November 3rd 1997. Twenty years ago, today.
It was on this day that my dad passed away from cancer. I was 15 years and 5 days old. He was 5 weeks away from his 47th birthday. He was diagnosed 18 months earlier with mesothelioma, which is a rare form of aggressive cancer for which there is no current cure.
It’s a cancer that is caused by asbestos. My dad was a structural engineer and in his early career, worked for local authorities on building projects where it was likely there was asbestos in the roofs of buildings. With this cancer, the symptoms can take 20-50 years to appear, but far less time to inflict their damage.
I’m going to try and make this post an upbeat one and focus on some of the positives and realities that this kind of situation can bring. I understand that people don’t want to be depressed reading one of my blog posts!!
I am the youngest of three children. I have two older sisters who were 18 and 21 at the time. The first thing to note is that I often look back and am grateful for having 15 years and at least the chance to get to know my dad. I know lots of people who weren’t fortunate to have that opportunity. I have memories, pictures and some videos that - although hard to watch - do have a comforting effect. This is something I’ve tried to pass on to friends or even clients when this situation has arisen for them in subsequent years. It takes time to come to this realisation but it’s a good point of view to hold.
I’m grateful that throughout his illness, which was punctuated with cancer-free spells, my mum, my sisters and I were able to process what was happening. It wasn’t a ‘here today gone tomorrow’ situation that I now think would have been far harder to deal with. I think my mum might have a different perspective of this as she had to watch him suffer and go through chemotherapy etc. I feel somewhat sheltered from those times, maybe it’s my memory choosing only positive times to look back on. I choose not to think about the difficulties she went through and it’s not something we talk about often. I was speaking with a friend whose dad passed away around the same time from a heart attack. I said that I imagined that to be a harder reality to take. With time it’s another positive from our difficult situation.
I have two kids myself and another on the way, I’m now grateful that my dad was around for the younger years to help my mum! I think they raised us all to be pretty independent, but had he passed away earlier, this would have been a far more difficult situation for us as a family. One of the effects of losing a parent - in my experience - is that I’m much more aware of my own mortality. I worry (not all the time!!) that something will happen to me whilst the kids are young, I fear they won’t have the memories I have or get to know who I am or feel how much they’re loved etc. I do know it’s pretty irrational, but it is a difficult feeling to shake.
The most positive effect in my view is that I’m able to see a bigger picture in most situations. I can be extremely philosophical. By this I mean that whatever happens to me in life, it is unlikely to be as big an issue as one I’ve already faced. Nothing is unsurmountable! Of course, annoyances and frustrations happen every day, but I’m able to move on from them quite quickly. It’s often extremely annoying for my wife, whilst worrying about something or other to be told it’s not that big of an issue. She gets it, but I’ve learned to become diplomatic about when to utilise that way of thinking and when to just shut up and be supportive!
I’m grateful that my dad had lots of life insurance and critical illness policies in place. This allowed him to support my mum financially for years to come and it really lessened the burden on me and my sisters. I know friends who have had to support the surviving parent because the main breadwinner died, leaving the spouse left with very little and unable to rebuild their career to support their life. It sounds a little like a sales pitch, but I preach insurance to all my clients with families. As with any insurance, it’s frustrating to pay for something monthly with potentially no financial gain. However, the second you need it, it’s the best thing you’ll have spent money on and the benefits can run into decades.
I’ve spoken about this next point with clients recently, I’m grateful that my mum and dad taught me what’s important in life. It’s a key lesson I try to live by and now it filters into my business and the advice I impart to clients.
I grew up thinking we were firmly established in the middle class (without knowing what that term meant, I thought we were comfortable financially). Dad owned his own business, we had a nice house, lots of holidays and he used to buy and fix up old Aston Martins and Ferraris (not as costly or lucrative as it is today). However, only recently my mum told me that they pretty much lived hand to mouth. They spent what they earned on holidays and time with us as kids. Now in hindsight with what happened, this was a brilliant strategy. My dad was lucky enough to live his life to the full rather than having lots of money and no life only to pass away at age 46. This gives me the perspective to tell clients that it’s not ALL about the money.
Life can change very quickly, and you need to make sure you’ve lived, you loved, you’ve travelled, you’ve created or you’ve done whatever it is you’re passionate about because if not, seriously what’s the point?
Coming back to my own business, this is one of the key messages. Am I helping clients to live? Living hand to mouth whilst spending everything is not a great strategy. Saving everything without living isn’t the way forward either. Everything in life has a balance and helping people find it is a great feeling.
The above is only my view. I can only tell my kids, my friends, my clients how I see the world from my perspective. It doesn’t mean I’m right. It means that I know myself and what I stand for. It means I care about what happens to my clients.
It also means that I enjoy listening to other people’s perspectives, and this will no doubt help shape my future thoughts and Engage’s future strategies. I’ll finish by saying how important it is to me to keep life in perspective. It’s all about how YOU see it.