I received a long email recently from an utterly despondent woman (that I’ll call Ellen) who was caught in a devastating situation. A year ago, she was a stay-at-home mother with three preschool-aged children. Her husband worked at a high-paying job that seemed to have great long-term potential and it seemed as though their life was set.
Then, very suddenly, her husband died in a car accident, and there wasn’t much life insurance money. Within months, she was back in the workplace at a fairly low paying job, her family had moved into a tiny apartment, and the house was up for sale. Then, just as quickly, she was laid off from that job and the house sold for roughly what was still owed on it. Within a year, she was back living in her parents’ basement, a single mother with three young children and few assets to her name, searching for any job in her field of expertise while working as a gas station attendant.
What surprised her more than anything was the absence of the people she had believed to be her friends. They were there at first when her husband passed away, but when it became clear that her life was going to radically change, those friends stopped returning phone calls and stopped visiting. When she really needed help, most of her friends simply weren’t there for her.
It turned out that the people she could rely on were her close family and just a few of her closest friends. All of the rest of the people that she had come to rely on in her life – confiding in them, helping them, spending countless hours with them – simply weren’t there when push came to shove.
Ellen’s story really resonated with me, mostly because it’s pretty easy for me to see how something like this could happen in my own life. If my wife were to pass away suddenly, I know that I’d need a lot of help over the short term. I’d likely sell the house we live in and move into a much smaller home with my children, likely much closer to my parents (and my wife’s parents, actually). I believe the income from The Simple Dollar would support the three of us, particularly if I were to move to a different home, so that’s not a big worry.
Then I thought of a close friend of ours, whose situation closely mirrors Ellen, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach. She’s also a stay at home mom with a two year old girl and another one almost ready to arrive. Her husband has a solid job, but one that does involve some degree of physical risk. What would happen to her if something happened to her husband? I know my wife and I would offer her some support, as would her parents and, I would imagine, some other friends and family, but her life (and the lives of her children) would change radically.
What can we all do to prepare for such a situation? There are a lot of obvious things that can be done to make such a blow easier to take.
Life insurance This is the obvious option, but it’s only the beginning. If you’re in a situation where your life would be significantly derailed by the sudden passing of a partner, then that person needs to be well insured with you as a beneficiary. If you have children, you need to have a substantial life insurance policy for both partners – several multiples of your annual salary. Read more about how to prepare yourself in this guide.
Strong relationships with family Building up and maintaining very strong relationships with the key people in your life becomes even more important if you’re in such a situation. The birth of your children should be an indication that it’s time to work on your relationship with your parents and with other family members. If there are rifts, you should take the first step (and the second – and the third) to repair that rift and build a healthy relationship. This isn’t only beneficial in such a painful scenario, it’s also generally beneficial to you right now as well as for your partner and your children.
Friendships with real value and meaning It’s fine to have a circle of friends that you hang out with, but those friends shouldn’t be relied upon to help you out in a pinch unless you do the same for them when they need help. That means if you have a close friend that truly needs help, give them everything you can. True friendships are built in times of need, and when you see a friend in need, you have that opportunity. It might be hard or inconvenient or painful, but when you offer your hand when they need it, you’ll build a much stronger friendship, one that has a much higher likelihood of being there for you when you need it.
Active membership in civic and religious organizations I’ve been involved in quite a few organizations in the community over the years, and I’ve found that time and time again, when an involved member needs a hand, the whole organization comes together to help. Churches, community groups, volunteer groups – it’s true for all of them. However, just signing up and not doing anything else isn’t enough – you need to get involved and be involved over a long period of time and step up to the plate regularly for leadership opportunities, service events, and when others need help.
All of these things have some key things in common. All of them require you to be proactive – you have to take the first step to make them work. You have to give of yourself without expecting things in return. All of them also provide some level of personal joy – close friends, close family, and good organizations all provide great social situations and a lot of fun (or provide some peace of mind, in the case of life insurance).
In short, if you don’t truly give of yourself when times are good, it’s unrealistic to expect to receive when times are bad.