I’m finally ready to talk about something very personal. Something which affected my home even though I work in financial services.
On Friday, May 5, 2017, my mother-in-law, Mary Madjlessi, died at 2:45 am in a state-aided nursing home. She died in a bed just 10 feet from another resident. There was no privacy when we grieved; there was a sheet hanging from the ceiling. When she died it was all very business-like: collect her things and move her out, there was another person waiting for her bed and they needed it that day.
A little background…
Mary made it to eighty-four and I say “made it” because by all accounts she shouldn’t have and would not have if we had not advocated for her health every step of the way in every way imaginable. In her later years, she had vertigo, a quadruple bypass, breast cancer with mastectomy, diabetes, venous insufficiency, etc. She was unemployed most of her elder life, unable to get around, and very uninsurable.
I met Mary in 1992. She owned a thriving daycare business in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her husband had left her to tend to the business and she was doing quite well on her own. I remembered having a conversation with her about life insurance and long-term care planning and this spitfire woman said, “Women don’t have access to those things.” At the time, I internalized that as a truth because I had just started working in financial services and women were in fact treated differently as employees and she was right – rarely did I encounter female clients unless they were part of a survivorship policy situation.
Mary grew up during a time where women were expected to work very hard, but were never solicited any products or planning as their value and worth were not that of a man even though she ran a business like a boss. She was now in her sixties, unable to walk and get around as well, had multiple operations to correct hernias from lifting children up and down over the years and very uninsurable for long-term care insurance. She could still be ok for life insurance though, right?
I had her apply for a life insurance policy a few years after I started working in financial services but the underwriting became so arduous and drawn out that in the end, she stopped the process when “buyer’s remorse” started settling in. She just got tired of the questioning and the prodding into her life and history.
Mary became a second-rate insurance client which ironically was her comfort zone since she had already become a second-rate business owner by all accounts. Abandoning the process, she took the risk of self-insurance and the gamble was greater than we all would imagine.
A few years later, Mary’s business began to dwindle as younger parents started questioning if an “old woman” should be watching their little darlings. It was true, she couldn’t run outside with them anymore. She couldn’t play hide-n-seek with the kids. Parents were wanting more movement, Montessori, and a lot less Mary. Her business began to fail.
This put an enormous pressure on my husband and me as we were young parents ourselves with three children spanning a nine-year period. We were saving to buy a home (no easy feat in San Francisco) and when we finally bought a house, we invited Mary to come and live with us.
I know what you planners are thinking right now…she had a house to sell in the Bay Area, she is going to make a fortune! Nope – she had taken out so many home loans to keep the house afloat during the decreasing years of her home business that selling the home barely covered those notes. Barely. She came to us elderly, alone, unemployed, penniless, and in need of an increasing amount of day-to-day and preventive life care.
The long years…
Mary lived in our home for 12 years before we had to make the difficult decision to put her in a nursing home. With my husband being an only child the decision made lasting impressions on the family members who felt compelled to share their opinions on how she should be cared for while offering no monies to help the situation. Opinions became like assholes – everyone had one. EVERY SINGLE PERSON.
The decision was not entered into lightly. Mary’s declining health put an incredible amount of strain on our now bustling family life. We had children in sports and scouts; activities were plentiful. We could not hop into a car and leave because who would take care of Mary? There was no vacation for us because who would take care of Mary? All family activities needed to be held at our home to include her as we felt guilty if we tried to go and do something without her.
These were the long years of our marriage. I wouldn’t say we regretted the care we needed to provided; we regretted not having better planning, not having options. When we finally agreed Mary needed to go into a nursing home, it was the saddest time in our life. This also affected commitments to where we lived, what job would we take, etc. Every single decision in the home came with the wrapper, “How will this affect Mary?”
…and this went on until her last breath. You made every decision with Mary in mind first and foremost. But what do you think Mary would have wanted?
There’s a lot to unpackage in this story of my mother-in-law but it boils down to how much insurance matters. As individuals and as a married couple, we had limitations on the opportunities around us because of the challenge of not having the proper amount of products and planning in place for Mary. It leaves me in 2017 to question:
- Why do we still receive fewer applications on women than men? (Reference: LIMRA study of 2016: https://insurancenewsnet.com/oarticle/limra-women-still-lag-men-life-insurance-ownership)
- Why are life insurance applications still a pain in the ass? (Reference: Quotacy: https://www.quotacy.com/why-does-it-take-so-long-to-be-approved-for-life-insurance/)
- Why is longevity planning something we leave until the last minute? (Reference: Council of Study Governments study of 2017: http://www.csg.org/knowledgecenter/docs/TIA_LongTermCare_screen.pdf.)
- Why do we not create directives for families left to deal with mom and dad in elder ages? (Reference: AARP Advance Directives downloads: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/free-printable-advance-directives/)
Be a person of action – Make sure if you hold a life and health insurance license you fully understand the due diligence of offering this service to every single client you encounter. Do you want clients to have limited choices in their life? Should clients self-insure these needs or could some additional planning solve the problem? Are you looking at your clients holistically and offering services to help to both spouses or significant others? Help make sure these stories stop happening.