Life can be tragic. Indeed, it is inevitably so. That is one of the fundamental reasons for why the life and health industry exists at all: to be there for us when those inevitable tragedies strike, and especially when they strike at a time when we least expect them. This is especially true for those of us who lose our children. There can be no crueler tragedy than that, for it inverts the natural order. We were meant to be buried by our children, not the other way around. And yet, all too often, it happens. And when it does, those who endure such heartbreak deserve even more outreach from their family, their friends, their neighbors, their colleagues…even from total strangers.

James Jackson (“JJ”) Birnbaum lost his life on April 15 when his car veered off the road while driving back home to Austin, Texas. Like anyone at such a young age, his was a life full of promise. He loved music and was himself an accomplished musician. He wrote freelance for Yahoo. He meant the world to his three-year-old niece. He made his parents proud. And now, he is gone.

None of us know JJ, but some of you might know his father Birny, the executive director for the Center for Economic Justice. He is a respected, knowledgable and outspoken consumer advocate who is a fixture at NAIC meetings and who has been a source for more than a few news stories published by National Underwriter Life & Health and LifeHealthPro. (Including one of our recent features on Glenn Neasham.)

Birny, no doubt, has his detractors among the industry for the positons he holds on matters of business practice, insurance regulation and similar matters. But he is a part of a larger community to which all of us here belong: the world of life and health insurance, and everything it touches.

There are those in this community – the editors of this publication included – who regularly lock horns with one another on matters that pertain to how insurance should be created, sold, bought, administered, overseen and regarded by the public. These differences can be, at times, both severe and intractable. But they are always toward a worthy end: to ensure that this industry, which wields so much power and which does so much good for so many people, is indeed the best it can be. Holding this industry to such standards is never an easy or peaceable task. But it is one that demands respect from all who care to do it.

Birny and his family have suffered the kind of loss for which this industry exists. Now is the darkest of time for even the brightest of souls. Let us share some of our light with one of our own. Please join me in extending your condolences to Birny and his family.