Photograph by Menty Jamir

Many years ago, I came home from college one afternoon to find that my father had been admitted to the hospital. I rushed there to find him in the ICU, with tubes going into his body and no explanation for his sudden collapse. Within a few hours of being admitted, he had died. Doctors said it was a heart attack. We called it medical negligence. 

Ultimately, the reason was irrelevant. My reasonably healthy dad passed away at 46. I, the eldest of three, was 18 at the time and in college. 

What happens when the only earning member of a family dies? Everyone else’s life changes. It’s dominoes falling, a sliding-door moment that sends you into a life you were not prepared for. I can honestly say that had my father not died then, my life would have had a startlingly different trajectory. Not better or worse, just different.

Money, for me, is always tied to this traumatic event in my life. We had a tough time, financially, with no funds coming in. My mum, a former teacher, was the favourite tuition teacher in the neighbourhood, and that income kept us going for many years.

That was then, though. The family has recovered (financially, at least) from the devastating shock. Even today, however, that uncertainty stays with me. I’m very aware of the frailty of life and tend to live accordingly, so my son, now 14, does not have the same worries in case one or both of his parents pass away suddenly. 

This planning can take many forms, — investing in long-term mutual funds, having a few fixed deposits for easy access, and ensuring that nominees are listed on all accounts. It means actively looking into neglected property matters, keeping track of family assets, and filing documents correctly. When we travel, I have a document listing everything the next of kin would need to know in case of a catastrophe. I did this during the pandemic as well. Contact numbers of key people, bank account details, instructions about where important documents are kept, and when renewals are due are all crucial bits of information to have. 

I’m one of the least paranoid people around, but the last few years have taught me that things can change in an instant, and I would hate for my child to be vulnerable (like we were) when we’re not around to protect him. COVID, especially, brought many of these fears to the surface. We know of many children who lost a parent, sometimes both, to the virus. What does a child or a guardian need to know if their parents fall seriously ill?

Even if the ‘emergency’ never comes, tracking our assets, having all our documents and nominees in place already puts us ahead of many people. 

As my son grows into adulthood, I have been actively teaching him about money. Any cash he gets for his birthday goes into a bank account, and he gets great pleasure in going to the bank and updating the passbook to see if the money has grown. I do the accounting for our music education charity, and I use that to teach him about debit, credit, and other financial concepts — something I learnt very late in life. Bonus, he learns how to use a spreadsheet! 

But plan as one may, there’s always room to do more. My husband and I, for instance, both work from home, and our income is variable. This in itself is an important fact to absorb when it comes to understanding salaries, income, and how to have expenses proportionate to that. When income is not predictable, how do you plan? What do you rely on for emergencies? 

Perhaps I think of this subject more than the average person, but actively pondering on the financial implications of a life emergency has helped me streamline much of my own life. My son might not need to use any of this for a long time, but I can carry on with my own life knowing that there is a buffer for him. The safety net is available, and it is a strong one. 

Chryselle D’Silva Dias is a journalist based in Goa. She likes to explore her city, its architecture, and history, and document the hidden and fast-fading stories.

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