Picture of compass pointing to insurance for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
New Perspectives


I have been trying to figure out what to do about some changes in my health insurance. It’s been a fun process!

(If you’re American, you know that was said with great sarcasm.)

I’ve spent the past couple of days calling health insurance companies to figure out what’s the best coverage for my family in the future. Yes, I can see some details on the papers they provide, but it is not enough for me. I need to talk to a person who can really understand my needs.

Every time I call someone, I actually feel bad for the customer service representative who gets me.

At first, I must seem like a normal customer. I’m interested in determining the exact cost structure and noting the percentages of out-of-pocket expenses. I want to know what kinds of doctors are available for my family. You know, normal stuff.

But then, I never let the customer service representative go.

Here’s an example, from a conversation I had yesterday. I’d been talking to this lovely woman for at least 15 minutes, but I still felt like she didn’t fully understand my anxiety over a potential change in coverage. “Okay,” I said, “so if there is a small gap in coverage, and during that time one of my kids gets sick, I can still get coverage, right?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman on the phone replied.

“But like, in every circumstance, and for forever?” I asked, clarifying.

“You can get coverage with our plan,” she said. She seemed confused. She had literally just answered that question.

“What if something really terrible happened, and one of my kids was sick for a long time?”

“You can get coverage with our plan,” she said.

“What if there was a car accident, and one of them had to be put on life support for many months. Would it all be covered? Would I lose my house?”

This made the woman on the other side of the call – the one who’d been amazingly professional up until that point – pause. I could feel her horror at the mere mention of this hypothetical I’d just created for my family.

“I…am not sure about all of the exact details, but you would be able to get coverage for an accident,” she said.

“Well,” I countered, not willing to be deterred, “what if one of my kids was sick during a gap period, and then diagnosed with cancer after the gap period? Would the coverage be affected?”

There was a long pause.

“You…would still be covered if you had the plan in place,” she said. I could hear her concern at that point. Was she talking to someone in crisis, or just someone unstable? “Is there extra coverage you need right now?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” I said. “Right now everyone is fine.” And then, because I feel the need to answer questions that other people don’t ask, I offered, “My first husband died when he was 40. He had cancer, and he died six weeks after his diagnosis.”

She didn’t say anything.

“It’s just that I know bad things happen,” I said.

She was kind, and answered the rest of my questions, and I even gave her a few other hypotheticals. But as I hung up, I realized how odd the conversation was. I mean, what mother actually allows herself to think about terrible things happening to her children? I certainly never did before Shawn died.

And now I allow myself those thoughts. Not often, of course, as it would overwhelm me. But there are times when I imagine what I would do in the worst-case scenarios. Sometimes, it is in circumstances like the one on the phone with the health-insurance lady, when I need to actually put up safeguards for my family. But other times it is in the early morning hours (like right now, as I’m writing) when everyone is asleep, and I am writing but I can hear soft sounds of breathing down the hallway and I think about if I didn’t have Chris or one of my children.

It is a feeling that can break me, if I let it.

And so I don’t, at least not today. Instead, I sit down and write and think about what kind of sweet thing I’m going to make for our Sunday breakfast. I organize the list of health care options. I wipe the counters and I listen to the birds start to chirp and the rustling of the covers upstairs.

I know, of course, that any of the perfection of this morning can change in an instant. That’s why I asked all those questions to the health-insurance lady.

But this morning is not for that kind of thinking. It is for the smell of hot coffee, and three sleepy kids who will soon plod downstairs in their robes and slippers, and a husband whose face will light up when he sees me in the kitchen.

Hypothetically, anything can happen.

But, right now, they are here with me.


  • Kellie

    I have to say that I totally understand this kind of thinking and the thoughts that creep into your head. I haven’t verbalized to an insurance agent as you did (ha!), but I think those of us who experienced an unexpected or sudden death have that awareness that yes – things can and do happen. My husband died unexpectedly at 51 of a widow-maker heart attack. He was healthy, athletic and had just had his annual physical two weeks before. It was a shocking event to family and friends. I try and live my life in a positive way but there are situations that make you think about things in not the most positive way. For example I turned 65 this year, so I am doing all the fun things like joining Medicare, signing up for supplemental insurance policies and trying to decide when I will retire and start collecting social security. I am already 14 years older than my husband was – do I go ahead and start collecting full benefits when I turn 66yrs – 6 mths, or do I roll the dice and wait until I am 68-69-70 so I can reap the ultimate Social Security benefits? There is a big part of my thinking that I am not going to chance it and will start collecting at 66yr-6mth because I would be so PI**#D Off if I waited for extra monthly benefits at an older age, but ended up dying or getting really sick and thereby missing out on a few extra years of benefits, even if they are a little less. I had this conversation with my son, and luckily he totally understood and didn’t think I was morbid. 🙂

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when I’m making those decisions!! But yes, talking out loud about it with family is so helpful.