Death, Near Death, and Retirement

Life is Short

Johan was one of my closest friends in high school and college. He was like a cat. No matter what gets thrown his way, he always lands on his feet. He has a little Donald Trump in him as he could sell you a broken chair. He was a pied piper as well. Back in college, he hijacked our intramural basketball team from the more soft spoken original owner. Somehow we even changed the name to Team Johan. I recalled laughing under my breath when we broke from team huddles shouting “Team Johan”! That’s the kind of power he had. We formed a contemporary Odd Couple. He was the wildcard, Oscar Madison to my straight arrow, Felix Unger. We lost touch over the years as we both got busy with work and raising kids. That was until yesterday.

Johan’s caller id showed up on my iPhone. After years of no contact, we picked up right where we left off. Sadly, the first order of business was to learn about old classmates who passed away. A mutual friend got into a motorcycle accident and his body was never the same. He had a kidney transplant to deal with complications from the accident and never recovered. He was on a roll as I learned about one of his business associates succumbing to a drug overdose. Finally, one of his fellow basketball weekend warriors died mysteriously and suddenly. He left behind a wife and daughter. He was our age. Taking it all in, I numbly replied, “Wow, why is it when we catch up these days it is all about who we know who died?” He deadpanned, “It’s because we’re getting old.”

That opened the floodgates to my recent visit to Costco. They were having free health screenings. I got my blood pressure measured and I was normal. They measured my cholesterol levels and gave me some bad news. My total cholesterol level was normal, but my good cholesterol was way below average. As a result, I have a higher chance of cardiac arrest. I wondered, “How could this be? I’ve been measured before and there were never any warning signs. Why all of a sudden do I have way below average cholesterol?” As the pharmacist continued her consultation she said, “There’s not much I can do because it is hereditary.” I got a second opinion from a medical practitioner friend and he said to exercise more every day. I’ve taken it to heart and am trying to add some exercise into my daily routine. After Johan heard this, he shared that his total cholesterol is above normal because of all the junk food he’s eating. He also threw in that he’s going to get his colon examined. His older brother was diagnosed with colon cancer. It felt like Mel Gibson and Rene Russo showing each other their battle scars in Lethal Weapon.

We then shifted gears on our kids. This naturally led to college planning and retirement. We traded some war stories from the stock market and how we survived the Great Recession. We shared our IRA and 401k moves. We both wondered out loud how we can retire early with college tuition in the tens of thousands. He was looking at private high school for his two kids which would set him back even further.

We both love basketball and played whenever we could. He made it to his favorite court and was about to have a Sunday run. I was happy to hear he was still playing and filled him in that I made a basketball comeback as well. I wished him a good run and joked, “Too bad you can’t give me some of your good cholesterol to lower your total cholesterol then we both would be alright.” Life is short. If I momentarily forgot I was in the next phase of my life, I know it now.

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