Death in the Family and What We Can Learn From It

Last weekend we had a death in the family.  My aunt passed away after her two year battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).  She was my dad’s only sibling.

It was a really rough way for her life to end.  Over the last two years she slowly lost her ability to talk, swallow, feed herself, and move.  In the end, she died because she could no longer take any more nourishment.  It’s terrible to say, but I think it was a merciful death.  Losing all ability to move or speak, and being force fed to stay alive, is nothing short of horrible.

For those morbidly curious individuals, you can learn more about ALS from the ALS Association.

She was 68 years old, which isn’t really THAT old when you think about it.  If she retired around the current average retirement age of 63, that would have been five years of freedom before death.  She fought ALS for the last two years, although she had some symptoms prior.  Do the math folks — that’s a pitiful and depressing three years of ‘freedom’ for her.  Luckily, she worked for Hallmarks for 35 years before taking an early retirement package at 55.

That is a small silver lining…she was able to enjoy a good 11 or so years of retirement before the ALS symptoms really set in.  That’s still not great in my book, but it’s much better than three.  She also had retiring medical, which was a real blessing for her and her family during the last couple years.

How many debt ridden millennials will get to retire at 55 with medical?  Probably zero.  Such benefits will die with the boomer generation.  Pensions are virtually non-existent today, and what few remain are fading fast.  Retiring medical is now a laughable notion in American culture.  To add to that, medical costs have done nothing but skyrocketed, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.  For comparison, economic inflation over the last 10 years has averaged around 2%.  Medical cost inflation around 8.5%.

Social security will likely be greatly reduced by the time millennials are finally able to utilize it.  That means we get to spend our entire working lives contributing money to social security, but will probably only ever get a fraction of that money back.  All of this boils down to one thing:  If you don’t manage your money well and plan ahead, you are screwed.

When I really stop and contemplate all of this, I realize that literally spending 35-40 years working in a cubicle, “paying your dues”, then dying three years after retirement sounds horrible and depressing.  Yet, this is the environment that the boomer generation has cultivated, and it’s what younger people are stuck with.  However, I think most millennials / gen Xers see the faults with this kind of culture, and some things are slowly changing.

Times like these help motivate me to continue to reach my goal of financial independence by 40-45.  I don’t want to stop working, but I do want to do something that is less stressful and more meaningful.  I am sure many of you feel the same.  People laugh when I tell them about my goals.  That’s okay.  I will laugh when, 10 years from now, I announce that I am quitting so I can go enjoy life a little.

68 years old is not that old.  Never forget that any person can be blinked out of existence unexpectedly.  I encourage people to consider how short life really is.  You will never get your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s back.  Do you really want to spend those years pissing away money on bigger trucks and mediocre dining experiences?  Spend those years earning, saving, learning, living smart, and investing wisely so you can take full advantage of your time on Earth in the last half of your life

For you word twisters out there — I don’t mean life is short, so live like there is no tomorrow.  That is silly.  While we could all die at any given moment, most of us won’t be wiped out tomorrow.  According to The World Bank, life expectancy in the US as of 2014 was 79 years old, so plan accordingly :).

Rest in peace Aunt Linda.  Her and her husband logged around 1.4 MILLION driving miles traveling around North America over the years.  So, at least she got to do a boatload of traveling before meeting her maker.  Very few people in today’s society are able to do the same.  I hope someone reads this and takes it to heart.  Death is always a sad and emotional experience for all involved, but there are things that can be learned from it.  Learn from other people’s lives and figure out what kinds of things they did or didn’t do, and how you can apply their experiences to your life so you can improve your present and future.

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