Updated on 09.29.14

Five Lessons My Friend’s Passing Taught Me

Trent Hamm

As I mentioned in yesterday’s morning roundup, a close friend of mine passed away over the weekend. I rushed back to my hometown area and spent three days seeing family and friends and attending a visitation, a gathering that amounted to a wake, and an emotional funeral. It’s all over now, but I still feel drained.

On my way back to my own home, I spent some time reflecting on the whole event and realized that there were several valuable things I had learned.

Valuable Things I Learned From My Friend’s Passing

1. Frugality, living cheap, and poverty are in the eye of the beholder.

My friend was financially poor, but he didn’t feel ashamed of it. In fact, it was almost a badge of pride for him. He owned everything he needed – a home, an old pickup truck to drive around in, and a small shop for mechanical work. These kept him occupied and very happy in his later years. He made no pretense of having money – you would go visit him and he’d be sitting there in one of the two t-shirts he constantly wore and a pair of blue jeans. In fact, that was how he was buried – in his favorite t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans – because no one could imagine him wearing anything else.

Was he cheap? Was he frugal? Was he poor? He had more money than we had ever expected, as his children found out during his final days. He just realized that if he had the things that brought him a lot of joy – his family, his friends, his home, his truck, and his mechanical shed – he didn’t really need anything else.

2. The lessons people teach you sometimes sneak up on you.

For most of my life, I just thought of him as a close family friend, but over the last few days, I realized that he actually taught me a lot of things about life. He was always strongly encouraging me to speak well, because the words you speak build the impression others had of you. My impression of him? He shot straight and didn’t mince words – when he said something, it might be on the gruff side but it was worth listening to.

He also taught me that time spent lounging around entertaining yourself in front of a television was time wasted. Until the end of his life, when he was too weak to do much else, he watched at most an hour of television a week. Instead, he was outside doing something – gardening, working in his shop, or something along those lines.

3. You don’t realize how much you miss a person until they’re gone.

I visited him a few times when he was sick, but he always seemed like such a strong guy that when I heard he was sick, it really didn’t shake me too much. I just couldn’t visualize him in my head getting sick. I intended to visit him over the summer, but between moving and the birth of my daughter, I never was able to make the long trip back there, so I had to say goodbye to him at his visitation. I’ll miss him, and I regret not getting a chance to really say goodbye.

This weekend, I’m going to talk to a few older people who are very important to me and tell them how important they are, so that if something happens to them, I know I talked to them and told them.

4. Don’t regret the mistakes and the choices you make.

When I was in early high school, I had a tremendous crush on a young woman in my local area. After I moved away, I didn’t see her again for about ten years – until a few days ago. I sat with her for a while at the visitation and talked to her – and I realized pretty quickly that I made the right decision in giving up on that dream.

There were times when I was at college where I thought about what might have happened if I had really tried to win her over. You know what? It doesn’t matter – and neither do the other choices left on the table from earlier in life. The value of what I have now – an amazing wife and two wonderful children – far exceed even the best things that I could ever imagine from the things I left behind.

5. Success is what you make of it.

Almost five hundred people turned up at this man’s visitation, and nearly three hundred were at his graveside funeral. We might be chasing a dollar in our lives, but what is a dollar worth compared to having that much impact on so many lives?

He might not have had a huge savings account balance, but he had a very nice accounting sheet when it came to love and respect from others. Which would I rather have in my final days?

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  1. MS says:

    “Almost five hundred people turned up at this man’s visitation, and nearly three hundred were at his graveside funeral”

    He sounds like a rich man, regardless of his bank account.

  2. Susy says:

    Deepest sympathies on the loss of your friend.

  3. Mariette says:

    Good wisdom for us all to try to follow.

  4. Mulan says:

    How sweet! He sounded like a great guy!

  5. Chris says:

    Sounds like he had a very full life exactly like he wanted it. He lives on in your post, the ideals he helped instill in you, and the people you are spreading his ideals to.
    I too decided this year, that I would have no regrets. I went back over all the disasters in life and found the really good things that came out of them. In every single case I realized the pain or hardship was worth the opportunity or life lesson. At the same time I realized that only I control my path in life.

    I just wanted to thank you for writing a very useful and sometimes touching blog.

  6. Michiko says:

    First off, my condolences to you for the loss of your friend.

    I agree with your first comment about how it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned about finances is that being financially free of debt is not a status only available to a few select people. Rather, through frugality I too can be debt free in a realistic amount of time.

    Also what you said about considering what you need also rings true. Am I truly deprived because I can’t afford designer name brands? What would I value more, having designer name brands and worrying myself sick over paying bills or making careful well thought out purchases and sleeping soundly at night.

  7. Jason Rehmus says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss.

  8. Bob says:

    My condolences.

    Don’t forget to live in the moment with everyone you love. Including your wife. Mine died a couple of months ago, and I suddenly am so grateful for all the intense living and loving we packed into the 1990’s before she became ill. At the time, the pace seemed a little much and I was tempted to focus more on work. I’m so glad I didn’t!

  9. Ana says:

    Your post brought back a lot of good memories for me as the situation you described with your friend was exactly how I grew up–almost everyone was a farmer or rancher, they all wore the standard t-shirt/flannel shirt and blue jeans, they worked hard, lived frugally (actually it wasn’t frugal back then, it was just common sense), most all had a pretty good-sized bankroll but one would never know it by the clothes they wore or the cars they drove, and most importantly they made the world a better place just by being here.

    My condolences on your loss but at the same time congratulations on realizing the great value of the impact that a life lived well can have on others. I’m sure your friend was proud to know you.

  10. Daisy says:

    Condolences to you. I guess all I can say is there’s always hope you’ll see him again.

    He sounded like a really cool and contented guy. I bet you have a lot of wonderful memories of him.

  11. Rob in Madrid says:

    Wow what an epitaph to have. Beautifully written.

  12. mark says:

    Beautiful post. Your friends seemed like a great guy… You know, sometimes I find myself judging you or JD over at Get Rich Slowly by seeing the world exclusively through the money lenses and I know I get trapped into that hole too… but when you posts something like this it puts things into the right perspective. Thank you!

  13. Amit says:

    This is my first visit to your website and i am deeply touched by this article.

    You friend seemed to be a really nice person.

    My deep condolences to you.

    – Amit

  14. Miss Paula says:

    Thank you for a concise and well-written article. During times of great change–marriage, birth of a child, death of family member or friend–our hearts are tender towards those things in life that REALLY matter. I appreciate the fact that your heart has been made tender and, through the writing of your article, your readers’ hearts have been touched, also.

  15. Wow! What a reality check. I needed to hear tht today. Thank you so much for sharing. Life is so short.

    Matt Sullivan, CEO
    Credit Dusters, Inc

  16. tehnyit says:

    Losing someone close to you is never easy to deal with. In our busy lives, sometimes, it needs a major event like a death to snap us back to understand some of the real aspects of life.

    I totally agree about not to regret about the choices we made. It is not something we can change, live for the present and for our futures.

  17. ~an* says:

    Well written reflection. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s events like this that triggers a wave of reflection and learning for the better.

    Sometimes I wonder how come everyone is so caught up with work they deprive themselves so much of the things they truly love.

  18. Frank Kelly says:

    On regrets . . . . there’s a song from Garth Brooks – it’s a little sappy but the point is true nonetheless “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.

    The only thing worse than death is not having truly “lived” and what is life but moments with people you love.


  19. Greg Helms says:

    I am sorry for your loss. However, in passing, your friend provided you with a great gift.

    Excellent post; one of the best ever on your site.


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