They neglected to buy life insurance after having a son, and then the unthinkable happened

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Dear Carolyn:

My late husband died when our son was 18 months. We always had the basics, I made sure of that, but we both went without a lot of the extras. My son just started college and his random roommate assignment happens to be a boy whose father also died when he was young. We thought this was random and kind of good, since my son doesn’t know that many people who this happened to.

Last week, my son brought up that his roommate’s college is entirely paid for from life insurance and Social Security from his father. My husband didn’t have life insurance, and I used most of the Social Security money for necessities while my son was small.

My son didn’t say this as an accusation, but just asked me why he doesn’t have that money. I explained that I needed that money for expenses and such. I think he gets it.

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His roommate’s mother is a lawyer. I’m sure she was able to give him everything he wanted and banked the Social Security checks. I’m feeling guilty and defensive about this. What do you think?

— Awkward

Dear Awkward: I think it’s totally understandable — but you’re being unfairly tough on yourself. The unthinkable happened before you and your husband purchased life insurance. That’s it. And while I suppose you can beat yourself up for being irresponsible in that one specific way, I wouldn’t even agree with that criticism.

People tend to think about life insurance once they have kids, ergo, most people purchase it after said kids are conceived, right? Therefore anyone — literally, anyone — who thinks that way can get caught exactly as you did. Kid gets conceived; insurance need arises; window opens for the father of said child to die before policy is secured. That window could be open for days, months, years.

The death of someone young (right — your husband was 40 or under?) is still unusual enough that people aren’t necessarily thinking of life insurance at 24 or 31 or whatever.

Anyway.

The reason I’ve gone to such lengths to explain this is that you haven’t. Please do, and be blunt with yourself — “we got caught unprepared in this single but significant way” — and with your son. “Yes, we got caught without life insurance. It hadn’t occurred to us yet. I’m sorry you feel the impact of that still.” And of course by the time you fully understood this, it was too late.

Then you need to leave it right there and get on with your life. Which includes getting to know the roommate and his mom without hauling all of this baggage with you — an example to your son if nothing else.

That mom did what she could given her difficult circumstances. (Lawyers can be loaded or broke, by the way.) You did what you could given your difficult circumstances. Different outcomes are just part of life. The only sure way to make it a debilitating part of life is to dwell on the differences.