In 1971, my father got double vision from diabetes that ended his career. We had no medical insurance. My father had access to the VA hospital in Albany, N.Y., a three-hour round trip drive from our home. Taking two years for him to be declared permanently disabled meant spending our life savings on his survival.
In 1974, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I was very scared. As much as my parents tried to shield us, we knew we were a heartbeat away from financial collapse.
From the age of 10 until I was 17 (when he died), I emptied commodes, urinals and emesis basins. I constantly worried. I was determined that I would never let my 10-year-old hide being sick so that it wouldn't further burden an already stressed financial situation.
How did I do that? To survive coming home to my father crying because he knew that he would never live to see our graduations, our weddings, our children, our adult lives. The taxes others paid enabled me to do this. We were able to keep our home because of the taxes people pay that provided us with disability. My education was made possible through work, and low-interest student loans and PELL grants.
I never thought of my family as "victims," unwilling to "take responsibility for our lives." This country gave me an opportunity through programs that help those who have limited or no safety nets.
I never felt belittled by anyone running for president until I heard former Gov. Mitt Romney speaking to his base. His disdain for people like my family is telling.
The last several days have been hard amid memories of my father crying about not being able to support his family feeling belittled by someone asking to represent me. I felt ashamed of my life for the first time in 39 years, the day that my parents made more sacrifices so that I did not have to have the different-colored card for free lunch and be brought to tears by schoolmates because I needed that help.
I am sad that many people don't see the millions of stories like mine, the stories of those who make it against all odds. It has taken me a few days to stop remembering how hard it was watching my father die, to have faith in our humanity, hoping that there are more people who believe that we're in this together.
My family was among the 47 percent. I am now privileged to be in a tax bracket that enables me to give a hand up to some other child living with a dying, sick or disabled parent, to make life just a little easier.
Maureen Kilgour lives in Alpine. She has a BA and MPA from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.