Widowed at 26: How Life Insurance Became My Lifeboat

Cheryl Lock

Expanding Our Family

James was ready to start a family sooner than we did, but he never pressured me, nor did he ask when I might be ready. He just waited for me to say I was, which was a good thing.

By 1981, I had taken a job at a pediatric hospital in Philadelphia, working in the Infant Transitional Unit. While it was hard work, it was also important and rewarding.

Of course, being around kids meant that my mind was constantly on family. I wondered how I’d know when I was ready to start my own family. Some of the older nurses clued me in that they’d probably notice it first by how much extra time I spent holding the babies.

And that’s exactly what happened.

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James and I were married for four years when I gave birth to our daughter, Leslie, in June of 1982.  It was a happy time.

Just nine months later, I would be widowed.

Why We Got Life Insurance

As soon as we became pregnant, James started talking about life insurance—but I was hesitant. I was 24, but James was already thinking like an adult. It’s not that I wasn’t an adult; the topic of life insurance was just scary. I was pregnant with our yet-to-be-born child, and the last thing I wanted to think about was one of us dying.

I had firsthand knowledge of death–I’d started volunteering at the hospital at age 12, then worked as a nurse’s aide before becoming a nurse. Still, dealing with death was a painful part of my career.

But James was right, and I eventually gave in. He made it as easy for me as he could. The agent came to our home, so we would be comfortable, and the questions really weren’t that invasive.

It was the right choice for us at that time—and, as it turned out, it was a good thing that we didn’t wait any longer.

The Day I Lost My Husband

James passed away on a Tuesday in March. The weekend before, we’d had an especially good time together with Leslie. And that Monday evening, my neighbor came over to watch a show. James sat with us for a while, but he left early and was already asleep when I joined him later.

The next morning, he left for work without me seeing him. Whether he kissed me goodbye while I slept, I’ll never know. I had a hair appointment with the woman across the street. I was sitting in a chair in her basement when I heard rapid footsteps coming down the stairs. I turned to see my brother, Paul, who was a construction worker with James. He just looked at me and said, “Cathy, we have to go.”

I remember him pulling me out of the chair, and driving to the hospital. My first words were, “How bad?”

He just squeezed my hand.

When we arrived at the ER, the other construction workers were there. It was hard for them to look at me–and that’s when I knew.

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James had been in an accident on the construction site. Winds were 50 mph-plus that day, and a wall he was working on had collapsed. To avoid being hit, James had jumped off the wall and landed on his back. When the wall fell, a piece of cinder block hit him in the chest, cracking a rib and severing his aorta.

The coroner said that he died instantly.

  • Linda Shephard

    I work for State Farm so I see day to day what no life insurance does to families. When my daughter told me she was pregnant I immediatley got life insurance in her name for her fiance. No they didn’t make it to the alter first. I feel better knowing that she and the baby will be taken care of should tragedy fall.

  • Kevin Cornwall

    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 cheap. (There’s a free quote engine at the QualityTermLife website where you can compare rates from well-known insurance companies. And they don’t ask for contact info before showing you the quotes.)

  • guest

    What a heartbreaking story, but it is real life. Something similar happened to a friend of mine, only her husband never did get to meet their twins. I never asked, but I assume that her ability to continue along the path they had planned together meant he took the same steps.