In my line of work, I talk to a lot of dying people.
I guess we’re all dying. Some of us are just more aware of it.
I talk to women whose doctors found a lump, and they now know every square inch of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I talk to men who had heart attacks way too early in life. I see the look in a couple’s eyes when they know one of them soon won’t be there.
I talk to lots of widows. A few widowers, but lots more widows. Those statistics are true. Most of the widows are older – beyond retirement age. Some are 50-ish. A few are young. Very young.
None of it seems fair. It makes you sad, angry, confused.
But it’s life, isn’t it?
When I’m having conversations with people about financial matters, they usually want to talk about “life” matters – getting out of debt, investing, saving for retirement, turning assets into income for retirement. All important stuff.
Then someone will use a phrase that makes me smile (inside).
“And if something were to happen to me…”
That’s when I sit up straight and ask, “If?”
There is no “if” is there? It’s a when. When something happens to you.
Now to be fair, the person speaking often means something like, “If I die…prematurely.”
But the funny thing is that most of the widows I talk to don’t regard their husband’s death as timely. It often feels far too soon. Certainly, from an emotional perspective.
But also from a financial perspective.
It just always comes too soon. Too unexpectedly. Never neatly or cleanly, like they had assumed it would happen.
Often when talking to new clients I’ll say something like, “Now our retirement plan has to last as long as you do. And of course, you’re both hoping to live to 99 years old, go to sleep one night holding hands and both wake up in heaven the next day…”
Usually, they smile. But the smile is not one of laughter but of recognition. That’s exactly what most of us not-so-secretly hope will happen to us. We live long and well, then die quickly and peacefully.
The book of Deuteronomy says that Moses lived to old age and even then “his eye was not dim, nor his strength abated.” In fact, on his last day, he climbed a mountain high enough so that God could show him the promised land. Then he lay down and died.
“Yeah, that sounds about right…that’s how I want to go,” you may be thinking.
But we are simply not guaranteed that. It isn’t even likely. Even in our modern age, the length of our lives and the timing of our deaths are still things over which we exercise a bit of influence but almost no control.
We human beings are emotionally incapable of dwelling non-stop on our mortality. So most of us do things to put it out of our minds. Or at least we try to. Even so, at differing times, most of us sense a cloud of uncertainty hanging over us. Ultimately, not dealing with it doesn’t work. Its reality is simply too persistent.
So maybe we should try something different. Rather than run from it and avoid it, maybe we should face it head on.
Maybe we’d do well to listen to Tim McGraw’s advice and live like we were dying.
This isn’t the right space to address all the spiritual and metaphysical issues surrounding death, so I’ll narrow this down to the financial realm.
You can do so by simply asking yourself, “If I got the diagnosis that I had one year left, what would I do now? What would I do differently?”
Taking time to honestly answer that question for yourself will help you identify what is important, eliminate what is trivial and focus on the days you have left.
Deal with death. Then live.
I’ve got a checklist you can use to help you think through these matters. If you’d like a free copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for my Live Like You Are Dying checklist.
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