Several years ago when I lived in Tampa, I often received calls from local financial planners offering to take me out to lunch. Now I was well aware, this was a tactic, wine and dine me, and then like most men, wildly disappoint me with an underwhelming pitch for something I pretty much knew before the first three times I refused the date, that I didn’t want. Occasionally, when I was in a particularly feisty mood, when I was worn down by numerous calls or I was merely bored, I would accept.
In a quite cliché display, I’d order a rather lavish lunch, a drink, perhaps two. It was after-all, their dime, so eat drink and be merry, for tomorro w you may die! Eventually they always get down to business, mid-bite, they ask me, their now fattened up prey, “so what exactly are your financial plans and goals?”.
I’d slowly finish my bite of overpriced food and take a sip of hopefully expensive champagne before flashing them a smile, they had no idea what they were in for. “Well you see, I’ve seen a lot in the rooms of the ER. I have little urge to scrimp and save for my entire young life, throwing every spare dime into a retirement account so that at whatever age is ‘retirement’ age when I achieve it, if I achieve it, I can likely get the cancer diagnosis and spend my hard-earned savings vomiting my way through horrific chemo for whatever is left. Instead I have a rather strict policy of maintaining an appropriate financial safety net and then enjoying my life to its fullest potential now, while I’m young and able to do so.”
I was quite impervious to their looks of horror, it wasn’t even real horror, I was hardly the first to have told them THIS story. “But, don’t you want to retire someday?” That was always the next logical question.
“Of course I *want* to retire”, I’d reply. “I also want to grow wings and fly, but I don’t realistically see that happening either. I chose a solid middle class career, which I love, I don’t choose to make huge sacrifices now on the gamble of tomorrow, because I’m acutely aware every day of how fragile the potential of that tomorrow is. Apparently this game requires a sacrifice somewhere, and for me, I’ve chosen to make that in the latter years of my life when my body starts to betray me, should I make it that long.”
By this point they’re starting to look a bit more horrified by me, I’m beginning to look a bit more pleased with myself and generally I feel the whole thing is going quite well and perhaps calls for another glass of champagne, and perhaps something decadent and chocolate for dessert.
“But…but….what if something should happen to you, physically?”
Where was that waitress, I was supposed to get this order in before that question. “Well, you see, at a certain point, I’m rather banking on that, though preferably, it’ll be something catastrophic, preferably in my sleep. Hey, I get it though, you’re looking out for me, and statistics aren’t on my side there, most of us these days will die from some long, slow and likely painful disease process. Luckily, I’ve learned from those I’ve served through the years, and no matter how badly I mess this up financially, the ER’s still have to treat me and hopefully that just means some morphine and a warm blanket until i find my way to the other side. Now, a nursing home type scenario, see that’s covered under this plan too. You figure, without much financial resource and no children to care for me, I’ll be a prime candidate for shady’s – barely meets minimum standards for humane treatment of the -elderly home. Inside a week I figure I can work up a stage IV pressure ulcer that will tunnel from my coccyx to my brain within a month thanks to the MRSA I’ll receive as a welcome home gift upon admission. I give it two weeks tops until I’m septic, 9 days if I get restless and throw feces in the meantime, buying me some good restraints, sedation and increased risk of aspiration. I’m betting really my overall suffering wouldn’t be that long.”
Now that’s a look of horror. I stand, quite triumphantly, dessert and champagne will have to wait for the next time, my work here is done and dramatic exit is called for. “Oh dear, it appears I’m late for my afternoon skydiving appointment, you’ll have to excuse me.” I call on my way out the door. I’m pretty sure they haven’t quite regained the power of speech yet.
But that was then, and this is now – a few years later and perspective shifts. When I took my job with hospice this year, the first corporate job I’ve had in years, I opened a retirement account. Then I took down the number for a friend’s financial planner. I own a house now, I have a career I love, my life is far less volatile in many ways than it was and occasionally, I might even admit to you, that I’ve considered the idea of what retirement might be like. I still mostly believe it’s a pipe dream, I mean have you watched the average cost of living adjustments in the price of goods and services vs the average price of living wage increase? Volatile lifestyles were how one made money, settled I have even less of a chance – regardless, I’ll leave money behind for one hell of a party I suppose.
Time, age and perspective always change us. It is hardly surprising that I’ve backed off the shock value stances of a few years ago in favor of more conservative approaches now. For many of us – similar truths would be told of our advanced health care planning. The circumstance you’re writing for and the perspective you’re writing from at age 21 make for far different answers than 81.
Conceptually we get it – but it becomes another excuse in the handy list of excuses that keep us from having to do that thing; that confront my mortality thing, where you have to think about the fact that you’re not going to last forever on this side, really think about it. It sounds rather unpleasant, and to that end, we become quite fond of even the most ludicrous of excuses that justify our procrastination.
“I’ll just have to re-write it in a few years”.
My Rebuttal: Only if you don’t need it – which would you prefer.
Furthermore, honestly people – I’m going to cross this little procrastination justification (that sounds like a name for an episode of Big Bang Theory) off your list. You’ve already heard me say a million times over – the most important part of all of this is the conversations – so keep having them, at 18 and 25 and 32 and 43 and so on.. As for the paperwork, we have these things called computers, you can type it, save it on your cloud, share it with your friends, make it available for public viewing, and *drumroll please* EDIT IT!!!
So you’re welcome, now go online and write your advanced healthcare directive and make sure you discuss it with those you love!
Also – to whomever is reading this – the previous is not a written expression of my current desires for end of life care (no shady nursing homes or Stage IV please!), please see the most current version of my living will at www.imnotreallygoingtosharethathere.com.