HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 21, 2007, Herald Journal

Life is a gamble


The question is not whether or not we are going to die; that is one of the few things we can count on.

The question is when.

The significance of this information was illustrated recently by the case of John Brandrick.

Brandrick, 62, is a British man who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago. His doctor told him he would probably die within the year.

In view of this information, Brandrick quit his job, sold or gave away his possessions, and quit paying his mortgage.

He lived the high life, eating in restaurants and taking vacations.

Eventually, he was left with nothing but the suit in which he planned to be buried.

Then came the bad news. Or, was it good news?

It turned out that the suspected tumor was nothing more than an inflammation of the pancreas, and was not at all life-threatening.

The good news is Brandrick has a second chance at life.

The bad news is that he has spent all of his savings and has almost nothing left.

Brandrick is reportedly seeking compensation from the hospital that made the initial diagnosis.

Is Brandrick’s plight his own fault, or is the hospital responsible?

At the very least, his story is an excellent reminder that it pays to get a second opinion.

His story also illustrates a question that all of us will face.

As our population ages, and the Social Security system appears to be headed for collapse, we hear more and more about the importance of planning for our retirement.

The difficult part comes when we have to decide how much we will need to save.

The average life expectancy in the US is about 77.9 years.

Generally speaking, women live longer than men, and whites tend to live longer than blacks, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

If life were simple, this would mean that one could retire at age 65, and expect to enjoy about 13 years of retirement before cashing in one’s chips.

Unfortunately, life is never that simple, and averages are nothing more than that – averages.

What happens if we live significantly more (or fewer) years than the average person?

Most of us would like to be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors when we retire.

Perhaps we will travel, pursue a hobby, or just take things easy.

But, if we guess incorrectly, and end up living much longer than expected, our standard of living could decrease dramatically. This could prove extremely inconvenient, and we could end up spending our final years in poverty and misery.

On the other hand, if we plan for a long life and check out early, we forfeit everything we have worked for.

We can’t take it with us, but why should someone else have all the fun?

Some people, who have children, will take satisfaction in leaving an inheritance for their kids, and if that makes them happy, so be it.

In contrast, some of us, especially those of us without children, have no reason to leave anything behind.

There are any number of worthy charities that would be glad to accept a bequest, and that certainly would be a better option than letting the government take what is left (which is what it will do if given half a chance).

It seems to me that the ones earning the money are the ones who should be able to enjoy it and decide how it will be used. That is sort of the point of working in the first place.

We only go around once in life, so we might as well wring every ounce of living we can out of our time on earth.

The trick is to maximize our enjoyment of life without jeopardizing our future.

There is a quote that expresses my philosophy on the subject beautifully. I don’t know who wrote it, but I have seen variations on T-shirts and in print. It goes something like this:

“My life is not a journey to the grave with the intent of arriving in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather, I will skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, loudly proclaiming, WOW, what a ride!”

Now, if I can just figure out a way to make the money last until that point, without leaving anything on the table, I will really have it made.