Reflections on the Death of a Friend, Age 45
There are moments in life when we in the life insurance business personally witness the impact that a policy can have on individuals and their families. Unfortunately, there are also times when we see the impact on those who we didn’t reach. For me, it hit hard on March 10th at 7:27 p.m., when I received a Facebook message from my high school friend Tom in New Hampshire, urgently asking me to call him. I knew it couldn’t be good. I called immediately and Tom said to me, “I think Colin died.” He was 45.
Tom had seen some posts on Facebook and was trying to piece things together. Colin lived in Seattle and friends of his were posting memories and pictures, and now we were trying to make sense of it from almost 3,000 miles away. We made phone calls, swapped stories, shared information and talked about ways we could help his parents. We consoled each other and realized that the invincibility that had existed when our friendships formed had somehow been replaced by our own mortality. If it could happen to Colin, it could happen to any of us.
For me, being in the life insurance industry, there was an added pain. One where I felt that had I been a better advocate,I could have made this tragedy easier for those left behind.
Colin never married. He followed his parents out to Seattle from our hometown in Massachusetts when we were in our 20s. He helped run their family bar, which provided a stage for his Galway-born father to perform, a wait staff and restaurant for his mother to manage and a bar for him to stand behind and talk Boston sports with the patrons. Over the years, he managed to convert a number of Seattle natives over to New England sports fans. As the years went on, and his parents got older, he took on more and more responsibility. The family may have owned the bar, but we always referred to it as “Colin’s Bar.”
A week after his death, two friends from our group, one from Portland, Oregon, and another in Washington, D.C., went to Seattle to help his parents clean up Colin’s condo and wrap up loose ends. Again, I thought about how life insurance could have helped. Whether it was used to hire movers, make repairs, pay off the mortgage, it could have helped in this difficult time.
I thought about all of the things that Colin did for the bar, the ordering, scheduling of the music, and countless hours he put in. Life insurance could have helped. It could have helped keep things going while his parents dealt with the tragedy of losing their only child.
There was a tribute held for Colin at the bar and a couple of my friends and I flew out to pay our respects and say good-bye. As we stood amongst friends and family, I couldn’t help but think what life insurance could have done. How it could have helped the family. How the legacy of what my friend had helped create could sustain them on the rough road ahead.
I’m not sure my friend even knew I was in the insurance business — I certainly never talked to him in detail about my business and how it helped people. Could it have helped him and his parents? Was there something more I could have done? That’s an answer I’ll never know.
The morning following the event, my two friends from New Hampshire and I spent time catching up before heading to the airport. In the back of my mind, I knew it was important to make sure my friends (now married with children) had taken the steps to protect what matters most and that their families would be taken care of.
The conversation happened organically. Having not seen each other in a number of years, they didn’t know that I worked for an insurance company, so the conversation about what I did for a living naturally progressed into the importance of life insurance. My friends were eager to share that they had both taken steps to protect their families. Relieved, I confirmed that they had done the right thing and praised them for their planning.
I hadn’t had this conversation with the friend I lost, but it was important to have it with the survivors.
My point in sharing this story is that, while we in the industry are immersed in the services and products we provide, the role of advocate is one that needs to be taken seriously. We spend a lot of time analyzing products and ranking competitiveness, but at the end of the day, the right product is the one that takes care of those left behind. If we keep that in mind, and the good that we do, those who we love and care about will be taken care of long after we’re gone.
We talk a lot about the noble purpose of life insurance, but we forget that it is also sometimes a calling.