I used to embalm people like you.
Well, they weren’t exactly like you. They were similar to you… except they were dead.
Creepy, I know.
And as you might expect, these experiences changed my life forever… but not always in the ways you might expect.
Here’s the thing: People think morticians spend their time dealing with the dead, but most of my time was actually spent working with the living. Yes, I picked up deceased people from houses, hospitals, and nursing homes. I embalmed them and got them dressed. I even placed them in their casket, making them look as lifelike as possible so their families could say their final goodbyes.
While I often thought about what they may have been like when they were alive, it was the living with whom I made a real connection. As I searched for ways to comfort them and connect with their grief, they often told me stories about their loved ones – trying to explain what made them a unique and special soul. Looking back on over a decade of my life spent in funeral service, it was in these moments – when grief-stricken families were desperately trying deal with their emotions by sharing their life stories – that I actually learned the most about my own life and decisions.
Living to Work
I loved my job. I really did. The hours were long, the work was stressful, and the pay was decent. But, every day I was privileged to go to work and come home feeling like I did something good for others. (Well, almost every day.)
Serving those in grief almost became an obsession. And, since Holly and I both worked at the mortuary, it was easy to get lost in our jobs and forget about our own lives. Sure, I wasn’t always happy to work through the night, run home to take a shower, throw on a suit, and head back to work. Yeah, missing birthdays and weddings was difficult. Of course, getting called away from my family’s Christmas dinner sucked. But the job demanded it.
I was happy to serve. People needed my help. And, as with many things in the funeral industry, these moments always provided perspective. No matter the inconvenience my job wreaked on my life, the families I was serving were experiencing pains far worse.
Being a mortician was my life, and – for better or worse – everything else revolved around it.
Dreams Unrealized, Time Gone By too Fast
Becoming a funeral director was never my dream job. Not even close. I entered the profession after my teenage brother died in a car accident. Going through the funeral process was a positive healing experience for me, and I wanted to help others process the familiar feelings that my own family went through.
As I got to know the families and their loved ones who had died, I often thought back to my brother. While meeting with those who lost teenagers, I thought about how my brother never got to experience his dreams. Their parents reminded me of my own, and how they were robbed of their own dreams for my brother – dreams I never fully understood until I became a father.
Then, there were the families who had more time with their loved ones but still never lived the life they wanted. Some worked their entire lives, expecting to live out their dreams after retirement. Many of them never made it. Others were determined to live life until their last breath, dying at peace with all they accomplished and without any regrets.
Day after day, my work provided a constant reminder that we’re all going to die. The stories I heard almost all followed a familiar theme: You don’t have as much time as you might think. Use it wisely.
That truth stirred in my mind for years, but I never did much about it. Instead, I just kept trudging forward, determined to dedicate my life to serving those in grief… while still running away from my own.
After a particularly difficult week in which I buried two babies and a teenager, it seemed like everything became clear. Suddenly, the lessons I’d been learning all of these years crashed down on me swiftly and without warning. What was I doing with my life? What did I really want? Was I doing all that I could to achieve that, and how would I be remembered if I died today?
Read Also: One Lifetime Won’t Be Enough for Us
The questions were right there in front of me all along. But, for some reason, they finally hit home. I wanted to be one of those people who lived without any regrets. I wanted my life to be spectacular. I wanted to live now and not wait until a tomorrow that may never come.
My choices were clear and there was no turning back.
Discovering Our Dreams
After years in the funeral industry, Holly and I finally started to decide what was really important in our lives. We knew we wanted to work for ourselves. We knew we wanted to be great parents, spend more time with our kids, and pay for part of their college. We realized we wanted to travel the world, and we knew we wanted to be able to do it while we were still young. We also wanted to retire and had already been saving for that goal
So, how could we make all that happen? What steps did we need to take and what changes needed to be made in order to get there?
We started thinking about the families we’d served and how they had lived their lives prior to a death. What differentiated those who died without regret from those who maybe didn’t?
The answer: Time. Money. Freedom.
How Time, Money, and Freedom Affect Our Dreams
As we thought about it more, we realized we needed to overcome these three separate but interconnected issues.
Our years in funeral service taught us to respect our time. The time we have on Earth is finite. Once the moment is gone, we can never get it back. After serving family after family who thought they had more time with their loved ones, we finally realized that time is the most important thing we have. We vowed to treat it that way going forward.
It occurred to us that we’d been throwing away our money on things we didn’t really want or need. Car loans, meals out, and money just disappearing into thin air – we were wasting thousands a month on things that didn’t even matter to us. And since it took enormous amounts of time to earn that money, in effect, we were also wasting our time and stealing money that could be used toward living out our dreams. While it isn’t the most important thing in life, we came to realize that money is a useful tool that could help us live the life we wanted. The more wisely we used it, the more options we would have.
Freedom is usually a product of both time and money. When you manage your time wisely but your money poorly, you’re locked into working longer hours to pay for things you don’t need or want. Your financial situation limits your ability to live the life you desire. If you manage your money wisely but don’t respect that your time is finite, you may end up working your life away or wasting the time you have by putting off life until tomorrow. In our case, our freedom was limited by both our decisions with time and money.
4 Ways We Changed Our Life
For years, these realities had been there for us to see. But now, after staring them in the face, we had to either take action or die knowing we could have lived a life we truly wanted. Here’s what we did:
- We started respecting our time. – Instead of putting our dreams off until tomorrow, when we may not have the time or the health to accomplish them, we decided to make living the lives we wanted a priority now. We stopped dreaming about what tomorrow could bring and started planning for what we could do right away. To make that happen, we also had to start taking care of our money.
- We created a budget. – We realized using our money wisely meant we could live in the moment but still have enough to save for our future. Sound money management would also provide us with more options down the road – including buying or starting our own business. So, we seized control of our money by starting a budget and tracking our spending. For every potential expense we began asking: A) How much time did it take to earn that money? and B) What could that money do for our future goals?
- We ditched our debt. – After starting a budget, we realized a big chunk of our paychecks were going toward paying off debt every month. How were we ever supposed to get ahead if thousands were already spoken for? So, we focused our initial efforts on quickly paying off our remaining debt. From that point forward, we vowed not to use debt to buy things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Instead, we would use that money to buy the things and experiences we really wanted in life.
- We looked for ways to expand our freedom. – After years of planning our lives around work, we were determined to find a way to plan our work around our lives. Working nights, weekends, and holidays for the occasional 3-day weekend and 10 days of PTO wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to get our priorities straight, and we needed to do it quickly. So, we looked for ways we could gain more freedom in the future. Creating this blog was part of that process.
The Result: Working to Live
When I look at my life now, I see myself and my family living out our dreams. Seizing control of our money, our time, and eliminating debt has allowed us to take risks and earn the freedom we craved. Because we learned to use our money wisely, we created the financial cushion needed to leave our jobs and pursue our online business. Now that we work from home, we have the freedom to travel the world while saving for our future. In fact, we travel about once a month, and it’s all because we made the decision to take control of our money and our lives.
I credit much of where we are to the valuable lessons I learned from my days at the funeral home. While my job was helping those grief-stricken families celebrate their loved ones, the reality is that – through their shared stories and experiences – they ended up teaching me how to live.
Of course, you don’t have to work in a funeral home to understand these truths. You can make the decision to live your life now, just like we did. Stop spending your life away on things you don’t want or need. Seize control of your money and start living the life you dream of. Use the money you already make to reclaim your life and live it the way you want.