Lisa was married to Jeff for 19 years. They met in their sophomore year at a large Midwestern college, in the library.
One week after graduation, they married and moved out to Portland, hoping to start a business together.
Jeff was a marketing major, Lisa’s degree was in history. After Lisa researched several different options, they decided to open a crafts and gift business. They decided that Jeff would handle all of the sales, and Lisa the operations, books and records. Jeff wasn’t too good with details and Lisa loved research, so this was a good arrangement.
A few years went by, and, like many business owners, they struggled. They were barely able to scratch out a living.
To save money, they bought a small, fixer-upper home far away from town to raise their growing family. They clipped coupons and bought second-hand clothes, whatever they had to do while they chased the American Dream. Although they were poor by most standards, they were happy – Jeff and Lisa loved each other and their four kids.
One day, their lives changed forever. Jeff had been feeling out of sorts for weeks, actually, months, if he stopped to admit it. He was losing weight rapidly and had intense, shooting pains in his stomach that kept him up all night a few times a month. He couldn’t ignore it any longer, they finally went to the doctor.
After weeks of tests, Jeff and Lisa learned what they suspected but didn’t want to hear: Jeff had pancreatic cancer.
Jeff and Lisa stared at each other in disbelief. How much time does he have, Lisa finally asked, barely able to breathe.
It’s hard to say, said Dr. Burns, a short, pale, overweight middle-aged man. He could have six months, or it could be two weeks. His cancer is in advanced, he said abruptly, staring at his chart, avoiding eye contact. Lisa and Jeff left the office.
They spent the two hour ride home in silence, Lisa driving, Jeff lying down in the back seat with his eyes closed.
What am I going to do about the kids, Lisa practically shouted, startling Jeff.
I don’t know, I don’t know…you’ll figure something out, you always do…Jeff croaked.
Jeff managed to hang on for another nine months. Lisa spent her days home schooling the kids and trying to tend to the business. Nights were taken up tending to Jeff. She was physically – and emotionally – exhausted.
Because Lisa couldn’t give the business the attention it needed, the bills started piling up, and the phone rang constantly with calls from debt collectors and unhappy customers. Lisa did her best to respond, but had her hands full.
Jeff passed away two weeks ago. Lisa learned two days after the funeral that Jeff never did a will, so she had to hire an attorney to probate their meager assets.
But here’s what floored her: when she discovered that Jeff never got life insurance.
How could this be? She asked herself, remembering that she and Jeff talked about it years ago. The few times it had come up, Jeff brushed it off, saying I’ll take care of it once we get a little more money in, or words to that effect.
He never did.
Jeff and Lisa’s oldest son is graduating high school this year, and wants to go to college. The other three are right behind him.
Lisa is more concerned with saving the home, so she hasn’t had time to think about coming up with tuition.
Lisa can’t run the business without Jeff. She wants to find a job, but there’s not much of a market for someone with her skills and the need for flexible work hours.
If Jeff and Lisa had taken the time to plan when they were younger, Lisa and her kids would have never been in this predicament.
Now, it’s too late to “figure something out.”
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