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"Just one more year"...
Old 11-13-2011, 11:36 PM   #1
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"Just one more year"...

Major sadness this week. I'm hoping to find a silver lining by writing about it, but I'm not sure there is one. It keeps sneaking up on me and smacking me in the head when I least expect to start thinking about it. I've been sitting on this post for a few days hoping that it'd cool off, but it hasn't. So here goes.

Last week a good friend & neighbor went to work as usual.

He retired from the Army in the late 1990s (after 30 years of service). Based on today's pay tables, his military pension is a tad over $60K/year (with an inflation COLA) minus $460/year for health insurance. However he wanted to pay down his mortgage so he went right into a federal civil-service job supervising a personnel department on an Army base. It's probably a GS-13 position, and in Hawaii you add a 25% cost of living supplement. Knowing his frugal habits, I suspect that he and his spouse were saving over $90K/year.

He and I have been good friends for the last decade, even if we didn't understand each other on the subject of paid employment. He could see that I was reasonably intelligent & fit so he couldn't understand why I had stopped working as soon as I hit 20 years (for a comparatively puny $40K pension). He felt that it was important to have work in his life and he was uncomfortable with retiring before he was completely debt free. He loved golf (several rounds a week) and was astounded that I'd given it up for surfing. At their last Thanksgiving dinner he noted that he'd turn 66 soon and would work for "just one more year" to finish paying off the mortgage. Then he and his spouse would work for "a few more months" to pump an extra $50K cushion into their retirement portfolio before calling it quits. I made the usual joke about "just one more year syndrome" and we moved on to other subjects.

Last week at work he started his usual morning walk-around chatting with his staff, but his sentences didn't make sense and they soon deteriorated into gibberish. He became increasingly incoherent so they called an ambulance and got him to Tripler. I'm not sure what the diagnosis was-- stroke or cerebral hemorrhage-- but the doctors carried out the emergency procedures and eventually began draining fluid from his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. At some point in the ICU he lapsed into unconsciousness. His youngest son and the son's fiancée are Tripler nurses so I'm pretty confident that his dad had the best of attention & care.

His wife said the doctors had explained that it could happen to anyone. He had no visible health risks (and indeed may not have had any health issues). He'd felt fine that morning and neither of them had noticed any warning signs. His work was low-key routine administrivia with lots of autonomy. He was pretty much the civilian boss at his office, with such huge experience & credibility that his supervisors left him to get things done without their help. His biggest "stress" would have been figuring out whether the week's golf foursome should include the general or the colonel.

When I spoke with his wife two days ago, she said he'd regained consciousness that afternoon, made eye contact with her, and squeezed her hand. The doctors started talking rehab.

A few hours after she told me that story, he died. I don't know what happened, and maybe I never will. I was told that it happened very quickly and was unexpected.

He'd been around the Army for nearly five decades, so he had quite the contact network. The general appointed a temporary-duty casualty officer whose sole job is to assist the family for a few months in navigating the benefits bureaucracy. The officers are assigned from a rotating pool, so when one particular major came to work the next morning he was told to pick up his casualty officer orders and contact the family. That's how the major learned that one of his mentors, a man he'd served with nearly two decades ago, had died.

My friend's oldest son is an Army lieutenant colonel. When the major called my friend's home, the son answered the phone. The two of them realized that they'd had a tour together at a previous command. I guess the "good" news is that there will be no bureaucratic logjams.

These two combat officers are regrettably all too familiar with death. Yet as the lieutenant colonel and the major tersely worked through the casualty officer's checklist, using martial jargon like "the body", "the autopsy", "the family members", and "the funeral", tears were streaming down their cheeks.

My friend had his affairs in order. (Hey, he was a personnel specialist.) His widow has the military's survivor benefit plan, his Social Security survivor's benefits, and their savings. He might have been eligible for civil-service pension benefits, so she might get some compensation from that too. He also left her some life insurance. She has a long-term care insurance policy. She knows all their financial accounts and how to handle the bills. Several years ago, he even reserved a grave on a nearby military base so that his spouse wouldn't have to drive "all the way to Punchbowl" to tend it. Two of her sons (and their families) are on the island to help out. They know my spouse and I are just a few doors down for handyman services and rodent control. There won't be any problems.

When she told me her spouse had passed away, I asked what I could do for her. She asked me to walk up to their house and help her clean their lanai with her sons. As we men hauled off the trash and organized the furniture, she said that her spouse had been planning to do this cleanup but had put it off until next weekend. Next month their lanai is going to host their youngest son's wedding reception.

My friend never spoke about his military billets or his deployments-- only about the places they'd been and the people they'd befriended. I'm sure he was assigned to combat zones, but he never mentioned it. I'm sure he has the usual awards & certificates yet I've never seen anything on his walls but family photos. He loved them and they knew it, but he felt that the best way to show his love was to provide for them. He would have felt guilty leaving the workplace before he'd completed what he felt was his duty.

The funeral will be this coming week. I'm honestly hoping that the chapel is crammed too full for my spouse and I to be invited. It was hard enough breaking the news to my spouse over the phone while she was on travel, and we still haven't passed the word to our daughter. We'll get to that in a day or two.

I can't wrap this up with any eloquent lessons learned or other pithy conclusions. I don't have any. Maybe someday I'll blog about it or add it to the book, but I'd much rather be with my friend on his back lanai kidding him about working while I'm surfing.

I would suggest that if you or a loved one is afflicted with "just one more year" syndrome, then this is a fitting opportunity to reflect upon the risks of that approach.


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Old 11-14-2011, 12:18 AM   #2
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I'm sorry for your loss, Nords.

But it reads you understand him better than you know.

Seems fair to assume he had reflected upon the risks of the "just one more year" approach and instead "felt that it was [more] important to have work in his life and he was uncomfortable with retiring before he was completely debt free." A gentleman who'd "have felt guilty leaving the workplace before he'd completed what he felt was his duty" providing for his family doesn't sound like one who'd have any regrets.

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Old 11-14-2011, 12:43 AM   #3
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Sorry to hear about your friend's passing, Nords.

While some of us find fulfillment in retirement, your friend seemed to find fulfillment in work and duty. There are many roads to happiness.
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Old 11-14-2011, 12:45 AM   #4
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Nords, what a heartbreaking situation. This could have happened to anyone, and I am sad to hear that it happened to your friend.

Thank you for reminding us to live our lives fully, while we can.
"You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." - - - C. Columbus
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Old 11-14-2011, 02:30 AM   #5
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How very, very sad. I am so sorry.
It will not help you or his friends or family, but it was his decision and his sense of duty that for him paid work has priority to more private time. He certainly knew the risk that the year after the "one more year" will never come.

DH is just fighting with the one more year syndrome. I hope that his decision will be right for both of us.
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Old 11-14-2011, 03:47 AM   #6
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Sorry about the loss of the friend.

Thanks for the story. It is something we all should consider. Not just about work, but in our lives in general.

People sometime struggle with how much is enough and what are the priorities. Others seem stuck in their work habit or work status.

This type of thing has been one of my motivators to ER in the last 10 years. Seeing friends, coworkers, and family members' health fail and pass on increased my sensitivity to it.

Another issue is quality of life. Some people survive that type of situation (or other medical problems) and struggled for many years (and their families) and then passed on.

What I found striking were the HALE statistics. In planning for retirement, most of us have an awareness of longevity risk and attempt to factor it in. We also have a sense of risk around the potential need for LTC. The discussions often are around how to fund it and asset protection. But, IMO there is an important issue that is often overlooked by many. That is the (possibly) short period between retirement (as traditionally defined) and when one has a high chance of having health problems impact their life in the IADL or ADL sense or other issues that severely limit one's ability.

In the US... the average HALE age for a male is 68 and for a female 72.

Understanding Healthy Life Expectancy - HALEs - Healthy Life Expectancy

This is the quality of life factor that people should consider. Plan to enjoy the healthy years! Because the unhealthy years (especially if one requires hands on care)... it impacts the rest of the family too. Often the surviving spouse is severely impacted.

While HALE statistics and LE statistics are population statistics... they can be very helpful in developing the plan.

We should plan for the potential life crisis in ER or retirement... but we should also remember to enjoy it while you are able!!!
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Old 11-14-2011, 03:52 AM   #7
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Thx for sharing this post with us, and my condolences for losing a good friend. Although he seemed happy with his choice, your post along with my Mom's poor health at the relatively young age of 77, and several other factors, makes me wonder if I have 'just one more year' or 'just another $XXX' syndrome. It's helpful to get these real world wake up calls to put things into perspective.
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Old 11-14-2011, 04:10 AM   #8
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Nords, I'm sorry for the loss of your good friend and neighbor. Your write up is very special. It sounds like this man died doing what he wanted to do.
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Old 11-14-2011, 04:27 AM   #9
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Nords - my condolences on the loss of your friend. Although sad, you tell a moving story. I just hope that those reading it are moved enough to see the risks of "just one more year". It got me thinking. Thanks for posting.
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Old 11-14-2011, 04:39 AM   #10
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I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. Thanks for the friendly reminder.
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Old 11-14-2011, 05:10 AM   #11
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Nords - my condolences on the loss of your friend. I also had a co-worker sitting 3 cubicle down from me. Although he were eligible to retire but always has that "one more year syndrome". Last year, the week between Xmas and New Year almost everyone was on vacation, I came back to work only to find out that he passed away. I guess if you love your job then it's nothing wrong with working. ER is not for everyone.
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Old 11-14-2011, 05:19 AM   #12
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I am sorry for the loss of your friend and what might have been.
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Old 11-14-2011, 05:32 AM   #13
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The sudden and unexpected loss of someone close can be a wake-up call even to those of us who think we are fully awake. Sad story.
Numbers is hard.

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Old 11-14-2011, 05:49 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by kat View Post
Nords, I'm sorry for the loss of your good friend and neighbor. Your write up is very special. It sounds like this man died doing what he wanted to do.
I too think he died doing what he wanted to do. A sad story and my condolences.
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Old 11-14-2011, 05:54 AM   #15
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Nords, I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your friend and the grief you are in. It sounds like he was quite a guy and you were both lucky to have each other as friends. It will undoubtedly be tough for you for a while to come.

It sounds like he enjoyed his work enough that one more year didn't bother him too much. We all take different paths in life. Stories like his make me even more sure of my decision to hang it up this coming January; life can be too short when you least expect it.
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Old 11-14-2011, 06:00 AM   #16
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Nords, sorry to hear of the las of your friend. Thanks for taking the time to write about it...from one who is being sucked into the "one more year syndrome." time to pause and reflect.

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Old 11-14-2011, 06:20 AM   #17
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My condolences as well. As I was reading your post it really helped me keep focus as to accomplishing an early retiement goal. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 11-14-2011, 06:24 AM   #18
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Nords, I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. Live every day to the fullest as one never knows. Best wishes to you and your family.
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Old 11-14-2011, 06:30 AM   #19
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Nords, my condolences. I have a good friend with the "one more year" syndrome. I think stories such as this one helped him finally make the decision to retire the first of the year.
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Old 11-14-2011, 06:38 AM   #20
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My condolences to you Nords but I don't see this as the standard "one more year" tale, more the opposite. This sounds like a guy who stuck with what he wanted to do and died in the saddle as the cliche goes. Sad for his family and friends but it sounds like he was engaged and upbeat until the end. His early death is only a cautionary tale for other people who are hanging on out of fear of the unknown or other negative emotions rather than engagement in their work and life.

Every man is, or hopes to be, an Idler. -- Samuel Johnson
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