I lost my father to lung cancer when I was 7 years old. Without his steady income and also without adequate life insurance covering his loss, my mother had to raise my brother, who was 10, my sister, who was 9, and me by herself solely on Social Security and disability income.

She did this despite a house fire that displaced our family for a year, my older brother’s open-heart surgery, and her own lung cancer diagnosis five years later. Unfortunately, she also passed away from this terrible disease when I was only 14 years old.

Learning From the Past
Knowing the financial hardships that she faced losing our father so young and her own potential mortality, she was able to struggle and obtain a small life insurance policy in the event that something happened to her as well. When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, her policy was already in place.

This allowed us to prepare for her eventual passing without having to worry about things financially. With the proceeds from her small policy, we were able to pay for her funeral as well as have funds on hand to pay the mortgage on our Habitat for Humanity house that my parents had purchased when my brother was born. This was very important to my parents who had worked hard all their lives to provide stable housing for my siblings and myself after they started a family—and they were proud of their house.

It was a struggle, but we learned to pay bills, wash clothes, clean house, keep up our schoolwork and provide meals.

Also, it was truly important for my mother that with the eventual loss of both parents, that my siblings and I have as few disruptions in our lives that could be prevented. Having stable housing (paid for with life insurance proceeds) removed one barrier to our misfortunes.

Living on Our Own
With the Social Security income for my sister and me (my brother had just turned 18 after our mother passed away), we were able to manage monthly household finances and thrive the past four years. This would not have been possible without the life insurance proceeds earmarked for the mortgage.

It was a struggle, but we learned to pay bills, wash clothes, clean house, keep up our schoolwork and provide meals. In spite of this setback, we all managed to thrive: My older brother graduated high school one month before her passing and works full-time at his manufacturing job. My older sister graduated high school with honors and is currently a sophomore at Lenoir Rhyne University majoring in psychology while doing work-study.

I am finishing my high school career, with plans to enroll at college to study music education. During my high school years, I have tried to honor myself and my parents by excelling in areas of my talents. I have been active singing in our local Choral Society for several years, performing throughout our community and have earned numerous honors. I have also been invited to audition for choruses at several colleges where I am applying.

Also, I have been active in my local Boy Scout troop, earning my Eagle Award after years of hard work and commitment. In addition to these activities, I have volunteered throughout our community with non-profits as well as been active in my church.

Overcoming Hardship
In sum, I can truthfully say that in my short lifespan, I have seen firsthand the hardships faced from losing one’s parent; unfortunately, I have had to undergo this hardship not once, but twice. The financial “life lessons” my mother learned after my father’s death, which she passed along to us, were: perseverance, diligence, honesty, hard work and sound financial planning.

Additionally, we also learned the importance for planning ahead for potentially devastating life events. My mother’s advance planning after my father’s death included having adequate life insurance.


Editor’s note: James received a Life Lessons Scholarship. You can help students like James make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.