Life Happens (formerly the LIFE Foundation) is a nonprofit organization well known for its dedication to helping consumers make insurance decisions to safeguard their assets and provide for their loved ones after death. The organization also sponsors the annual LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program for college students and college-bound high school seniors who have lost a parent or guardian and are struggling to pay for their education.
I learned about this scholarship not long after starting my post at NUL, almost one year ago. I thought, “What a great thing this organization is doing for these young adults whose life was changed so drastically before many of them were even adults.” I also thought, “How can you judge one person’s story of loss against another? Who’s to say that this grieving person deserves more than that grieving person?” It seemed like a gargantuan, difficult decision.
And then I was asked to make that judgment.
I accepted the offer to become a judge of the LIFE Lessons Scholarship applications, of course, out of my utmost respect for Life Happens and what they stand for. But I knew this task would not be a quick and easy volunteer assignment. I knew it would be emotionally rough. And it has been.
I am only able to read about three to four application essays at a time. I often have to take breaks in the middle of these 500-word narratives. I’ve anguished over how to score such stories. I’ve cried at my desk.
And I’m only half way through the list of 50 essays.
Some of the applicants write about losing their father, the main breadwinner, to a massive heart attack, finding them on the floor and, at the age of 10, being the one who calls 911 and tells their mother. Others write of losing a parent to cancer, being there throughout their mother’s six-year struggle with the disease and holding her hand as she passed on. One writes of a parent’s decision to choose drugs over them, noting that they don’t feel hatred toward their mother, only a wish that she were still here to attend their baseball awards ceremony and high school graduation. Another writes of his father’s suicide, which prevented the family from collecting on his life insurance policy. He fills his waking hours with work and school in hopes of becoming a doctor and helping to provide for his mother and nine siblings.
Many of the students write about how their lives would’ve been easier if their parent had adequate life insurance or life insurance at all. How that safety net could’ve helped them pay tuition, buy books and pay for housing. How no one in their family thought much about life insurance until the time came when they realized they needed it. And by then, as everyone in this industry knows, it’s too late.
According to LIMRA, 30 percent of U.S. households have no life insurance at all and only 44 percent have individual life insurance. What’s funny is that most individuals are aware of their shortcomings when it comes to owning a policy. In fact, 58 million people say they need more life insurance.
In all due respect for Life Happens, wouldn’t it be great if there were no judges for the LIFE Lessons Scholarship, because there were no applicants, because there were no children dealing with the loss of a parent who did not own a life insurance policy?
Even in my eternal optimism, I am certain that will never happen. We can only hope the statistics on life insurance ownership improve. If everyone heard the stories of these scholarship applicants, I know they would.