On The Shortness of Life


I’m an optimist. You might even accuse me of being overly-optimistic most of the time. By and large, the personal finance blogger community is filled with similar people. I think it’s because ultimately, hope and success in personal finance go hand in hand.

Sometimes, though, things don’t go as planned. Sometimes tragic and painful things happen to us, or to the people we love, and we’re at a loss to fit such awful tragedy into our narrative of outrageous optimism. Sometimes we have setbacks. Sometimes we lose people we love.

A Conspicuous Absence

I’ve written a tiny bit about it in the past, but the future Mrs. Vagabond lost her mother very suddenly and tragically early last year. Her presence in my fiancée’s life is felt every day, whether it be a hummingbird that she sees as a gesture of her absent momma, or in the many legal and financial papers that have trickled in over these past months.

Perhaps most keenly felt has been her absence as we approach our wedding date. The future Mrs. V’s mom will never see her daughter married. She’ll never see us have children. She’ll never share a Christmas or a New Year’s with our family, and she’ll never be there again when we bring home silly gifts from our travels. Even though she wasn’t my mom, it breaks my heart that every one of the joyful moments of the future will be tinged, at least a little bit, with heartache.

On the day that I spoke to my fiancée’s father to ask for his blessing to marry his daughter, I picked him up at his house. I told him that his daughter was going to meet us at the cemetery to visit with her mother for a bit before we went on a trip. Once we arrived, I revealed to my fiancée’s dad that his daughter wasn’t coming. I just wanted to be able to ask both of her parents if they would accept me into their family, and if they could consent to join mine.

Loss is hard, and sometimes the perfect moments we had imagined are reduced to being the best we can make of a tough situation.

The Shortness of Life: Living is Urgent

Despite the sad subject matter of this post, I still find reason to be hopeful. The short and uncertain nature of life gives us reason to live intensely and honestly. Part of processing loss for the future Mrs. V and I has meant a lot of conversations about what we mean to each other, and what we’d do without one other. I take some comfort in knowing that even though we’re far from our goal, what we’ve invested so far will make sure that my future Mrs. will be cared for.

I don’t want to die, but as I’ve said to my future Mrs. a number of times over the past year, “I may die tomorrow, but first, I lived.” I don’t mean that last part to be overwrought, but it’s an honest expression of my thoughts about uncertainty. Sure, I save every penny that I can towards our future. Though some might conclude that we deprive ourselves, we live fantastic, full-to-bursting, amazing lives. We find clever ways to indulge our passion for travel, and find that our positive outlook brings us into contact with countless people. We don’t hesitate to make friends with people we meet in passing. We tell our friends that we love them as often as we dare– and we dare pretty often.

I am sure that this kind of recognition of mortality is par for the course when you’re a normal human being, but maybe we don’t talk about it enough. It helps me to work out my thoughts on financial independence and early retirement, because even though we’re not putting off doing the things we love, we are racing as quickly as possible towards a day when the urgent business of living gets our undivided attention.

So yeah. Life is good. Being alive is good. Really, really, really living– is great.

16 thoughts on “On The Shortness of Life

  1. Ty @ Get Rich Quickish

    Classy move Mr. Vagabond, asking both parents. I’m sure your then fiancé and her father appreciated the gesture.

    I’m firmly in the camp of “stuff doesn’t matter”, and that’s EXACTLY why I’m pursuing FI so aggressively – so that I’ll have the freedom to spend my time on things that bring lasting happiness!

  2. Pia @ Mama Hustle

    I’ve been doing a lot of checking in on what it means for me to be happy. If something did happen, and I died tomorrow, would I have lived? Would I have accomplished anything that really contributed to my life? Did I invest in my own happiness?

    No easy answers, of course, so I’m just going to leave you with this quote:
    “We only live once. If we do it right, once is enough.”
    – Mae West

  3. Mr. Enchumbao

    Having gone through this myself this year I know exactly what you’re going through. You seem to be making the best out of your relationships with your loved ones and that’s the way to live a life without regrets. Her mom will be there in spirit watching her girl walk down the isle.

  4. The Green Swan

    What a thoughtful move taking your future father in law to the cemetery. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, I can’t imagine losing someone suddenly who should have had so much more life to live. Very touching post, thanks.

  5. earlyretirementnow

    Great post and a very touching story. And a very decent and classy way you carried yourself through this. Your future wife and her family are very fortunate to have you. Congrats on the engagement!
    As for me: It’s no longer just the parent’s generation but even my own (among relatives, friends, colleagues) that faces mortality. Not just life-threatening and life-changing illness but even death. All the more reason to accelerate that FIRE move.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, ERN. I’m grateful for the kind words, and it always means a lot to me when my fiancée tells the story to others. I know it touched her too, and despite how bittersweet it was, I wanted her to know that her mom will always be a part of our story.

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