Mya Stinson

Mya Stinson

On August 17th, 2005, I lost a part of my soul, childhood, and father. At the age of 2, I lost my father to gun violence. Being so young during that time, I can hardly remember his voice, his personality, and most importantly any memories that we had shared together.  For so long, I have carried this traumatic heartbreak through my adolescence, now into my adulthood. It causes me so much pain to know that I will never get to share my life experiences with him and most importantly what a father’s love feels like. All from a bullet, the foundation of my life has been ruptured.

My dad played an important role in my family’s life. He was the main breadwinner that provided for my mother, grandmother, four older siblings, and I. Money was already tight, we were on welfare and living in the worst areas of Philadelphia. I could imagine that my father was more concerned about providing for his family than his unforeseen future. Having a deceased parent and the effect of his death has affected and overwhelmed my life in numerous ways. My father didn’t have life insurance, and this had a detrimental impact on my family. My mother was left with a tremendous amount of debt from my father, and because of this, it forced her to work two jobs. There were times when I wouldn’t see my mother for a few days because of the need for her to work overtime. Secondly, my dad didn’t receive that much of an income, so stretching survivor benefits was tough. Also, my dad was a veteran, but it was impossible for us to claim his benefits after his death due to government’s regulations. Financially my family was at risk, as a result a college fund was not in place.

As a child, I never realized how hard times were. Looking back, I am certain that things would be different if my father had life insurance. My family would be financially comfortable and sustainable, and I wouldn’t have to pick the cheapest option for school. My father’s dreams were to break the generational curses of living in poverty and for his children to attend and graduate college. I am very proud that I am fulfilling his aspirations. Throughout my whole educational career, I’ve made graduating college a priority. I am currently obtaining an academic scholarship that partly pays for my tuition.  I am currently a first-generation college student at Villanova University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. With my BSN degree, I plan to become an ICU nurse. This career choice is influenced by my father’s circumstances, with this in mind I am strongly devoted to trying to save the lives of those who are in life-threatening situations. Furthermore, I aspire to continue my education and become a DNP with a specialty in anesthesiology. All in all, I know that I am making my dad proud, and he is spiritually guiding me through this thing called life.

William Haynes

William Haynes

“Don’t worry about a thing…cause every little thing is going to be alright”. My earliest childhood memories are of my mom playing this Bob Marley song. She would call us her “Three Little Birds” and we would dance around the house. Looking back, I realize my mom was trying to convince herself and us that we would be alright. The truth is, we were all scared about what the future was going to bring. I lost my father to suicide the week of my 3rd birthday.  I had a younger sister who was only 3 months old and an older brother who was 5. My father’s death was sudden, unexpected and shocking. We had no life insurance, except the basic plan his company offered. My Mom was left with a mound of debt, unpaid bills and three little kids to take care of.

My parents had several “CDs” and investments they were planning to use to help us pay for college someday. We had to cash those out in order to keep our home. For as long as I can remember, we have essentially lived paycheck to paycheck. My Mom is a high school teacher and supporting 3 kids close in age has not been easy on a limited income. My Dad had been the main income and Mom taught school as a secondary income.  To say everything changed, is an under-statement.

Hard work, accountability and education has been something though that was instilled in us from our extended family. I remember being told “You create your own destiny. Let’s keep beating the odds” and we were never allowed to play victim because of our situation.

I have maintained over a 4.0 throughout high school and will graduate with 24 college hours. I plan to go to Fairmont State University and major in Nursing. I plan to get my BSN and eventually a Family Nurse PR actioner.  I currently work for a local doctor’s office part time during the week to save money for college. In the summers, I have worked as a city worker doing maintenance and trash pick-up around our community. My brother and I also started a side lawn business and have been mowing yards for money since we were 11 or 12.  Our life situation made all of us grow up quickly and take on more responsibilities than many of my peers.

I hope to eventually be a Family Nurse Practitioner specializing in Mental Health Services. In rural West Virginia, so many mental health services are lacking. I feel a calling to contribute and give back to my home state in this arena. I realized at a very young age, that mental illness can be a silent killer. We have also lost several classmates at my school due to struggles with mental illness.  My family has walked in American Federation for Suicide Prevention walks since 2011 raising thousands of dollars for outreach services in rural WV.  Working in mental health as a FNP, would enable me to utilize my nursing in a field I am passionate about.

Thank you for taking the time to read a tiny portion of my life lessons story.

Veda Massanari-Thatcher

Veda Massanari-Thatcher

Nobody dies at 27. At least that’s what my parents thought as the salesperson told them how important life insurance is. I can almost picture the three of them standing at the kitchen table in the house they had just bought three weeks prior with their three month old baby (me). I can almost hear the conversation my parents had after. The joy and excitement for their brand new life and the certainty that nothing bad could happen to them, after all they were so young and their dreams were just beginning. They decided to get all of the tests done for the insurance, but they would purchase the insurance premium in a month so they could buy me a crib and dresser (which are still in my room) –  everything would be fine until then.

This was June 2001. July 6, 2001 my father, Tad, was tragically killed in a car accident on his way home from work. My mother was unemployed, widowed, in a new town and house, and unfairly left to raise me alone. Tad had just graduated from medical school and gotten a new job. My mom was left with all of their debt and no job to pay it off. Throughout my childhood, we lived off of social security paychecks just managing to get by. However, it was impossible for my mom to do it alone. My grandparents and our community wrapped their arms around us and provided support with money, diapers, and food. Eventually she went back to school, earned her MSW, and got a job. Although, the job brought in less income than social security and we continued to scrape by.

Growing up without a father has been an intensely horrible experience. There is a unique grief that sets in when you realize you’ll never know what your dad’s laugh sounds like or what it feels like when he holds you. It’s like a piece of me died with him and I’ve spent my entire life trying to find it. I have had to re-grieve and re-learn the reality of living life without a father so many times I can’t count.

Not having a dad also made saving for and preparing for college difficult. I didn’t have the means to save for college, we just had to survive. I have held one or more jobs since I was thirteen to help pay for my things and save what little I could. I managed to pay for undergrad with loans, scholarships, and the little savings I had. If my parents had purchased life insurance, not only would my mom have struggled less financially, but I would have had a college savings to assist me. Graduate school at Columbia will require more loans and debt. However, getting a Master of Social work is something I know my dad would be proud of. Helping people was his passion and with this degree and scholarship a piece of him will still get to do that.

Maria Butler

Maria Butler

My dad died without leaving me anything. Not even a goodbye. I got the phone call from my uncle on a Saturday morning. He died 5,000 miles away from me, and I could not afford to travel to attend his funeral. I attend Virginia Tech, in the small town of Blacksburg, Virginia. My dad died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He went there to seek cheaper health care, as he could no longer afford it in the United States. He spent over 5 months in the hospital and eventually died of septic shock.

My dad was the only family I had. I relied on him for everything. He was everything to me. However, he left me with absolutely nothing. The house is under foreclosure, he owed thousands in credit card debt and over $20,000 on our car, and he had no life insurance. I begged him many times throughout the past couple years to get life insurance and write a will. He always said he would do it later. He never did.

Now, I am all on my own, and I still have a year of college left. I am still figuring out how to pay for my out-of-state tuition, rent, food, and health insurance. My mom has not financially supported me in college due to her mental health issues, health problems, and homophobia towards me. On top of this, my parents were in the process of getting a divorce when he died. I have been homeless at times due to my relationship with my mom, but I have been fortunate enough to have friends and neighbors let me live with them for a while in the past couple of years. My half-sister and I only reconnected during the time our dad was in the hospital. My half-sister lives in Brazil, and my mom moved there during the divorce. I have no family in the United States anymore.

I have gotten a job, applied for financial aid, and sought out advice from mentors on how to deal with all this. Sometimes I feel like I do not have time to grief. I am always stressed out and worried about my future. It keeps me up at night and I struggle to focus on school. The financial burden he left me with causes a lot of stress and emotional damage. Sometimes I’m too scared to go out and exercise in case I get hurt and end up with hospital bills. Had my dad had adequate life insurance coverage, I would not be in this situation. I would have enough resources to focus on my studies and finish school.

I am currently a meteorology major, and I hope to serve in the United Air Force as a Weather Officer. My dream is to go into climate change research in hopes to help find ways to help our planet deal with global warming. My dad always dreamed of going to my college graduation. I hope I can achieve that in his honor. 

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