James has been a client for 15 years now. We got together earlier this week (via Zoom) to discuss his investments and his financial plan.
After five minutes, I asked him how things were going. To which James replied, “I’m dying. But other than that, things are going pretty well.”
I was, of course, completely shocked. I thought I’d heard him wrong.
“I’m sorry, but did you just say you were dying?” I asked.
“Yes, you heard right. I have lymphoma. I’ve been diagnosed and start treatment next week,” James said. “But the doctors say I have 5 to 10 years left. So, I am going to enjoy them and my family.”
Then, as I tried to break my stunned silence to find the right words of condolence, he followed with, “Did you see the Dodgers advance to the series and watch that game? I had about 20 of my family over and we all watched it together. It was great.”
James has three children: 11, 9, and 5 years old, and a lovely wife.
Always worked hard and did the right thing. He has a future and a plan. But his plan most certainly did not include getting cancer.
The next hour we talked about what he was feeling, how he was doing. We choked back emotion (ok, I was the one who was choked up!) as he told me about what he wanted to do with his remaining time – and with whom.
Talk about a wake-up call. In an instant, it all becomes crystal clear what’s most important when you know your time is almost up.
As we talked, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would I do if I knew how much time I had left in this world?
With little to say that may console him, I asked how he found out he had cancer. He explained that five years earlier, he had a simple cyst. He went to the doctor to have it looked at, and the doctor said it was nothing. They drained it and sent him on his way and he forgot about it – it was nothing.
Now, five years later, it wasn’t nothing anymore.
James then told me how he’d shared the news with his wife. He’d walked into the kitchen and said, “Cindy, I have lymphoma. I’m not going anywhere for a while, but I will be going somewhere a lot sooner than we planned.”
As her face dropped in disbelief, he followed up, “But look, the good news is you will be a pretty wealthy lady when I’m gone!”
Cindy responded to that statement by yelling at him with a series of choice expletives, most of which he could not share now in the light of day.
The thing is, he was right. Cindy will be fine. He’s been planning for their future for years. They have savings. They have a home. They have insurance. And she has the children, who will all be taken care of.
That’s what really hit me. How do you plan for not seeing your kids? You can’t. How do you plan for not seeing your friends and family? How do you reconcile not doing those things you wanted to do because you just never got around to it; because you were always too busy…to truly live?
As we finished out our heartfelt and emotional talk, it occurred to me that situation was really all of ours. We all have limited time. He just had the curse (and the blessing) of knowing about how much time he had left.
We can do whatever we can to prolong that time, but in the end, our time will run out, no matter who we are, how much money we have, or how we live our lives.
So, the only thing we can do is face life head-on, like James. We can be clear about what we want with our time here on earth and what we want to accomplish, and spend as much time with friends, family, our spouse and kids, enjoying every single moment on what’s important.
That’s the real key, and I thank James for sharing this lesson with me, as well as his precious time and friendship.