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I've been planning to write this for a long time, but I've been postponing it for two reasons. Just thinking about it hurts. The pain is still too fresh even though it happened three years ago. The second reason is that while it has Financial Independence and Early Retirement significance for me, others might not see the link. It's deeper significance is one of living more of your life on your own terms.

Three years ago I had a typical day at work. I left for work at 7:30 AM. I endured my one hour commute into the DC suburb of Fairfax, I spent nine hours at work and I endured my one hour return commute to western Loudon County in Virginia. I arrived home after 6:30 PM and my life was soon changed forever.

When I came in the door, my wife was visibly upset and I knew she had bad news. I had no idea how bad it would be. My best friend Paul had died at the age of 41. My wife started to tell me when the funeral would be and how she would go with me if I wanted and my analytical brain immediately started to do it's logic thing. It rejected the idea of going to the funeral because the project load at work was too heavy and the logistics of getting a ticket on short notice was difficult and the airlines would probably charge a mint and the drive is too long and lonely for one person and if both of us went we would have to take the dog because we wouldn't have time to find a dog sitter and wait, wait, WAIT.

Paul was dead. I had known him since fifth grade. I was a groom's man at his first wedding. He was my Best Man at my wedding. I hadn't seen him in nine years. I hadn't even talked with him on the phone since he had called to tell me about his second marriage six years earlier. We had done nothing but exchange Christmas cards in those intervening years. I knew he had a young daughter from a photo included in a card. Something was terribly wrong. We had both let our careers and families and time and distance get between us and now we would never again have an opportunity to fix it. And it would have been so easy to fix it. Just a phone call once each year would have sufficed.

As I flew back to Detroit, it really hit me that Paul was the first significant peer that I had lost. We had already been friends for years when we made our first skydives together just before my seventeenth birthday. On that day we had both flown the finger at society's definition of sane behavior and proved that we both knew how to live life on our terms. If anybody would have told me that we would ever have six years in the future without even a phone call, I would have told them that it could never happen. You don't go through an experience like that with a good friend and not develop an incredibly powerful bond. We had other friends with us on that day, but my friendship with Paul was the strongest. How had we let an ordinary conventional life lead us astray?

When my parents had retired and moved away from the Detroit area, I had stopped making the regular visits to my old stomping grounds that would have given me the opportunity to hook up with Paul for dinner or a night at a bar. I never went there on business trips and he never came to DC. That explains why we hadn't seen each other for nine years. Distance is an obstacle that takes effort to overcome and I could forgive myself for not seeing him. Unfortunately I couldn't forgive myself for not at least calling him. I hoped Paul understood that my not calling wasn't something personal. I hoped that his not calling wasn't something personal.

I went to the funeral with three other friends from high school. We were disappointed that we were the only high school friends who had come, but we discovered later that our notification network worked even worse for funerals than it did for class reunions.

After the eulogy I passed through the viewing line. The man I saw in the casket was ravaged by time and radiation and chemotherapy and didn't look anything like the Paul I knew. Paul's kidneys had failed when he was in his late twenties. He received transplanted kidneys, but since he refused to take a kidney from a family member, he had to take strong anti-rejection drugs that eventually compromised his immune system and made him susceptible to a type of cancer that we all have and routinely overcome. When the cancer got bad enough, his doctors stopped the drugs to recruit his immune system to help fight it. When his body rejected the donated kidneys, they were removed and Paul went back on dialysis. When the cancer still wouldn't succumb and it became clear that all reasonable hope was lost, Paul made his peace with his family and then took an option that most cancer sufferers don't have. He refused dialysis and his life ended three painful days later when his blood became fatally toxic. He went out on his terms with the support of his immediate loved ones; sparing them further expense and several inevitable months of watching him waste away.

I said goodbye to his spiritless remains and then went over to offer my condolences to his family. I had known his parents and brothers for years and they were glad to see me. For the first time, I met his lovely wife Angelina and his beautiful four year old daughter, Melina. It was heartbreaking to see such young people suffering such a great loss. When I stepped awkwardly in front of Angelina to introduce myself, she recognized me immediately and told me she had seen my picture on Paul's desk for years and almost felt she knew me. She hugged me and told me how much it meant to her for me to be there. I sensed she wanted to say more, but somehow couldn't.

After the funeral, Angelina found us in the hallway and told me almost apologetically that Paul hadn't wanted his old friends to know he was dying. She gave me a small giftwrapped box and told me that Paul wanted me to have this gift to remember him by. This really tore me up. I had never heard of anybody doing this before. I found out later that only a very few people had received similar parting gifts from him. I opened it to find a practical multi-purpose stainless steel plier tool. Engraved on the side were the words "Love, Paul". Paul had found a way to say goodbye on his terms. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

We were invited to a nearby restaurant for a farewell banquet. Paul had wanted this instead of a traditional wake and had even selected the menu and the wine. Most of the people were Paul's friends from his work and his community groups, so the four of us found ourselves seated at a table that seemed to collect most of his friends from years back. I found myself reminiscing about his first wedding with his first mother-in-law. She had remained good friends with Paul despite her daughter's divorce from him. Seated next to her was one of Paul's former lovers. This woman was 32 when Paul was 22 and I remembered his stories about their vacation trip with her twelve year old daughter and how difficult it had been to sneak some quality time together. She had remained friends and investment partners with Paul ever since. It became clear that despite his illness, Paul had done a commendable job of living life on his terms and from the grave he called on me to do a better job with my life.

Angelina had asked at the funeral if Paul's friends would send stories of Paul's life to her so that Melina would have them when she was old enough to appreciate them. I relished the opportunity to do this for her. I wrote a long, long letter telling Melina not only what her father had done, but who and what he was and how he had touched my life. I hoped that in some small way she would be touched by Paul through my inadequate words.

So now I tell you all this in the hope that you will appreciate that through your association with me, your life has been touched by Paul. I doubt I would have found this forum if Paul's premature death had not made me examine my life through new eyes. You will convey a little bit of Paul to the people whose lives you touch from now on. Hopefully you will find it easier to live more of your life on your terms. This experience helped me to pull the plug on my career last year, but I did not wait for retirement before contacting other old friends. Unfortunately, I lost forever the opportunity to keep in touch with the most valued of my old friends. I'm comforted by the fact that Paul seems to have acknowledged that we both bore responsibility for the breakdown in communication. He also found a way to show me that it didn't diminish the importance of our friendship. We hadn't let the bond grow weaker. We had just missed the opportunity to make it richer.

If I have inspired you to renew old friendships with a phone call or a visit, then the pain of reliving this will have been insignificant in comparison. If I've given you the strength to take one more iota of control over your destiny, then I hope you will share that strength with others so that perhaps it will one day become routine for people to achieve a better balance in their lives without waiting for someone they love to die first. I'm not naive enough to think that my experience can spare you any pain from the inevitable losses you will face when loved ones die. I don't think I could have done anything that would have decreased the pain from Paul's death. I just know that I could have lived my life better while he was still alive and I hope that by sharing this with you I can wring some good from this missed opportunity.


1HappyFool -- who thanks RainbowRider for helping him find the strength
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Angelina had asked at the funeral if Paul's friends would send stories of Paul's life to her so that Melina would have them when she was old enough to appreciate them. I relished the opportunity to do this for her. I wrote a long, long letter telling Melina not only what her father had done, but who and what he was and how he had touched my life. I hoped that in some small way she would be touched by Paul through my inadequate words.

This is one of the kindest things you could ever have done. I lost my father when I was 8, and it would have meant so much if someone had done that for me. I don't remember my father at all, and I don't know anyone who knew him well enough for me to ask questions now.

I second your message about connecting with people now, while they are alive. I guess that was one useful thing I took from my father's death. I realized that anyone could die at any time.

I do have one suggestion that may make you feel better. Send his wife and daughter a card or an email around the anniversary of his death. My father died 26 years ago next month. In all that time, I can't remember anyone acknowledging it at all after the first year. It feels like I'm the only person in the world who remembers, and it hurts.

Amphian

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<<Story deleted>>

1HappyFool --

Thank you for posting your story. It triggered two reactions in me.
First, before I even hit the rec button, I sent a note to my best friend, to whom I have not spoken or written for over a year. Whatever reason I had for delaying (procrastination and intertia) are simply not reason enough to keep me out of touch with family and friends.

Second, it reminded me of the loss of a dear friend when I was 29 years old. We had been out of touch for only about 2 years when he died, but I had many of the same feelings. I was able to give his eulogy on behalf of the circle of friends we both belonged to, though it was very painful. I don't want to presume anything about how you will feel in 12 years, but to relate my experience from that position, I now have mostly only the good memories of Allen, though his memory is framed in sadness.

Wishing you peace,

--Madness
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I am so sorry to hear about your best friend's death. Thank you very much for sharing that painful experience. I have been touched indeed, and you have reminded me that it's so easy to lose track of what's important in life...and that I truly need to get back on track.

You are one wise fellow, and I feel very blessed to have crossed paths with you--even if it's only in cyberspace.

Vikki
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1HappyFool, thank you for sharing your painful story. Your message inspired me to immediately write to a few old friends today and make phone calls to two others.

We all know the platitudes of "do it now, life is unpredictable", but it takes a powerful example to drive the point home. Your post did just that, and I thank you.

Best,

Jeanie
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1HappyFool --

There are a lot of old friends who will be receiving telephone calls because of your post (some 86 and counting). I may have known Paul only through your post, but I feel richer for having made his acquaintance -- and yours.

Best regards,

Rider
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Thank you.
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Thank you for your beautiful post.

My dad passed away a few months ago, not yet 65, taken abruptly in an airplane crash. Death can have a way of shaking you out of your daily routine, make you question things. I am so glad that my dad had the chance to retire early at age 55, and glad too that we had become much closer in recent years.

I'm 37, and I am in that phase where you work too much and wish life weren't so busy. I think I am doing a fair job in keeping in touch with the many friends I have scattered to the 4 corners of the world, and then I will talk to one and they will point out that it has been 4 months since we've last seen each other. How does time pass so quickly? I appreciate your reminder that we have to work to stay in touch, even if distance separates.

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1Happy,

Please know your post had a direct, positive effect on at least one other Fool. I called an old friend last night and talked for almost two hours. He lives in MN while I am in GA and we both have three young kids so visits have passed. I still remember Mark calling me back after we talked about his engagement and him asking if I would mind being his "Next Best Man" at the wedding because his brother and parents would be irked otherwise. We have been through a lot, and your post helped me remember to stay close.

You have my thanks,

John
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Dear 1HappyFool:
You have so eloquently honored your lifetime friend.
By doing so you have shared with all of us the exceptional quality of people that you both have been.
May our Creator bless you for enriching our lives and the memory of your beloved friend.
Respectfully,
kcsalter
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Dear 1HappyFool,

Thank you for introducing your friend Paul. By enriching your life he has reached out through time to touch others.

Today is a dismally gray day here in Denver. A pile of cards and notes are on my desk awaiting me to send off to various friends and relatives. I'm the one who always remembers birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and sends out the Christmas cards every year. Today I wondered, "Why bother? It won't matter. And I probably won't hear from them anyway." Your message reminded me why I do this. I LIKE to write. I LIKE to make people smile. Paul did that.

Elizabeth
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Your posting touched me deeply, and freshened my resolve to spend more time with my friends and family. Thank you for sharing.

Dave
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Yesterday I read a short poem by Ann Scoblic:
The tide recedes
But leaves behind
Bright seashells on the sand,
The sun goes down
But gentle warmth still lingers
On the land,
The music stops
And yet it echoes on in sweet refrains
For every joy that passes
Something beautiful remains.

Paul was a joy - your letter of reminder, to us, is the beauty in his passing. Thank you, 1Happyfool.
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Thank you... I will be tracking those old lost friends down.
You can be assured that your pain of loss has motivated this
"just to busy" person to pursue what is really important, the
people who have touched my heart and soul. The older I get the
truer the old adage, you only regret what you don't do, seems to
to get.
Thanks again,
Ken
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Your story was very touching. I went thru a similar experience with my best friend from high school. We were friends for many years until he died recently. In the years following high school, we kept in touch via regular mail and occasional visits. Then when e-mail became popular we wrote to each other more frequently. Since high school he was diagnosed with a condition which I never thought would be life threatening but instead controllable. One day, on Father's Day of 1997, his dad called and announced his death. I was shocked! On short notice, I quickly notified some friends and we attended his funeral the next day. For many days and months and years afterwards, I thought about him. He was a brother that I never had. Many of those thoughts were guilt of not have had spent more time together. But looking back, I realized that I had done my part, I had visited him at least once a year (even though we lived a few hours away), emails, etc. so that I shouldn't feel this way. The only sad thing is that I have lost contact with his wife (even with previous attempts) and family.
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Just to say thanks a lot for sharing your feelings and experience with us. It has made me stop and think about the really important things, that unfortunately many times we take for granted, in life. And of them, friendship is the most precious of all.

Once again thanks a lot. Your message has meant a lot to me and has certainly made a positive difference.

A Mejia
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Thanks for sharing your message. Today is the one year anniversary of my Father's death. I found it very fitting that I would stumble across your message today. I can't believe it has been a year since I've seen my Dad. Time flies by so quickly. The death of my parents had a tremendous impact on my life in many ways. One thing that continues to stand out is that life is short, and once you are gone your life will not have had any impact on the material goods you have collected. The impact you have is on the people in your life. Our lives intersect with so many different people, weaving in and out and touching so many other lives. The kindness, generosity, laughter, and love that you give- This is the legacy you leave behind.
Thank you for reaching out and letting others share your experience.
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1Happy,

A Fool named Spintousa gave me your link to read it. You have a nice touch to telling your emotions.

You are a heck of fortunate fellow to have a friend like Paul and you are a mighty fortunate fellow to be able to express on of the finest feeling of life. You are definitely in win-win situation.

I am learning to have an conversation within me and listen to the message within. Many times when I feel for a friend and call or write to them ( e-Mailing is helping me easier now days), I almost feel justified why I felt that way------------

The other day, I saw my friend in a publication that I haven't seen over ten years. I knew she went back to Japan-----fortunately, her website was listed. So I sent an e-Mail and afew minutes later, a reply! She lost her address book when she returned to Japan and had no way contacting. Was I lucky!

So Life goes on

Tortoisely,--------------mk
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Thank you.

Last year's New Year's resolution was to stay in better touch with the people dearest to me. So I made a list my closest friends (most of whom live far away)and every week I pick one friend to send a e-mail to or a post card or call. Just to get into a habit of keeping in touch. We are all so busy with new houses and new babies and new lives that it is very easy for time to slip past us.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful friend with us. Your story has been a gift for me today.

MI
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Well this post knocked me over the head. I'm 38 & my daughter is 1.
I keep in touch with quite a few old friends, but several have certainly fallen through the cracks even in these days of email.
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I do have one suggestion that may make you feel better. Send his wife and daughter a card or an email around the anniversary of his death. My father died 26 years ago next month. In all that time, I can't remember anyone acknowledging it at all after the first year. It feels like I'm the only person in the world who remembers, and it hurts.

-------

Hi Amphian,
I agree this is an important gesture to make, and not enough people do it. I would love it if anybody I knew had stories about my parents (they died at separate times a few years back), or had continued to acknowledge my loss or keep in touch over the years. I think people just forget, or get busy, or they're embarrassed and don't know how to ask after you when you're in grief. (A measure of the insane insistence on denying anything to do with death, illness or grief in our culture.)

Anyway, email me if you ever want to talk about what it was like to lose your dad. Kudos to you for not only surviving but thriving.

X
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5/12/01

Few people could write so much as well. Thank you. And, yes, it has had the desired effect to get in touch with old friends. With cards, letters, fax, phone, e mail and travel as cheap as it can be if you search, there really is no justifiable reason not to.

To all out there, take heed: those who meant so much to you are only here for fleeting moments. And no one knows just how long that is.

Be well.
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