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After twenty years, summers included, of teaching in the blackboard jungle of a Brooklyn high school my father retired, moved to Florida and pursued his personal American Dream of owning his own franchised printing business. With Dad working hard at the helm and Mom working equally hard at the ledgers, the business prospered. Within a few years the business had attracted several large accounts, graduated from a modest storefront to a larger suite, added more employees, and outgrown the restrictive grip of the franchise. Dad chafed at having to buy all his supplies from the franchise’s own pricey vendors and at being billed for compulsory television commercials he neither wanted nor needed. And so my father made a fateful decision, cashing out his teacher’s pension to buy his business from the franchise. With his pension went his health insurance. But Dad was in his early 60s, healthy, active, and optimistic about the future, and there was always time to shop around for a new health insurance policy.

My father was normally a man of sound judgment and common sense, but that day he was foolish. Then again, how could he have known that he would soon be diagnosed with a virulent form of skin cancer that would take his life a matter of months?

The business was sold. Dad underwent agonizing chemotherapy treatments. Mom returned to selling shoes in a department store, as she had done years before. Dad suffered a medical emergency and was hospitalized. Mom did her best to keep up with the bills but they quickly piled up. Their life savings dried up. When a loved one is critically ill, you don’t pinch pennies.

When my father died after two months of hospital care, he left behind a heartbroken family and medical bills in excess of six figures. To pay the bills, Mom was compelled to sell the modest suburban home in which she and my father had planned to spend their retirement years and moved into a tiny apartment on the outskirts of the city. Frugal living allowed her eventually to move to a more comfortable condo but she never did get to enjoy any sort of retirement, ironically being stricken suddenly upon returning home from working her shift in the billing department of a hospital.

Now, twenty years after my father passed, the constitutionality of the long-overdue Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the Supreme Court. The semantics of "Is it a tax or not a tax?" are of no interest to me. Soon we will be living in a nation whose citizens need no longer fear losing their home when they or a family member have the misfortune to become ill. The bitter, corporate-financed opponents of ACA won’t go quietly, but that’s a nuisance for another day. Now is a time for celebrating – and remembering.

Mom was always glued to the news, so I know she’s watching. So to Mom – and everyone else who’s lived her story or loved someone with a story like it — this one’s for you.

Originally posted to Richard Riis on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 03:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers and Community Spotlight.

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