for 20 years, until the kids are grown.

    Bottom-line: if you are a family breadwinner and have minimal savings you need life insurance to cover things you were providing. It can cover lost income, provide financial security, pay off the mortgage, pay for college, and at the very least, the final/burial expenses.

    I know a lot of people put off buying it because they think it costs too much. Which is ironic because, these days, term life insurance is really inexpensive.

    You can see for yourself by visiting a website that offers free online quotes. QualityTermLife is good one, that compares rates from dozens of top insurance companies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alisha.closson Alisha Closson

    You’re doing a great job! Make sure you take care of yourself too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roza-Lee/1758411898 Roza Lee

    YOU ARE AMAZING I think you are rally brave and strong

  • Tania

    This is heartbreaking story and I feel for them. I do believe though that their mother may not have been able to afford life insurance, rather than the assumption that she didn’t find it important. The situation sounds like she was hanging on by a thread.

    But, it is a helpful article because there are people that can afford a basic policy who don’t and then the children and/or dependent spouse (who were not growing up without) suddenly find themselves in a precarious position.

  • Rowena

    I am also trying to raise awareness about the risks we women often run when we do not take care of our insurance needs. I offer my free ebook to all who visit my site, as well as the chance (no cost) to get in touch with a trusted insurance advocate. Welcome to http://www.lifewizewomen.com

  • Jen

    I opened a life insurance policy for my child when she was less than a year old. It’s a relatively small, whole-life policy (the kind you can’t lose once it’s paid for in full) that will be paid off by the time she goes to college. Some people say it was morbid of me to do this, but it’s not for ME that I took out the policy–it’s for my daughter and future grandkids. It can be hard to think about our children’s mortality, but they are mortal just like we are, so we might as well help them deal with it.This way, if my daughter God-forbid turns out to have a rare illness later in life, or if she takes up base jumping as a hobby, or whatever, she’ll always be insured, won’t be turned down, and can add value to the policy later on if she likes. She will never accidentally leave her own children with nothing.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for sharing your story; it has changed my point of view on life insurance and I will definitely make sure my family is prepared with life insurance. I admire your strength and hard work and all you’ve done to support yourself and your sisters. May God bless you as you continue on making your mother and the rest of your family proud.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1241618428 Kelly Britton

    Your story is also my story in so many ways. My husband of 28 years passed unexpectedly on St Patrick’s Day 2010. We owned a small construction business and we were treading water financially for almost two years. Upon his passing I was told that his life insurance ($400k) had lapsed. I was a stay at home mom and even though I signed papers for our home, I wasn’t legally “on the loan”, Wells Fargo foreclosed on my home and I wasn’t even able to legally speak with anyone to try and save it. I lost everything. I know what it’s like to go from a five bedroom home, I had to sift through everything I owned making decisions on what to sell, what to give away, what to toss, etc. I lost family members and my best friend during this time because of the stress of the situation, etc. I have lived with my son and daughter in law in their small home for the past three years. I haven’t been able to find work and received $255 death benefit after my husband passed. I am not eligible for social security benefits because you have to be 50 years old AND disabled (I was 48 and a stay at home mom for 15 years) or you have to have dependent children (my son is in his late 20′s). Again, I received NOTHING. Life is a daily struggle, not only financially, but physically and emotionally. Every day I pray that it’s going to be a good day with some form of good news. I pray that one day I can look forward to having some kind of a future. Your story gives me hope…….thank you and God bless you and your family.

  • Irene

    You are a strong, courageous, beautiful woman. I know things are tough right now but you are making a new life for yourself and your sisters and your mother would be nothing but proud of you. Keep it up! Stay strong and you’ll come through. God bless you and your family!

  • Jessica

    Good luck with everything, you are an amazing person to be put in the situation that you were put in. And your sisters have a wonderful role model to look up to. God Bless

  • TillDeathDoYouBarrierIsland

    You should see an Attorney because it sounds like you have grounds for a lawsuit against the Hospital. Patients are to be checked on through the night and if they found your Mother dead at 0630 am and she was blue, she probably expired 2 hours prior to discovery. This is due negligence…