On July 2, 2013, my father, Thomas Smith, passed away at the age of 68 on his 47th wedding anniversary. I wish to share this with you not as a tale of woe, for eventually all of our fathers will pass, but as a tale of observances and what we need to do as insurance advisors (and human beings) to better connect with our clients and families when they lose a loved one.
My father’s passing did not come as a shock. At age 59, while recovering from heart bypass surgery, he suffered a stroke at home and it changed his and our lives. He became confined to a wheel chair with limited ability to transfer. While he still had most of his wits about him, he was limited in his mobility and lost the use of his left arm and leg. His health went into a long, steady decline. Mom suddenly became a caretaker for her husband while also thrust into the role of breadwinner and provider. My sister and I, while close by, had families and businesses to run and suddenly found ourselves pulled in multiple directions. We found comfort in friends and family who offered assistance or simply asked, “How’s your Dad?”
At the time of his stroke, my father was a co-owner of a business with his brother-in-law, my Uncle on Mom’s side. Most of the proper planning had been done with life, disability, and a buy/sell agreement in place. While not perfect, enough planning was done to assure my parents a comfortable income, the ability to have a home-health aide, and successful transfer of the business.
Still, life was stressful in the family, particularly on Mom. The stroke changed Dad’s personality a bit and he became angry more easily and obsessed with various issues. Mom’s health deteriorated slightly and she often needed a break from caring for Dad and his occasional outbursts unjustifiably directed toward her. My sister and I provided relief when we could.
In early 2013, Dad had a series of falls and spent two months in a rehab facility. Not having Dad at home provided relief for Mom and gave Dad much needed physical therapy. Just as Medicare was about to cease payment to the facility, he was sent home. Unfortunately, this was too early. Dad was too weak to transfer without substantial assistance, and we had to move him into an assisted-living facility in late June.
The facility was gorgeous. A city block large, Dad actually looked forward to moving to the relatively spacious two-room apartment. He spent just two nights before more trouble struck.
He suffered a series of small heart attacks, and during the early morning of July 1, I received that dreaded call to head down to the facility as quickly as I could. My mom and sister were already there, and I arrived to find Dad as pale as a ghost and straining to breathe. He was in my mom’s arms, almost child-like, and complaining of pain. A nurse was frantically providing morphine and other medicine to try to provide comfort. As I watched this unfold, I thought I was watching my father die.
He eventually stabilized enough to be transferred to a hospice that early morning. But we all knew what was ahead of us. Dad asked for a priest to administer last rites. If there is one thing I am grateful for during this ordeal is that Dad was able to communicate.
What we were able to share, I share with you. Take the time to tell your loved ones how you feel. Thank them for their support. Be there for them if you can. And if you find the opportunity to say good-bye, don’t let it pass. I was able to do all of these with Dad and I rest easy knowing he is at peace, and we said to each other what we needed to.
As terrible as it sounds, his passing provided a sense of relief. No longer is he in pain. No longer is there stress on Mom. And he is in a better place.
About four or five years ago, while attending an MDRT meeting, Julian Wise shared his story about losing his wife and the support, or lack thereof, that he received from family and friends. His talk, titled “I Don’t Know What to Say,” was a slap in the face back then for I learned more about what someone who is grieving feels. Julian shared some dos and don’ts of how to act to someone who has lost a loved one. I was so moved that I took every opportunity to hear him when I could, learning something new each time. I made it a point to do the dos and avoid the don’ts whenever someone I knew lost a loved one.
And now that I find myself as someone in grief, I further understand what Julian shares. Good friends, even casual acquaintances, will reach out, offer services, and do anything they can to ease your pain. I am extremely appreciative of those friends and clients who attended the visitation or the funeral, sent a card, or simply took 15 seconds to send an email expressing their condolences. And I am aware of those whom I made aware of Dad’s passing who have remained silent.
Because I believe that people would at least like to know, I posted on social media Dad’s passing. Within seconds, I heard from people I had not thought of since high school. They expressed their condolences, and many took the time to share a memory of Dad, which I greatly appreciate.
Yet other friends, some rather close, business associates, employees, and clients whom I speak to regularly, remained silent. I am not bitter. Rather, it gives me another lesson on how I should behave when someone I know loses a loved one. For some, death is too uncomfortable to speak about.
Every day, we share with our clients the importance of planning for the day they lose that loved one. When that day arrives, will you offer support or remain silent? Will you treat it as just another business transaction and file the claim, or will you offer support on a more personal level?
What will separate you from the rest of the pack is not how you act when you are making the sale, but how you act when you are submitting the claim.
By Mike Smith, LUTCF
Michael T. Smith, LUTCF, is President of CPS Horizon Financial Group. He is the Vice Chair of NAIFA’s National Member Benefits Committee, a Past President of Waukesha NAIFA, and Past Regional VP for SE Region of NAIFA Wisconsin. Contact him at Mike@cpshorizon.com.