Attending Your Own Funeral: Thoughts on Finances and Legacies

A week ago, I was in the audience for a talk at Camp FI given by Paul David Thompson.

I had the privilege of talking to the group on Saturday, giving a Powerpoint-led presentation on fatFIRE and charitable giving. I called it fatFIRE: Living Large & Giving Large.

I thought it went well enough, especially for something I threw together pretty much last minute. You see, I only had about 364 days to prepare for the talk, as I think I had agreed to make a return engagement after attending the same event a year prior. What can I say? I’ve been busy!

Back to Paul’s talk. Compared to mine, it was much more interactive, non-traditional, emotional, and went somewhere I never expected. At the end, we were asked to close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, and envision attending our own funeral.

That gets you thinking. You think about what you want people to remember about you. About what you did and did not do. About what you would change if you could.

The Physician Philosopher has apparently been through a similar exercise, leading to this post which was originally published on his site.

 

Attending Your Own Funeral: Thoughts on Finances and Legacies

 

As part of my job as an anesthesiologist, I get called to truly horrific airway events.  Sometimes they are down in the emergency department after a bad car accident, drowning, or burn.  Others are in ICUs.  Sometimes they are even in hallways or bathrooms where people have stopped breathing or collapsed from cardiac arrest.  It’s part of the job.

In the last year, I was called to an airway in an ICU in what became a surreal experience.  Upon arrival, I was informed that the patient who needed to be intubated had a non-survivable injury, but that they were completely alert, awake, and “with it.”  Oh, and there were about 20-25 friends and family present.

After watching some of their interactions it became clear that something spectacular was happening.  The patient was attending their own funeral.  They were cognizant enough to have conversations with these people. And, they clearly loved this patient. They shared memories and times together.  And much more.

They all recognized their loved one was going to die and wanted to spend the last few moments sharing what mattered most to them.

While driving home from work that same day a person didn’t see me coming and turned left in front of me. I almost T-boned her.  Honestly, it probably would have killed us both if I wasn’t driving a sports sedan.  Thank God for my lack-of-frugality Brembo brakes.

All of this really got me thinking about one question:

What legacy will I leave behind?

 

This question can, of course, be answered in so many different ways.  Listening to the family members and friends of the patient mentioned above who was on his death bed made me think a lot about this.  So did almost dying in a car accident 30 minutes later.

If I died, what would my friends and family say about me?

Would they say that I served others and loved people unconditionally regardless of their station in life?  Would they say that I put others first?  Was I a good husband, father, and friend?

So many questions ran through my head.  What are my priorities? Am I achieving my goals? Will I have any regrets if I left this life today?  And what would my kids think about me?

 

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Questions I didn’t ask

 

I asked a lot of questions. However, there were just as many questions that never came to mind when the above situations occurred.

Given the depth and breadth of the topics covered on this website, which mainly focus on helping high-income earners fight burnout with financial Independence, it might surprise you that the questions that entered my mind had nothing to do with money.

 

How much money will I have or need?

 

If you or I die, how much money do we need?  The answer, of course, is none.  My family will need plenty of money, but I have protection there with life my term life insurance policy. And, my wife knows what to do if this situation occurs.

This one was as far from my mind as the east is from the west.  Money was not on my mind as I watched those family members morn the loss of a loved one before they died.  I was in awe of how much they loved this person and the memories that they cherished and shared.

 

 

Did I invest my money the right way?

 

My investment philosophy and investment techniques were not on my mind either.  I wasn’t even concerned about my savings rate.  Surely, I’ve spent ample time taking care of my family’s finances in the unlikely event of my premature death.

The fact is that money is not the end all be all.  It is a means to an end, but we rarely live our life in a way that reflects this truth.  Money will rule everything around us if we let it.

Did I work enough?

Particularly in shift work specialties, many doctors consider a missed shift as money lost.  This prevents us from taking vacations, spending weekends with our kids, and causes eventual burnout.

I’ve never seen anyone on their death bed – including the person mentioned above – that talked about work.  They never mention the unfinished project, the money they missed out on, or the aims that they never achieved.

It’s about faith, family, and friends.  Every. Single. Time.  We should learn from this.  Money is a tool.  Money cannot buy time.

 

You Only Live Once (YOLO)

We have all heard the above phrase.  YOLO.  There are few things more true than this. It is a fact that you only live and die once.  That said, a YOLO perspectives often produces hedonism.  Buy what you want.  Eat what you want.  Do what you want.

YOLO tells us that we aren’t promised tomorrow, only today.

This kind of thinking is worthless, of course, if you end up living substantially longer and didn’t prepare for the much more likely event that you live a long life instead of an early demise. In fact, the more common problem is that people don’t have enough saved for retirement.

It also doesn’t take into account many religious views, which teach quite the opposite of YOLO.

 

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People Only Live Once (POLO)

 

The YOLO perspective is inherently selfish, which I think lacks a lot of perspective.  Regardless of your religious convictions, we clearly weren’t born to be alone.  Since the beginning of human existence, we have always created and cultivated communities.

For this reason, we should think more in terms of “People Only Live Once” or POLO.  This places the emphasis not on ourselves, but on other people.  If we start living our life thinking of others first, we might have a different set of answers to what we want to accomplish in this life.

Given the above experience, it made me wonder – if I were to die tomorrow – what I would wish I had done more of in this life.  Here’s the first five things that popped into my head:

  1. Empower and love my wife
  2. Spend time with my kids
  3. Invest in my family
  4. Help others avoid pitfalls that they should know exist (hence, this website)
  5. Give abundantly to those in need (another goal of this website)

The items in the above list are honestly the first five things that popped into my head.  It says a lot about who I am and what I hold close to my heart, even if I don’t always do the best at showing that every day.

 

Take Home

 

All of us only live once, which means we only have one life to show the people around us how much they mean to us, how much we cherish them, and to love them the way that they deserve.

Take some time to inventory what is most important to you and if that is where you are spending your time.  If it’s not, then make some changes.  Tomorrow is never promised and regrets are hard to process after the fact.

In the end, just remember that money is an important means to an end, but it is not the end itself.  It is a tool.  Time is the real end and we all have a limited number of seconds, minutes, hours, and days.  Use that time to do what matters most to you!

 


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Have you ever had a life-altering experience that made you contemplate the direction of your life?  Does your current schedule really reflect what matters most to you in life?  What is holding you back?  Leave a comment below.

6 comments

  • Good information. I’m planning a post on “death” soon, too. I’ve buried both of my parents over the past 6 years. It was brutal, and I learned a lot. I got lots of bad advice during that time. I hope I can help a few people avoid the same mistakes. I hope more in the FI community will cover this topic.

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  • Michael

    Great article ! The old phrase money doesn’t buy happiness, but a lack of it clearly makes the journey difficult. My parents are now in their late 80s and my step dad is 90. They have run out of money and are now about to be on Medicaid. But, they are the happiest people I know. They remain to have a large circle of friends. They are living examples of faith, family, and friends. Money, doesn’t make you happier.

    Thereis an investment blogger Rita Mora on seeking Alfa that talks about this topic of money, retirement, and happiness. She speaks about how the two offen are conflated. Interesting stuff

  • Sharon

    Thank you for this post.

  • Jacq

    I previously had an ‘alternate work schedule’ of 4 days at 9 hours, with 1 Friday at 8 hours and the following Friday off. Due to changing circumstances I’m 8 hours all the time. I really enjoyed having those days off. I could use Friday for running errands and doing ‘weekend chores” and spend time with people on the weekend. Or use the Friday to travel to see friends/family. It was a bonus 8 hours that week! It was luxurious! I used a floating holiday to travel to see Family over Labor Day weekend, it was great. This upcoming weekend I’m traveling to see friends and family, and missing the Friday to use for travel & seeing people Friday afternoon.

    While discussing this with a friend, I mentioned this feeling of ‘running out of time’ to spend with Friends and Family. It’s not a personal sense of foreboding, or anything like that. It’s the “Wait buy Why” post “The Tail End”, where the author discusses that his parents are in their mid-60’s and if he sees them x times a year for a weekend, he’s in his last 5% of spending time with his parents. If everyone only has weekends to hang out / meet up / get together, that’s only ~52 opportunities a year.

    I do my best to see family 1 weekend a month (due to living in a different state), and / or friends another weekend a month. With travel sometimes it feels like such a hectic rush. I also don’t really enjoy the travel time. I’ve taken 2 pretty cool international trips with my mom the past 2 years and made great memories. That involves time off from work, too.
    I like the end goal of my job, I like earning money that lets me travel and eat etc, I like a job that helps provide health insurance. But I want my legacy to be people’s memories of spending time with me.

    We will see what the future holds for getting to FI, and working less, or working differently to better spend my time with people in my life, instead of in my car and at a desk.

    Link to the post (https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html)

  • Edward

    PoF,
    Thank you for a thoughtful piece, in which you touch on “meaning of life” issues. We all know “the wages of sin is death” (if you sin, death will be your wage) but the Bible also clearly teaches that death for a believer in Jesus is not the end. Rather, John quotes Jesus as saying “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Now that is a question! And Paul in 1 Cor 15:22 tells his church “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive”. Because of Adam we are all born with sin in our genes, in our nature, but Jesus came to change our destiny and to grant us life in eternity. Whatever your background or religion, He came for all who would believe, to change that “sentence”.
    For those interested, read the story of Jesus’ life in Luke, written by a physician like many of us, then read John to learn more about Jesus’ teaching. Folks, consider! No offense meant at all…just encouragement that “life” as we see and know it can be much more full (abundant) than we often think. In this life we are granted many choices: educational, vocational, in love, financial, emotional, etc. What to do with Jesus is also each one’s choice, granted by a loving God, and it can change our/your eternal destiny. Consider?!
    With respect,

  • Toby

    Hopefully someone in your family, trust, or in the WCI network has admin access to PoF.com so its legacy can continue after you get called up yonder.

    This site is a treasure trove; a map to the truth.

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