Life. Death. Financial independence is really not that important…is it?

The past 2.5 months have been tough for Mrs. T.

One early morning after we arrived in Taichung, Mrs. T was checking her emails. While getting the kids dressed, all of a sudden, I heard Mrs. T crying uncontrollably.

Her grandfather on her dad’s side had been in and out of the hospital since before Christmas. A week or so before our trip, he was in intensive care for several days. He was moved out of intensive care only a few days prior to our departure from Canada. We were told that he was doing much better.

Without asking anything, I knew what was up – her grandfather had passed away. I tried to comfort her by giving her hugs and handed her tissues. Although I knew her grandpa for 8 years, as expected, I didn’t have as many emotional connections with him. While I was sad about the news, I wasn’t as devastated as Mrs. T.

In the back of our minds, we knew it was a matter of time before we’d receive the sad news. But it is challenging to have to prepare yourself for the news of a loved one’s passing. And Mrs. T certainly took the news hard. She was not her usual self for most of that day. Knowing her, I tried to comfort her but made sure to give her the space she needed.

Later that night, we ordered flowers for the funeral to send to her grandmother. Mrs. T wanted to show her respect.

A few weeks after we got back home from our Taiwan & Japan trip, we were greeted by yet another devastating news. I got up at 5:45 AM one morning, so I could go swimming before work. Because it had snowed the day before and caused schools closure, Mrs. T asked me to grab her phone from downstairs, so she could check whether schools were closed again or not. When I grabbed her phone, I saw a notification from the school district app stating that schools were closed. I also noticed a message in Danish from my mother-in-law. I went upstairs to our bedroom to give Mrs. T her phone, told her that school was closed, gave her a kiss, and headed downstairs to get ready to head out. A few minutes later, from the corner of my eye, I could see Mrs. T coming downstairs in her bathrobe, crying.

“Morfar is dead. Mormor found him outside of their house this morning.”

Her grandfather on her mother’s side was diagnosed with cancer last year. Her grandfather accepted the diagnosis and decided to let things unfold, not wanting to do any chemo or other cancer treatments. The doctor’s congratulated him on making that decision as the chemo would probably not do much for him at that point, and if anything it probably would make him worse.

All I could do at the time was give Mrs. T hugs and comfort her. Within less than a 4-week period, Mrs. T lost both her grandfathers. It was a lot to handle for her, and still is.

Mrs. T didn’t feel she got any closure with her grandfather on her mother’s side because nobody was there when he passed away. Nobody knew what really happened. To make matters worse, it was how he was found, outside of his home, by his wife of 70 years. I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like for Mrs. T’s grandmother, to find the love of her life lying on the ground lifeless.

We were told that there would be a ceremony but there wouldn’t be any funeral, because her grandfather had decided to donate his body to medical research. After the doctors and researchers are done with his body, whatever is left will be cremated, and the family will do another ceremony. We don’t know when that would be.

Since the deaths of both her grandfathers, Mrs. T and I have had many discussions and reflections on our lives, how each of us grew up, our interactions with our grandparents, our kids, and our future together (side note, my grandparents on my dad’s side passed away when I was an infant, my grandfather on my mom’s side passed away when I was 5, so I have no real memories of them. Unfortunately, I’ve not had close connections with my other grandmother).

One night, after battling with the kids all day (it was a long day, kids were acting out), Mrs. T and I were in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, and she said… (I’m paraphrasing here…)

“When I think about my grandparents, and my grandfathers, I remember the things I did with them. The memories are precious, and I will never forget them. We’ve had a long day with the kids. It was challenging and frustrating. But when we look back many years down the road, we aren’t going to remember the fights about getting them to clean up, we aren’t going to remember the battles of getting them to brush teeth, eating their meals, going to bed, or playing nicely together. We are mainly going to remember the fun and amazing things that we’ve done and experienced together, like how we played on the beach all day in Maui, how we went up and down the slide for hours in Osaka, how we danced around the Christmas tree, and how we went camping together. We need to focus on creating more memories together, rather than focus on the little mistakes and constantly trying to control their behaviour. We need to look at the bigger picture”.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

The other day when I was daydreaming and pondering about life, like how I often do, I realized that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if we have $10 or $50,000,000 in our bank account. It also doesn’t really matter if/when we become financially independent, or what age we retire from full time employment. What really matters is all the memories that we create with the people in our lives that mean something to us. Because these memories will continue affecting all of our lives and these memories are how we will be remembered when we are no longer here in this physical form.

With that in mind, I will end this post with…

  • Focus on spending time with your loved ones.
  • Focus on creating lasting memories.
  • Focus on enjoying the finer things in life.
  • Focus on being silly and spontaneous.
  • Focus on loving life.
  • Focus on treating others how you want to be treated.
  • Focus on being kind.
  • Focus on being more inclusive.
  • And ALWAYS, ALWAYS focus on providing a helping hand to people in need. 

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31 thoughts on “Life. Death. Financial independence is really not that important…is it?”

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s losses, and thank you for writing this post. I was raised by my grandfather until I was 7, and then he passed away. But it’s a strange nebulous area where I didn’t quite realize the concept of death so the emotional impact was delayed.
    A few life events in the past couple of months has highlighted for me how important it is to value the time you have with people *right now*. I’m working hard at the same time to be free from work so I can devote more time to loved ones.

  2. Sorry for you and your wife’s losses 🙁 No matter how old one person is, even if they are 101 and pass away, it’s never easy to say goodbye.

  3. This is an excellent post! Sorry for the pain of loss for you and your family, but appreciate the perspective. I think there’s so much intensity behind the FI/FIRE movement that people are forgetting to live and appreciate the time we do have because none of it’s guaranteed! Thanks for sharing out of the pain.

  4. Losing two grandparents in rapid succession would be tough on anyone, sorry for your loss.

    I think there is a set of FIRE individuals that always put off experiences and life and try to cut things to a minimum so that they “can reach their number.” At that magic point, the belief goes, they can then start enjoying life after all the early sacrifice.

    My father sort of fell into this philosophy. He was a physician, like myself, and really immersed himself in his work. He made a lot of money, and although we did take some vacations, it seemed like he was always working so that later he could enjoy life in his golden years.

    Problem was that his golden years never came. I was 15 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 50 and he died 6 months later.

    Because of this, I have tried to counter some of the same mistakes by trying and enjoying life within moderation. I now relish nice vacations and bonding time with my girlfriend and daughter. Yes I am still working towards my FIRE date/# but I do also want to enjoy the journey getting there. It may take a little longer, but you never know if you were ever going to be alive to see it anyway so have memories now too.

    • Hi xrayvsn,

      I’m very sorry about you losing your father as such young age. That must have made a huge impact on how you prioritize things in life. And sounds like you’ve found the right balance that works for you and your family. It sure is nice to be able to enjoy the FI journey despite it taking a little longer. 🙂

  5. Hi Bob,
    I am very sorry for Mrs. T and your loss. Family is precious and unfortunately sometimes we realize that only after someone has passed away. What would I not give to get another day with that person? How about another minute?

    You have a great list of things to do. One another way I found interesting was to write your own eulogy. It sounds so out there but it really forces you to focus on things that are important to you and your family.

    I have been very focused on the future and my wife has been more so on the present. In the past couple of years I have really tried to live in the moment and surprisingly everything is falling into place by itself. It’s as if my future self is thanking me for taking note of my present self.

    I too am based in Canada, though on the East Coast. I found out about you in the MoneySaver podcast. What a great story.

    I am also utilizing some of the strategies mentioned in your blog and am hoping to reach FI in the next 4 years. Am trying to take advantage of slow travel during that time to slowly transition into this. Heading to Japan for 3 weeks soon and loved your 2 blogs on them.

    Take Care,

    • Hi LT,

      Thank you for your kind words. I haven’t tried writing my own eulogy, that might be an interesting exercise for sure. That’s great you’ve been focusing on living at the moment, it’s hard to live and constantly worry about the future. Love that you’re taking advantage of slow travel. Japan is absolutely amazing! 🙂

  6. My condolences for your family’s lost. It’s never easy to lose a connection with someone, family or friends in this world.

    I learned sometime ago (and still learning) how important it is to live now as much as it is important to financially plan for the future. We often think if we just cut one more pleasant thing in life out of financial concern we will be better tomorrow, but tomorrow is never guaranteed. Not guaranteed for us or for anyone we hope to make a memory with.

    I was never the financial independent type extolling the virtue of complete sacrifice in the present moment to savor a future that is not guaranteed. Balance is what I seek and the application of knowledge to live wisely.

    For a long time I was blinded by the pursuit of the ideal salary and position in corporate. And briefly blinded by the pursuit of a financial number to gain financial Independence so much so I lost the opportunity to have one last dinner with a friend who died suddenly because paying the extra $100 on a debt was more important than spending that time and money to sit across from her.

    Financial Independence is great in theory and commendable in pursuit but the focus should always filter into our wellbeing. I’ve accepted as a “financial expert” that no one will remember how much money we’ve saved but how we made them feel and they in turn honor our life by recalling the memories we’ve made together. In death the tie to our money is gone, but the memories we’ve created with others, well they continue to live on and tie us to those still living.

    • Hi Jason,

      Great thoughts, that’s exactly why the slogan on this blog is “save for the future while spending money to enjoy the present moment.” It’s finding that personal balance that works for you. What works for you may not work for me. That’s why it’s called “personal” finance. One solution doesn’t fit all.

      When we’re on our deathbed, we probably won’t think how much money we have in our bank account. We probably will be thinking about all the great memories that we’ve created and enjoyed. Very well said. 🙂

  7. Sorry to hear that your family is going through this difficult and sad time. The passing of those we care about is hard. Thanks for sharing and being so open. Great list to help focus on what is truly important in our lives. Although I spend a lot of time on the financial side of my life, I realized long ago the true treasures in my life are the relationships we make and cherish over our lifetime.

  8. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I hope your wife can find comfort and peace in the many memories she had with her grandfathers.

    My beloved mother passed away when my kids were very little. It was a huge loss to all of us, but out of my entire family, I came through the grief soonest.

    When I asked my counsellor why I wasn’t more sad, she told me when you’ve done and said all you wanted with someone, it can be easier to let them go.

    When my mom was alive, we spent every moment and took every vacation we could with her (long before she was even diagnosed with cancer).

    I still miss her, but I only remember all the wonderful moments we had with her. We’ll never regret having made the time and effort to be with her.

    And so, I couldn’t agree more with this post, and I’m glad you shared your story. It’s so important to live for now and be present with those we love.

    • Thank you Chrissy. I think the toughest part for Mrs. T is the fact that we’re so far from Denmark. She couldn’t provide much help. That’s great to hear that you took every opportunity to spend time with your mother when she was still alive.

  9. Ultimately, Financial independence is about time. Time we can spend with our loved ones. Time is pretty precious, but the money side of things is just a number in a bank database somewhere.

    Some people choose to work more so they can have nicer things, or travel more. Other people choose to make a little less so they can spend more time with family.

    For me, I fall into the latter category, and that’s a choice I will never regret.

  10. I’m sorry for your loss. Money seems really important while we’re struggling with it. But it doesn’t mean much once you have enough. We all should focus more on our loved ones while we can. Life is short, unfortunately. I feel it more and more as I’m getting older. Best wishes.

  11. Great list of things to do! I think it’s important to remember that money isn’t the end goal but the facilitator of our end goals. What matters is that we use the money on things and experiences that are important to us (mainly the latter). I definitely find myself putting things off until I feel more financially stable, and while that’s the smart way to go on paper… Well, I need to remember to live in the moment some too.

  12. I am sorry for your and your wife’s loss Bob. When I have experienced loss, I always find myself thinking differently about how limited our time is yet how I can have a year go by on autopilot until something shakes me to have the mindfulness that you mentioned at the end of your post. I guess I strive to try to keep some of that mindfulness of what is important more every day. Thanks for the reminder


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