Insuring Life

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.


  • Mary L. Ross
    I enjoy your columns and am grateful for them. Today's concerned me, for you are an oncologist who deals with cancer daily. You noted that you use scented dryer sheets. These sheets contain toxic chemicals which can cause cancer and other illness. I so hope you will take time to consider this, and perhaps inform your readers of the results of your research.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Thanks very much for the information, I did not perceive the threat ... now whether I can get my wife to agree, that may be a more complex matter. I am already in trouble for all those loads of pink wash. jcs
    • D Someya Reed
      You made me curious, too, so I grabbed our box of "dye free, fragrance free" dryer sheets. My wife had hyper-sensitivities. The ingredients: Biodegradable Cationic Softeners. Most of us will have to look up cationic which includes anionic. Then we'll need to look up cation and anion plus remember our school science of ions, electrons, protons...then look up electrolysis (not the hair removal one) which talks about running an electric current through an ion containing solution. At this point, most of those who made it this far will wonder what on earth this has to do with dryer sheets. If one word can do all this, I guess it's no wonder why most people don't read labels. And what about all the products not required to have labels? Yet, instead of educating us on carcinogens, we all are warned not to use the toaster in the bathtub.
  • This is idealistic. Issues of life insurance...can fulfill medical and burial expenses, sometimes...left by deceased...or..if someone is a desperate individual..the idea of an inheritance can push the individuals death. Money is corrupting. Life insurance is not a good investment tool. Most employers provide life insurance equal to a persons salary. Some people leave their monies to outside friends and family...have no life insurance. If the value of a human being is only equal to it's financial portfolio or vice versa ......hmmmmm....
    • Liz
      I think you missed the point in this post...
      • What do you mean? Depending on one's insurability...many good points were made by the good doctor in this writing. Economics are a part of life and death...
        • Liz
          I saw this more as about the conversations/thoughts one had of which insurance was only a small part of it. I saw insurance in this blog as being used to make another, not literally about insurance, point.
          • The topic of insurance seemed to dominate the writing and it's use in a metaphorical way I think..death is a is a possibility. Insuring to speak...
          • Allegory?
  • D Someya Reed
    Some people scrimp and save all their lives to pay the insurance premium so their family might have just a little luxury they were never able to provide during their lives. Others, buy large policies and divide them in their wills in such a way as to guarantee argument and strife. Some request Advance Directives from us with all the right intentions yet knowing they may not be followed. Others request them from us as protection from future familial litigation. There are even those who will urge us, even as we lay dying, to make a will and suggest that we "might include a donation" to their non-profit organization. Any of this, as you detailed and when timed appropriately, can be used to start "the conversation." My wife and I had conversations about death even before we were married. It started simply with her wanting to remove "till death do you part" from our vows. She then asked me, "Will you stop loving me when we die?" Later on, and long before she became ill, she said she was sure that she would die first. This was not a funny conversation such as when I would (foolishly) challenge her memory (it was photographic) and she would stand with one hand on her hip and say, "Are you doubting me?" A few times early on I said, "Yeah, I am." Only to be Oh So Wrong every time. I never believed her prophecy and would retort with "Oh no, I'm going to be a cranky 95 year old man and you'll be taking care of me." I wish to this day and always will that I had been right just that one time. But I wasn't. Yet, my answer to her question will always remain the same..."Not a chance!" It's really not about us when we die; it's about those we care about. Each of us will make the choice someday of what we will leave behind for our loved ones. Whether it be an insurance policy or whatever, we can only hope we'll do it for the right reasons. Each of us, alone, will have to decide what those are.
    • Very lovely and loving. If you have ever been involved with people who think the opposite..the dying have no rights etc...and if the people you care about do not care about you..changes the picture.
      • IBS
        Jill, unfortunately, that's when a lawyer comes into the picture. Rules are to be strictly followed as per the directive. Jill, don't surround yourself with negative, jealous, people. They're not worth it. Money doesn't make a person happy, it's the people you surround yourself with. As far as insurance, always read what you signed. It might read it will not pay if suicide is involved or if one dies within the year. Each plan is different.
        • I do read what I have signed...I know the criteria involved with medical insurance. I agree with your comment about not surrounding oneself with people who do nothing but cause problems. Sometimes, however, not a lot one can do when they have been gang to speak. I am moving on..:)
          • meyati
            I understand what you're saying. I'd like to leave my PCP. but in Medicare, i'm locked into this plan. My oncologists are really good and kind. It's just the PCP. I think that I'll start getting as much care as possible from Urgent Care clinics. I just had strep for 3 months-and finally ran into an 80 year-old Urgent Care doctor that listened to me and the reasons my symptoms weren't from cancer or radiation. I tell my family not to call 911, as state law requires them to do everything, in spite of a DNR. I filled out my last wishes-living will- I don't want tubes for more than 3 days-they said that for everything they had to call my family and confirm it, and I had to have a DNR. They made me come up a second time to fill out a new one, and we argued about each item again-I changed nothing.
      • D Someya Reed
        I’m sorry to say, Jill, but I am involved, almost daily, with so many people who don’t believe the dying have any rights (perhaps more correctly, limited rights)…mostly politicians and hospice. There is a group that feels that the ‘old and ill’ have a “duty to die” to free up resources for the ‘young and healthy’ but I hope they never gain any traction. Politicians talk about dying patient rights but rarely and very guardedly. To many of the politicians I’ve encountered, it’s just not a wise political move in their opinion, death panels and all. Some have offered me this warning…”Just keep in mind, as soon as you say something negative about hospice they’ll come crawling out of the woodwork to shut you down.” That has proven true but threats don’t concern me. If you have justification for your actions you carry them out, not threaten. Hospice is a mixed bag. There are many well-managed hospices with many caring employees. Are all of them full of staffers “answering a calling?” I don’t think that’s any more likely than the idea that every doctor and every nurse is answering a calling. Some doctors/nurses are in it for the money, some the prestige, or the fact that it is a growing segment in a bad economy. But, as a society, we have to ask ourselves “How many “bad” people are we willing to tolerate doing bad things to those of us who are dying when one chance to do it right is all you get? I’ve been before more than one commission, committee or group where their acceptance of hospice was solely based upon their understanding that “they get it right more often than they get it wrong.” They had no figures to back that up and reporting is poor in the industry so the “bad” just doesn’t get reported. Just look at the annually increasing “live discharges” reported by the national hospice group, NHPCO. Nearly 17% (278,000) of all served in 2011 were discharged but no breakdown as to why. I’m certain someone was being billed for their care and each hospice knows exactly why each of those 278,000 was discharged. If they were predominately good reasons, why wouldn’t you say? Are we really defining “acceptable losses” or how much “collateral damage” is acceptable? Should we decide the quality of care given a patient based upon the degree of complexity of their terminal illness and/or overall cost? Medicare’s acceptance of hospice has always been about cost savings. What happens when cost per person of hospice vs. hospital coincides? I understand what you are saying about people not caring about you and how it changes the picture. To be honest, I would have to preface that with “the people you SHOULD care about.” I came from a family where my older brother, when he wasn’t trying to beat me up, was rooting for the other kid who was. Where my alcoholic father beat me with belts, rubber hoses and his fists simply for being the victim of that older brother who happened to have “Junior” at the end of his name. Where my mother was busy engineering ways for him to continue to do this so that he wouldn’t be able to say that I was her favorite (whereas she said “Junior” was his “Golden Boy”). I always stood up for what I believed in and when my father died he called me (after not having seen me for 20+ years) to tell me that I was the only one of whom he was proud. My wife and her family, on the other hand, showed me what it was like to have a family that cared about each other…all the time. My grandmother used to always talk about “blood relations.” Sometimes relationships that you choose are much stronger than those you were simply born into. I sincerely hope that you have even one person, family or friend, who is that for you.
        • Thank you! I am working on it. There are different 'qualifiers' sometimes. I noticed with many members of my family there is a strong prejudice..that totally clouds judgement. It is based on 'myth'. There is the popularity thing. Everyone is so worried about a certain is aired and so they are worthy of their worry too, regardless of how serious or potentially serious it is. Here is kind and descent is the 'Mom' who provides mucho financial support for her children who are damaging and abusing other peoples lives? Those women you got pregnant..all low class..but..the guy never uses birth control...nor do the others...Aids..not his fault..some low class woman's fault..get my drift?
        • IBS
          “How many “bad” people are we willing to tolerate doing bad things to those of us who are dying when one chance to do it right is all you get? ================= That's frightening as I'm a terminal patient. I didn't want to pass at home, but I think I just changed my mind. I don't believe in suffering, and I can't understand how people can watch the suffering. As far as your family, at that time, abusive behavior was common place. My middle brother was hyper and was always picking on my little brother. My mother would hit him with an extension cord. In the early 1970's, rules changed and no parent was allowed to do any harm.Our Dad never reprimanded us. Parenting was so different. With all this tech stuff, I think it's terrible what they can do to other kids and get away with it....suicide rates and children killing children is unspeakable. Thanks for replying, D Someya. You helped me.
  • meyati
    My coonhound is allergic to the dryer sheets, and she rules. So that's settled. I'm buying a funeral plan, so I can make my own. I'm 71, so it's about time. I told my family to play Love me tender by the King, and then throw my ashes out from a mountain top on a windy day- and I can pollute the neighboring state. My son is a disabled vet. He can't handle seeing tubes-so it does make a great difference to me. Nov. 16, 2012, my son's birthday, I was diagnosed with an 'interesting" cancer. I seem to be in remission right now. That's good, but I'm don't think that insurance would pay out. Right now I can smile and eat with my family- I should the next day-other than that-I can't do much about it. So, I try to keep my son and my coonhounds happy. Fortunately, they are easy to please.
  • IBS
    I don't understand about the dryer sheets. For me, it only works positivitely. When I was having company over, I used to put a dryer sheet on my dogs hair. It took all the smell out and made them smell great. If I don't use the dryer sheets on my clothes, I get shocks from the clothes and then they stick on me. Mary, can you please state where you saw this information? For me, it's too late, but my children and grandchildren are very important to me. I won't understand scientific words so can you break it down for first graders? I think I found the dryer sheet trick on Paw Nation.
    • meyati
      Hi, I have a Treeing Walker Coonhound. They seem to be genetically predisposed to allergies. If you use front line or whatever flea-tick medication, they loose their hair where it's at. It even makes them physically weak. My girl is so sensitive that she looses hair all over. That's an easy thousand or two at the vet. Sleeping on bedding with dryer sheets doesn't help either. I use it on my clothes to help get rid of excess dog hair, not have wrinkles, what ever. At a 100 lbs, she's not exactly a lap dog. My avatar is a pic of her. I'm certainly not going to get rid of her. Her partner in crime is a stoic Bluetick. We had only one year where the vet saw him for more than shots. A sharp rock flew from a tire, and hit him on the thigh, and made a blood blister that popped up the next day. He was in pain, and I got so mad-the vet accused us of kicking him with a sharp pointed-steel-toed boots. That could cause their health insurance policies to be dropped, and animal control to take my babies. #1-my hounds are loud-the paintings on the walls bounce from the vibrations. #2-who would pamper Missy and her allergies? #3- They chewed up the rear of a man trying to rape a 10 year-old girl in the alley. #4-they have stopped break-ins hear and even at the neighbors. They sense the agitation and breaking glass makes them berserk. My neighbors complain that I can't turn them loose and let them patrol the neighborhood., and I shush them too much. #5- Missy spent hours running along the fence-it was 110 degrees. My son went out and several young boys were digging a cave in the sandy alley. No Amber Alert would have found them. Only when my son was there did she stop yorking, jumping and running. When my son took them from the alley and to their parents did she drink water and rest. I had the flu and wasn't up to walking around the block or climbing the fence. Only she realized something was wrong-the Bluetick was oblivious to the boys being in danger. . She can turn doorknobs and open doors, she slides a heavy sliding door open from both sides.. When we were at the vet this week, she saw that thermometer, She jumped up on the bench with me, and sat down. If your dog sleeps on bedding treated with fabric softener and starts losing hair and the tummy turning red---it could be from anything--my grandson decided to put my bedding in the dryer with a Bounce sheet a few weeks ago-- Now I need to give her the pills to clear her up. Did I say the vet loves her? Missy helps to pay off her student loans. My grandson confessed to the dryer sheets for the bedding. One of my son's nitwit friends showed up and I let him in. He grabbed me, and was putting one hand where he shouldn't- In a second, Missy squeezed between us, grabbed his family jewels and the Bluetick had a firm hold of his rear. He let go- they let go, He ran screaming to the front door, with Missing yorking and the Bluetick bawling-giving him nips on his rear. They are good babysitters too. They are 7 years old. I know I'm too old to get more coonhounds, these are my last. Somehow, a teacup, tiny dog or even a German shepherd won't fill the bill.
      • meyati
        So does talking to other owners of Walkers, my vet bills, and personal experiences count for this Walker having a genetic trait for this, and she is especially sensitive? Nothing bothers the Bluetick. I give them fish oil, use a special shampoo that I buy at the vet for Missy, I give them a special hillbilly coonhound tonic for their skin. Their hair is really glossy-shiny, but that doesn't change the fact that she's allergic. ,.
      • IBS
        Mey, I'm so sorry that your son got hurt defending our country. He was very brave to do so. Look up on the internet to find help for Your coonhound is beautiful for I am an animal lover too. I'm the one that always took care of the abused, older canines. They may have started out in good hands, but then they get so large, people can't afford the medical care. I used to have 5 of them at one time and I loved each one. My last baby was an 8 yr old Newfoundland. She had hip displasia. She was a complete perfect dog, well, except for her slobber and hair cuts. She followed me wherever I went even though it was hard for her. Something happened at the groomer's. She must have fallen on the tile floor and she was then unable to walk at all. I was devastated. I had her for only 3 years, but loving wonderful years. She passed at 11 years old. My son was in charge of a retriever/Irish setter. He loved him and then my Kasey developed cancer. My son said to me, "Mom, isn't Kasey a member of our family? Then please give him chemo." I used to take him to my brother, 3 hours away going and then coming back 3x a week. He lived 18 months longer having a good life. Dogs don't have the vomiting, pain and loss of hair. I wonder why? Mey, if you want, you can write me privately at
  • Everything I have read about dryer sheets..some good ..some not so good...some just bad. They were meant for convenience instead of fabric softener. What I do know..good cotton towels loose their absorbency.
    • meyati
      They do that if you use a liquid fabric softener in the rinse cycle.-fortunately Missy doesn't wear clothes.
  • I had to laugh... When I opened this post I saw there were 15 comments. When I finished reading it (thought-provoking as always) I looked forward to the discussion. What I found was an in-depth exchange about dryer sheets. Sheesh!
      • meyati
        See how we avoid talking about death? We'll talk about dryer sheets, dogs, and dog hair instead. Somehow I think this is germane to the article. That's why I'm buying a funeral plan. I don't have to listen to affirmations that they have my back and they'll take care of my coonhounds. I can take care of business, as it pertains to me and how I think what would be good for them, especially my disabled veteran son.
  • [...] via Insuring Life – Sunrise Rounds | Sunrise Rounds. [...]
  • IBS
    Jill, if a person that is very ill, he/she can start giving out sums each year. It doesn't have to be a lot. It is also tax free. A person can give up to $26,000. to each person or $100. per year. As far as an employer matches a person's salary... for buriel, etc. Not every employer does that. The person that is ill may have to use all the money he/she has for medical care.
    • There are terminal illness clauses so a person can elect to take a cash payout on some insurance policies to pay medical and burial or whatever ones choice is for their remains... If a persons estate is being doled out to relatives as a free issues..or charity etc. another issue. I worked for several different companies. My husband did too. The life insurance is sometimes double what your yearly salary is..depends. We had half way decent employers..offering retirement, life and health insurance..etc. But..commiserate with your earnings. The more money one makes the better the benefits and payouts. The poorer get the least.... If ones life insurance policy is not fully's cash value is a lot less than it's value at death. Borrowing means pay back plus interest. Knowing what medical costs are these days that money would be used up real fast. I think SS allows less than $200. toward 'remains' issues.
      • meyati
        It hasn't been unknown for sons and daughters to say- "Let's do it now. Save the estate taxes, we'll take care of you, etc" The elderly parent then finds the sheriff on the doorstep with an eviction notice. The people are robbed, disowned and kicked out by relatives. If I had real money, I would not dole it out. You go into to do your medical wishes-and the doctors and hospitals are idiots that want you to give complete power of attorney to a relative. I have a biker grandson that has the medical directive to make medical decisions. He's smart, strong, loving but he's an idiot when it comes to money. My son is a disabled vet. I don't want him responsible for my bills in any way- but I want him to deposit and access my checking account that has $25 left in it at the end of the month, if I'm lucky. He's joint on my account, and on my safe deposit box. My gems, my father's honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and a string of carved ivory beads. I'm not driving anymore, so I signed my car over to the biker grandson. He drives me to appointments and helps me with shopping, and he's working on his bachelors.
        • IBS
          Your grandson seems to be quite mature despite driving a bike. I know a lot of people that drive a motorcycle; good and sucessful people. Write him a letter so he will not forget how proud of him you are.
          • meyati
            Yes, a letter in the mail would be good. He moved in to help us, when it looked really bad. I tell him that I need a hug so I can feel good. I have an African doctor and 2 Asian doctors that treat him with respect. Sometimes we get into a tiff. The last time, I wrote him that I was sorry and I love him very much. I was wrong. I pay his/my car insurance. He works part time, and worked during the summer. I have several grandsons, but he's my favorite. I'm leaving him my Sig Sauer, my 38 snub nose, my short-barreled saddle rifle, my 30-30, and my shotgun. We go to the city gun range and blow off some steam and de-stress. .

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