All We Have Is Time

All We Have Is Time - picture of young girl holding alarm clock

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A lot of people don’t know this, but I spent over six years working in a mortuary with my husband.  It’s true.  It was just a strange twist of fate, really.  I was considering a new job at the same time they were looking for someone to work in the office.  Looking back, I’m so glad that we found each other.

I quickly learned to love that job, not only because of the perks, but because of the people.  Since I sat at the front desk, I met every family that came through the door.  I learned their stories, and I helped them in every way that I possibly could. 

I also organized the funeral home’s widow and widower’s group while I was there, and met some of the most amazing ladies you could ever meet.  I loved listening to their stories- how gas only cost a quarter, or how they coped when their husbands went away to war.  I learned that the older generation has so much wisdom to offer, yet few people take the time to listen.  Of course, it was my job to listen, but I soon realized it was a gift as well.  Here are a few of the lessons I learned during my time in the funeral industry:

We’re Creating Our Own Stories

Funerals aren’t only about death; they’re about celebrating a life once lived.  And in most cases, families shared their loved one’s story by creating picture boards or a memorial slideshow.  Seeing people’s memories on display made me wonder what kind of memories would be shared at my own funeral.  The truth is, I’m deciding what memories will be shared with every choice I make. 

Experiencing so many celebrations of life made me realize that I have the power to create the life I want, not only for myself, but for my husband and children. The truth is, I’m creating my own story, just as you are creating your own.  When I look back on my life, I want to see adventure and excitement.  I want to know that I took risks.  I want to look my children in the eyes and know that I did everything I could for them.  I want no regrets.

What If I Die Young?

At the mortuary, I learned that young and tragic death is far more prevalent than people think.  The thing is, it usually doesn’t affect you unless it happens to someone you know.  But, now I know better.  I witnessed unimaginable grief at work every single day- young fathers killed in car accidents, full-term babies who died at birth, childhood cancer, or worse.

I learned that it can happen to anyone.  All it takes is a wrong turn, a cruel twist of fate, or one moment of carelessness for life to be over in an instant.  And if it’s going to happen, no one can stop it.  But I can control the life I live at this very moment, and so can you.  If I die today, tomorrow, or next year, I want to know that I’ve lived life to the fullest, and that everyone I love knows it.

What If I Don’t?

Dying young is unlikely for most of us, and that’s why it’s important to plan for the future.  Embracing today is one thing, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your future self.  One thing I learned is that people who fail to plan for their future often spend the end of their lives penniless.  It is a sad truth.  Imagine working your whole life then realizing that you cannot retire, or that you’ll have to spend your retirement squeaking out an existence on social security alone.

My time in a mortuary made me realize that I want to have options in retirement.  I don’t want to struggle or wish that I had done things differently.  That’s part of the reason we take retirement saving so seriously, and why you should too.  Sure, you might die young, but what if you don’t?  It’s a delicate balance; living for today yet making decisions that are kind to your “future self.”  But with proper planning, it is possible to do both.

All We Have is Time

A recently-widowed woman once told me something that changed my life:   “I would give  anything to have my husband back for just one day. I would trade every dollar I have, my home, and everything I own,” she said.

I can imagine feeling that way when I’m old and grey.  Money is an important tool to get us through life, but the really important things cannot be bought or sold.  This woman, and many others, made me realize that I’m living in the prime of my life.  This time with my husband and young children is irreplaceable.  And, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Money buys life’s necessities and pleasures, but it can’t buy more time with the ones we love.  My time in the mortuary serves as a reminder that each moment that ticks by is one we’ll never get back.  So, for now, I’m going to continue creating my own story.  I’m going to live in the moment, but also be kind to my future self.  I have many goals, but my main goal is to make sure I’ve created a life worth living, not only for myself but for my kids as well.

Sure, I’ve got money, but all I’ve really got is time. 

And I’m going to make it count.

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  1. Great post! It’s so true. I’ve never worked at a mortuary, but I worked at a hospital for years and I totally agree that tragedy is more prevalent than we think. I think that’s really important to keep in mind as we go through life- we should plan and save for tomorrow but live for today. Some days I think it’s hard to keep this in mind because we get so focused on retirement planning, etc. that it’s easy to forget. Anyway, wonderful lesson!

    1. I’m sure that working in a hospital is similar. You probably witnessed all sorts of accidents and tragic deaths.

  2. Holly
    That’s the purpose of money so that you can buy time with your loved ones. I’m glad you’re able to share your story with us as you write it.

  3. Finding that balance between enjoying today and planning for the future, both monetarily and time wise is so tricky. I don’t want to spend all my time and energy in my youth just working for tomorrow, to never see it come. That’s why I always commit a percentage of every paycheck, even with my limited income, to “play”- to celebrate now with friends and loved ones.

    1. I think that’s a great idea, and we do the same. Our splurge is travel. Like you, I don’t want to wait until retirement to see the world. What if I don’t make it?

  4. What an awesome message Holly. I particular like this point…
    “I’m deciding what memories will be shared with every choice I make”.
    Sometimes we’re so near term with our actions/words that we never stop to think of the long term impact of what we’re doing.

    1. I agree, but that’s something we can change. It’s easy to get so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we forget to live in the moment.

  5. Great reflective post Holly! Some of us are too busy making money and almost forget a time for his/her family. When my father died 7 years ago, that was the time I realized how important time is. We need to balance everything, we need to find a money, but we should not neglect our family.

  6. Wow this was a moving post, Holly. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in making money and looking to tomorrow at the detriment of today. I know it’s happened to me often and living one day at a time is something I hope to get better at.

  7. Love this post! I’d trade all I have just to get more time with quite a few people.

    1. I wouldn’t yet, but I know that day will come.

  8. Buying time is precisely how I view our goal of FI, actually. Once money isn’t something we have to worry about earning on a day to day basis, it frees us up to spend much more time with each other and other people we care about.

  9. What a great reminder, Holly. I can’t imagine working around so much grief everyday, but it sounds like you met some remarkable people and gained a unique perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I’ve met a few people who work in the mortuary industry and they all seem so happy. Maybe it’s because you do see what life can give and take away and they want to make the best of it.

  11. Thanks Holly,

    I think this post sums up what led me to more frugal. Time is infinitely more valuable than “stuff.” I’m happy to have entered a blogging community that is no more than a massive marketing campaign for LIFE.

  12. Loved the post Holly…very thought provoking. You learned some valuable lessons at the mortuary. Sometimes I think I need to live my fully everyday. I love planning for the future but sometimes you need to live today also. You’re right, money is just a tool…I find myself sometimes too obsessed with accumulating it to achieve financial freedom or to buy a house.

  13. It is usually old people (me included) who seem to value time probably because we realize how quickly it goes by. I often tell my students to make time count because before you know it, you will be old like me.

  14. A bit of a morbid topic but definitely a worthwhile consideration to ensure you’re living your life correctly.

    Buddhism always encourages you to “meditate on death”, which is supposed to foster both a sense of unity with the universe as well as help you get rid of unhealthy attachments to material things and circumstances. I’d like to adhere to the practice more than I do, but while it doesn’t make any sense, it is so much easier to focus on trivial things and push the big-picture questions back.

    Great post.

  15. Great post Holly! Having worked in life insurance for a number of years I saw a bit of this myself, though not in the daily and real way that you did. It really hit home for me when we lost our son and saw really how life can change in the course of a split second. That’s a big part of what drives me now. I want to take those risks and know that we’re doing what’s best for our kids and preparing for what we want in life while also appreciating each day for all that it is.

  16. Last year I was working for a large corp.; thousands of people at my location…not unlike a small town. One of our Chief Engineers, about my age, and a hard working fellow who put in many hours during the week suffers a brain aneurysm at work. He is quickly transported to the hospital, goes into a coma and dies within days. He left behind a wife and two children about to go to college. No early warning signs.

    This impacts me more than I first thought. Was I having a mid-life crisis? Dwelling on mortality? I started to calculate our net worth and our expected early retirement dates. (as well as researching financial independence blogs) Another layoff is soon announced and I realize that we can retire early and enjoy life. I let my manager know that he can put my name on the list and let another employee “off the hook.” No regrets.

    1. Hey, I don’t blame you. So did you retire already?

      1. Yes, I’m now an “early retiree,” or “financially independent.” Since most people don’t understand these terms I just use the term “laid-off” if the topic comes up. It’s what most people understand.

  17. Great post. Working in pharmacy over the years, especially oncology and HIV, l saw this so often. It really hit home with my sis, and her loss was the final push to make it happen. Life really is too short.

  18. Great post Holly!!! As someone from a big family, I have spent a lot of time in funeral homes as a family member and I have learned a number of the same lessons as well. We truly never know when it will be our time and the most important thing to remember is to live your life to the fullest everyday. I say to my hubby all the time “You know, if I die tomorrow, I love you and you have given me so much joy in my life.” I want to feel as though I am “covered” at any given moment.

  19. Beautiful post! A friend of mine lost his 30 year old brother last week. It was very sudden, but it certainly has me thinking about how precious our moments are. I plan on totally using every single one of them!

  20. This was an amazing post. It’s a good reminder that anything can happen, so we should make the most of today and the moments we have with loved ones. I try to do this all the time, especially when I might be upset with the people I am closest to. Life is too short to be angry; I don’t want to have any regrets, either. It’s just not worth it.

  21. “I’m deciding what memories will be shared with every choice I make.” So true! Great post Holly. We really are creating our own stories…we won’t get a second chance at life so it’s so important to balance friends, family, adventure, travel, etc with good financial sense! That must have been so tough to see the families who lost young people. 🙁

  22. Wish I would have read this at BEGINING of the day. I really appreciate your message and it is such an important one. Thanks for this!

  23. Beautiful post! I want to slow down a bit, so I can enjoy more time. Death really scares me, and I hate to think about it. We have one life — have fun, plan wisely, and spend it with the person you love, doing what you love.

  24. Prudence Debtfree says:

    Well, I’m working hard to keep the tears back. What a beautiful post! Thank you.

  25. Time passes and it doesn’t forgive. We really do have to make it count. Have you ever watched Six Feet Under? It’s about a family that ownes a funeral home. Your description of your time in the business reminds me of that show and the subjects they talked about.

    1. No, I’ve never seen that show. People ask me that all the time!

  26. I just saw the movie a question of time which is about the same topic. I love to take it slow but sometimes wonder if I should make better use of time as it is such a limited resource.

  27. I must confess this is one of the most touched blogs I’ve read in recent times. Working in this finance world always taught me to be more self centered and care more about my own finances more than anything else and that may be the case that my family feels neglected sometimes. This blog post has just reminded me the fact that there are certain things that are Priceless. When I was a child my parents taught me the only truth of the world: Death is the only certain thing in the world. Death is surely certain but we never know when that certain thing happens. So, we should cherish every moment of life, especially with our near and dear ones. I must say, this blog post touched my heart.

    1. Death really is the only thing we can count on, unfortunately.

  28. Love this, Holly! And agree wholeheartedly. I also say one of my most precious commodities is time. We never have enough. My dad died almost 10 years ago and I would give anything to have more time with him. For him to have been able to meet and hold Taylor who looks so much like him. We take time for granted, not realizing how it can slip away so quickly when we’re not paying attention and appreciating what we do have.

    1. We do take time for granted. I wish I could have my early 20s back!

  29. Interesting reflection. I think your point about making our own stories is really important to remember. I often ask myself if I want to be the hero of my own story, or the victim. This often helps me make better choices in how I develop my own story. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic.

  30. I always try to tell people, and remind myself, that “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

    “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious recourse we all have is time.”
    Steve Jobs

  31. My mom worked in a senior’s long term care facility and she would often come home and tell me that a patient had passed away and that person never had anyone come to visit them. That was saddening to hear. We have no control over when we will die but we have the power to make the most out of our time while alive and spend time with the ones we love and care for. Great post Holly.

  32. Well said, so its best not to take our loved ones for granted and value every moment in life. Not worrying too much about how to be a millionaire or how to write a million dollar blog. Taking pleasure in the good times and the bad times in life especially when you have your family with you in those times. Also preparing money when your old so you can give your grandchildren the best.

  33. I knew someone that used the “What if I die young?” reasoning as to why they spent all their money and didn’t save for retirement. I pretty much thought that was one of the dumbest excuses to not prepare for the future. It was like saying, “what if the government collapses? all those investments mean nothing.” If everything reverts to the barter system than I think there’s much bigger problems than losing what you had saved.

    Anyways, I enjoyed hearing about your experiences on the things that we should cherish and not take for granted. Time is really one of the only commodities we can’t buy more of.

  34. Wow, you packed a lot into one post! I think we’re getting to where we want to be with our time, slowly but surely! Gotta take it one step at a time 😀

  35. Amen.

    I lost my sister to a drunk driver when we were both teenagers.

    Life is short, you could live to 100 or die today, no one knows the future. That’s why I save so much, to prepare for a long, happy, healthy life, but I also keep 5% of my money each month that I have to spend on fun things.

    I’m not going to live like every day is my last, but I’m not going to live like a pauper for a future that may never get here either.

  36. Great post, Holly. Sounds like you had a really interesting job at the mortuary! I always try to remind myself that it’s so important to live life to the fullest, because even though it’s stupid to say “YOLO” all the time, it’s true that you do only live once and things DO happen.

  37. Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans says:

    Such a great post. It’s a great point to bring up that our everyday actions and choices affect our story. How I treat others and how I go about my dreams are huge parts of my story that I want to work on daily.

  38. You had me welling up Holly with your memory of the woman who would trade everything to have her husband back! I’m off to call mine right now – a lovely post, thank you.

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