My next door neighbor died nine months ago.
His name was Tom. We lived across from each other for seven years. He lived a very quiet, modest life, only owning a beat up car that rarely started, and a few antique furniture pieces. He kept cash hidden under his bed (he didn’t trust big banks), and lived alone in a rent-controlled apartment for thirty years.
Over the years, a handful of visitors would knock on his door. I never knew who they were. Most of the faces were new with a few that remained the same. Those same faces must have been friends, though they did not come around often. I didn’t know what the strange faces ever wanted, but I didn’t really want to know either.
After his body was taken out of his one bedroom apartment, his belongings stayed behind. Subconsciously, we all know our material items remain for others to claim and clean up after we die. Though, for some reason, seeing his car outside filled to the brim with boxes, trash, tools… for the next four months, parked in the same spot after he died… shook me.
It got my mind all twisted with anxious thoughts and questions about the way our society obsesses over money, success and material possessions when in the end, we literally leave all of that behind. The question I obsessed the most over, why hadn’t his family or friends come yet?
These thoughts triggered a conversation I’d had with my mother on my birthday a few months prior. She’d asked if I had life insurance. I laughed. Me? Life insurance…Ha! Why would I need life insurance? Don’t you invest in that when you actually have assets? I’m single, have no kids, no 401k (I just found out what that was – thank you mommy dearest), and only own the items in my tiny West Hollywood apartment.
My mother’s face started twitching when I laughed, as it often does when we discuss financial matters. Basically, anything to do with money. Granted, she is a bankruptcy attorney. She spends the majority of her days with people who have no money. Listening to stories about their financial hardships because of their debts. She tries to find ways to help them financially recover. I can’t imagine listening day in, day out, to the way money or lack of, has caused so many people heart-ache. So, I understand my mother’s twitching, but life insurance… really?
“If you die, who do you expect to pay for your funeral, clean out your apartment, take care of everything?” she said. Immediately, an imaginary knot entered my throat. I couldn’t speak. I could feel the tears in my eyes build, but I demanded them back. Well, a few may have strolled down. I did become defensive, and uttered, “I don’t know. You or Gala (my sister), or Hektor (my dog – hahah).” She went on to reprimand me about how irresponsible it was of me to not invest in life insurance.
The part that made me feel the most ashamed and confused, in so many words, her telling me, how selfish it was to put that kind of burden on her or Gala. Ooooof. My death could be a financial burden to my family? Wowzers. That is brutal. Truthful? Sure. Kind of. I mean, I can’t be that expensive. I don’t own anything. Just cremate me. But, really Mom?
Sometimes, I feel things like, life insurance only really benefit the rich. Or are things privileged people think about and invest in… because they can. They don’t really mean the same things to poor or single people like me.
As an adult, I have never had a lot of savings or a ton of money. I have always worked, hustled and tried to do the best I can. I lead a comfortable life. When you go pay check, to pay check, with a little room to save each month, life insurance or a 401k doesn’t really enter my daily thoughts. I’m just trying to survive on my own and not worry so much about money because we can’t take that with us once we die and I for sure know, I won’t be thinking about how much money I made last year on my death bed. I’ve found, people who are uber rich, like the one percent rich ( I work for a millionaire), end up having just as many problems as the very poor. They are just different kinds of problems.
Months after that cheerful life insurance conversation with my mother, Tom died. It put things into a different kind of perspective for me. I would catch myself walking past Tom’s parked car, month after month, inspecting it for signs of movement. It always remained the same… untouched. My heart would sink a little, wondering if he had any family that would ever arrive to claim his possessions, and clean out his apartment. I’d think, would I end up like him?
Then, every so often, my mother’s words would dance inside my ears as I peered into his car— “Do you have life insurance?” Did Tom?