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A tale of two who died in America

After years of walking among the dying, I came to an overwhelming conclusion.

We fear death…death. Research shows that a large proportion of people fear death and the death of a loved one. In fact, there’s even a field of study devoted to the human response to death and end-of-life called deathology.

But equally pervasive is our fear of life – specifically, our fear of living a good life Screw yourself up with a shot. This fear pervades almost everything we do, leading to shame and disappointment, and straining our relationships. We set high standards and then became obsessed with what would happen if we didn’t meet them.

These standards tend to be built on a solid foundation of ideas that we never really study. At the heart of it is the belief that if we accumulate enough wealth, it will somehow avoid death or at least alleviate our inadequacies and disappointments. No wonder there is a mental health crisis! We cannot escape death. Unable to control. We can throw all our money to death at will, but not much can keep it forever.

I would like to share two stories about people living and dying in very different economic circumstances. On the surface, what they have in common is nothing more than near death. But if we could look at their bank accounts, we’d see both dead with the same regret: they didn’t have enough.

Charlie’s Story

Signing the divorce papers may be the lowest point for Charlie. His wife sat next to him and occasionally patted some of the flies that were buzzing around the room.

No flies.

Charlie tries to focus on the legal document through his tears. He has no intention of leaving the one he loves. But to ensure Paula received adequate Alzheimer’s care, he had to sign divorce papers and declare her bankrupt. Only then will Medicaid pay.

He regrets not being able to bring Paula home to spend her final days. Although one can hardly call the cramped apartment “home” they were forced to downsize a few years ago. Their last days together bear little resemblance to the years they spent raising their children in the bustling suburbs. Most importantly, Charlie regrets that they rarely think about their financial future when they still have time.

Charlie’s health deteriorated rapidly after Paula’s death. With the little energy he had, he cleared his best friend’s belongings from the small space they shared. The last bit of money left over from the divorce was spent. His body was weak and his joints were stiff. One night, he went to bed after drinking too much alcohol and woke up to find he had no strength to stand up. Instead, he rolled gently to the floor and crawled into the bathroom. There will be no 911 calls. He will not spend his last days in some God-forsaken institution. It’s bad enough to admit to his kids when he needs help. He cherished the time he spent with them and didn’t want them to know how stressful things had become.

Eventually, Charlie’s heart failed. His doctor recommended immediate hospitalization. Charlie refused. Charlie smiled when the doctor begged him to hire round-the-clock paramedics. A paltry Social Security check made it nearly impossible for him to keep the lights on and running.

Charlie died by his side with his children filled with love, memories and experiences — yet, an unfunded bank account provides the most basic of comforts.

Connor’s story

Connor overheard his grandfather’s words, and he added the final flamboyant line to the email. Too much about work, about his money is not worth the sacrifice. A quick glance at his Rolex confirms that his sister will arrive in a few minutes to take over babysitting duties. Dealer meetings can only drag on for so long.

He turned to his grandfather.

“Come on, grandpa, you almost have wings in this hospital!”

The patriarch is dying. He started building a multi-billion dollar manufacturing business at Connor’s age, and now he’s here to leave his legacy to his thankless children and self-serving grandchildren. Connor, his namesake, is no better than the others. However, what can he expect? This young man shared more than just his name. His tenacity and focus make him a perfect fit to run the multinational conglomerate.

Connor respects his grandfather – even respects him. However, it is neither sad nor surprising that an old man dies of some cancer or another. This is just another inconvenience in the busy life of a young CEO.

When Connor finally took his eyes off his phone, it was too late. His grandfather had stopped breathing. Some powerful force inexplicably extinguished itself.

I don’t know what Connor is thinking at the moment. Is he thinking that his work is not worth it? What was his own wife doing on those nights he was away on business?

Is that what his grandfather was talking about?

The alarm on his iPhone goes off – there are 15 minutes left in the meeting. He tucked his briefcase under his arm, rushed past the nurse’s station, and headed for the elevator. It never occurred to him to inform his family.

The patriarch died.

When out of reach

Why, despite the situation So different, yet these stories have such a similar sense of tragedy? Charlie had an enviable relationship with his wife and clearly loved her until the very last moment. But without enough money, he had few options, a Medicaid divorce, and a shocking lack of comfort in his dying days.

Old Connor, a powerful businessman who can buy his own courtyard wing, has different regrets. His daily activities lack purpose. His identity is entirely defined by his work. He died without experiencing love or true connection.

He found that “more than enough” wasn’t enough either.

From Taking Stock by Jordan Grumet, MD. Copyright © 2022 Ulysses Press. Reprinted with permission from Ulysses Press, New York, New York. All rights reserved

Jordan Grumet, MD, is the host of Earn & Invest podcast and his book, Inventory: Advice for a Hospice Physician on Financial Independence, Building Wealth, and Living a Regret-Free Life, Acquired by Lysis Press.



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