True or false? None of us is ever going to die. If you look at our attitudes around death, that would seem to be true. We do not talk about it, do not plan for it, endure horrible suffering and expense to fight it, and if someone happens to “bite the big one” we enshrine their body in a coffin as ornate as an emperor’s throne. Clearly, we are betting on immortality. So, then why do we all buy life insurance?
In 2005, life insurance premiums in the USA totaled $517,074,000,000. For universal avoiders of death, we have an expensive way of showing it. We reach into our pockets for decades to purchase a product that most never use. Why the exception to our near rabid suppression of end-of-life issues? Is it powerful marketing by the MetLife, GEICO and State Farms of the world, or does it say something more about each of us?
Part of the answer is that we buy Life Insurance when we are sexy, young and healthy, therefore capable of squelching any real thought about the purchase. It is just another newlywed check-off. Apply for mortgage? Check. Pay for cable? Check. Buy Valentine chocolates? Check. 5 year renewable Life Insurance? Check. No consequence, no profound meaning.
Perhaps, it is like an umbrella or sump pump. If you do not bring or install it, then it will definitely rain. Maybe its even like those pieces of scented paper that my wife makes me put in the dryer. I have absolutely no idea what they do, but at least my sock drawer smells like Vegas.
I suspect Life Insurance works for a more basic reason. It is not about me, the person that buys the insurance. Other than paying the bill, it has absolutely no affect on my life. Life Insurance is about someone else. Life insurance is about family. It is about their future, their dreams and their comfort. Buying Life Insurance helps fulfill my obligation to them, so that even if I am gone, they will be OK. It turns out, for most of us, their future may be even more important than our own and even if I do something stupid, like die, I will still be there for them.
This idea, the importance of those that follow us, opens up a small door to allow discussion about end-of-life planning and death. What is the importance, for example, of an Advanced Directive, a so-called Living Will? What does it achieve? For the writer, who is putting his or her final desires on paper, it makes no practical difference. If I am in a coma, why do I care if you stick tubes in me or pound on my chest? I will not be suffering. On the other hand, as my body automatically gasps for air, as ribs crack, as blood pours from myriad medical holes, there will indeed be agony. Those in pain will be those I care about the most, the same people for whom I buy insurance, and my family.
The purpose of end-of-life planning, for talking about your desires and writing your beliefs down, whether it is medical care, distributing your estate, the music at your funeral or whether you want ashes sprinkled on the sea or sand, is to protect your family and their future. Because they know what you want, they do not suffer confusion. They do not fight while you are dying, destroying bonds at that most difficult time. Planning spares them from years of guilt, which can ripple across generations, causing pain that cannot be defined or addressed.
Therefore, strangely, I find hope in Term and Whole Life Insurance. They say that if we focus on our legacy and family we can have conversations, which we would otherwise avoid. By setting realistic goals we give closure, so that those most important to us, can continue in peace. The dream of a “good death” is not just about each of us; perhaps even more it is about the one’s we love.