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.