November is a month to give thanks, but while counting my blessings I'm also looking at the increasingly blinding light of my own mortality.
Somber occasions bring reflection, and the week before Thanksgiving I attended back-to-back funerals of two dear neighbors.
The first was for our across-the-street neighbor, in her 80s. She was always Mrs. Wilson to us, a formality rarely used these days but one perfectly suited to this joyful woman who commanded our respect. She was Mama Wilson to members of her African-American Pentecostal denomination, and to the countless people at her church and elsewhere who she helped in times of trouble.
Anne, our neighbor down the street barely in her 60s. died suddenly and stunningly of a brain aneurysm. Like Mrs. Wilson, she was a friend to all, especially those in need in her family and her many communities.
Mrs. Wilson, a mother and grandmother, had been a widow for two years. Anne, also a mother and grandmother, left behind a grieving husband. Our neighborhood and our family are much poorer for our loss.
During those two memorial services, I marveled at the diversity of religious expression of grief. One morning I sat -- and stood -- in a large church filled with people who loved Mrs. Wilson. Gospel music and high-decibel preaching filled the sanctuary for what was called a homecoming that would return Mrs. Wilson to God. The next morning I was in a synagogue, listening to prayers, and songs in Hebrew and English. How beautiful is our diversity, to use that much-overused word, especially during the season when we give thanks.
But if mortality is our fate, so is worry about the months or years leading to the moment of our passing. Which is why, a few days ago, I was on the phone with a nurse who asked a long list of questions about my health, my hobbies, my exercise routine. It was part of the application process for long-term care insurance, a security blanket against the fear of losing everything to the high cost of care during long-term illness.
Long-term care insurance is an expensive hedge against future financial obligations. Few are able or willing to make the monthly payments, which can run in the hundreds of dollars depending on age and policy, for such security. And the application process isn't easy. It's a product that is lucrative for insurers, but only if they do the utmost to screen out the highest-risk applicants using the tools and questions allowed by law. At times, it feels like you're begging them to take your money.
We're all forced to make many personal finance decisions to prepare for our uncertain health and our mortality. Should we buy life insurance? If so, what kind? Should we write a will, or establish a trust at a higher front-end cost to avoid the later costs of probate?
These are not easy topics, but the alternative of avoiding them isn't a wise choice. We've all known of long-lasting family feuds after the death of a loved one, something I don't expect to see with the families of either of my recently departed neighbors. It's best to remember to seek good professional guidance in making these decisions.
Yes, these are financial transactions, and even in matters of death we are faced with merchants and advisers more interested in their well-being than ours. But taking care of business gives us the freedom to count our blessings during this time of thanksgiving.
Gordon Oliver is The Columbian's business editor. 360-735-4699, http://twitter.com/col_goliver; http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or firstname.lastname@example.org.