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

Peter-VidorLast year, we featured a story from a daughter whose father’s life insurance provided a financial safety net to her after he passed away. But what happens when a family is left without it?

Every year, the LIFE Foundation awards $125,000 in scholarship money to children who had a parent pass away without a life insurance policy.

We spoke to 2012 Grand Prize essay recipient, Brittney LaCombe, to find out what life was like without a parent or financial legacy to help her family through. Here is her story:

I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. On May 8th, 2011, my mother, two younger sisters and I drove to a local campsite for our annual Mother’s Day camping trip. When we arrived, my mother said that her foot was bothering her. We thought maybe she had hit it on something, so we didn’t think much of it. But that night, the pain got so bad she couldn’t stand it. She called 911 and an ambulance took her to a hospital.

The doctors thought she had cellulitis, a blood infection, and wanted to keep her overnight to make sure the infection didn’t spread. We brought her presents and balloons to the hospital, to celebrate Mother’s Day. At 9 p.m., visiting hours were over. We said goodbye and went home, planning to come back when visiting hours started again at 7 a.m.

When Life Fell Apart

At 6:30 the next morning I got a call from the hospital. When they had gone to check on her that morning, she was blue. They tried to resuscitate her for 45 minutes, but it was too late. She had died from a pulmonary embolism—a catastrophe that left me without a mom.

Suddenly, at 20 years old, I was the head of the family, and I had to take care of my sisters, who were 15 and 16, on my own.

My aunt came over the next day to help me deal with funeral arrangements. I wanted to bury my mother, like she wished. But when we finished looking through all of her bank accounts and papers, we realized she only had $300 in the bank.

She was completely behind on her bills and had no life insurance.

I knew that our finances weren’t great, but I didn’t think we could be that bad off. A proper funeral, which costs thousands, was out of the question. I hated the idea of cremation, but that’s the only thing the state would pay for. We couldn’t even afford to hold a reception, and all of my mother’s family members never got the opportunity to gather and grieve together.

RELATED: 5 Ways Life Insurance Will Save Your Family

I felt devastated—I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Within a week of her passing, shut-off notices came for the electricity and water. The bank called every day looking for a payment on the mortgage. Since I was only working part time, paying these debts was out of the question. Even though I explained my situation to the bank, I was told I only had weeks before the house would be foreclosed on and our electricity and water would be cut off.

  • 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” ?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Alisha Closson

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • Joshua Bower

    I’m so sorry about your mom, she was a wonderful person, hope your doing OK Brit…….you ex – Joshua