The year was 2006 and my life was in turmoil. I was breaking up with my long-term boyfriend and leaving our big suburban house with the in-ground pool to move into an empty apartment with 4 lawn chairs and my 2 cats. Up until that moment, I had everything – minus a great relationship. On top of being forced into a Life Reboot at an age I always pictured I would be marrying and starting my family – my dad was dying. His death taught me so much about my life and helped carry me through that dark period. I’ll forever be thankful for his death. His death taught me a little bit about myself and inspired my continued resilience. He continues to teach me life lessons from his grave. I’m willing to bet you have a lost loved one who does the same for you.
Lessons In Simple Living
My dad was a simple man. He was born in 1917 and lived through decades of turbulence, jubilance, and excess. He had a 7th-grade education and did his best to teach himself his various interests throughout his time on this planet.
He was happy as a clam to live a simple, frugal life. His joys came from simple pleasures. He loved spending time with family and friends, eating ice cream, driving his VW bus, and tinkering around in his workshed. He enjoyed making flower beds and maintaining our home. He took delight in watching baseball on TV and having coffee with my mother.
I can remember them having coffee dates before trendy shops were A Thing. They would venture to a local diner and sit for an hour or two just talking to each other about EVERYTHING under the sun. They weren’t spending much money and they were strengthening their bond in the process.
We lived in a tiny trailer home and this is something I didn’t appreciate until recently. I had spent the majority of my 20s and 30s trying to validate my success by getting into a big house. After my now husband and I almost bought that big house we couldn’t comfortably afford, I took a long hard look as to WHY I was putting myself in such a financially compromised position. After all, was it really worth the worry and heart palpitations I was experiencing? Then I remembered how happy and proud my father was to live in our paid off trailer home and how little stress he had because of it. And I remembered how happy I was to live in our trailer home and how I look back at my childhood with nothing but fond memories.
I knew at that moment we had to make changes and live against the grain. We didn’t need that big house to prove anything to anyone. We needed to cancel the contract, stay in our small home, and concentrate on building wealth and living stress-free. I’m certain this is what my dad would tell us to do. I envisioned he would motion with his hand as to shush the idea away and say something like, “Don’t do it, you don’t need that stress. What will it get you? You already have a nice home.” So, I listened.
For my dad, nothing was better than enjoying time at home. He didn’t spend money on traveling. He didn’t spend money on eating out. He didn’t spend money on expensive clothes or fast cars. He didn’t spend money on much of anything. He also never felt deprived. His life was simple and he would’ve had it no other way.
Side Note: I’m not that old; he had me when he was “old” 🙂 There was quite an age difference between my parents and I was born when he was the tender age of 57. Another lesson, you’re NEVER too old. Never.
Lessons In Frugality
My dad lived through The Great Depression and was risk averse as a result. He didn’t know anything about building wealth, but he did know that living below his means meant living stress-free. I can still envision him pulling out the envelopes that he and my mother kept in a fireproof safe under their bed – just one step up from hiding it between the mattresses. They had an envelope for taxes, heating oil, insurance, Christmas, and anything else they felt could come their way.
I would often accompany him to the bank on payday when he would cash his check and ask for small bills. We would then go home to allocate the cash into the necessary envelopes. As a custodian, he never had much excess, but he would always make sure we had money to pay the monthly bills and extra set aside to cover any unforeseen emergencies.
He wouldn’t buy anything before doing his research or trying to find a lower-cost alternative. He knew how hard he worked for his money and, as a result, he did everything possible to keep it. He would’ve loved the idea of FIRE and I’m sorry he didn’t live long enough to enjoy my journey. Interestingly, his early lessons about simple living and frugality helped me get excited about such a lifestyle.
Related: The ORIGINAL Tiny House
Lessons In Life
The man I remember taught me these most important life lessons:
- Slow down
- Most things aren’t emergencies and most things don’t require immediate attention
- Don’t allow things to stress you out – it solves nothing
- Don’t allow people to use you or take you for granted
- And never, NEVER let anything stand in the way of a good night’s sleep
- And, always eat some ice cream
My father lived to be 90 years old and, ironically, he was never old. Up until the morning he died, he lived each day as if he had another 90 years in front of him. A week before he died, he asked me to help him stand up and walk around so he could get stronger and get back to normal. He was a fighter. He was THAT frog.
Related: Why We Love Being At Home
Lessons From The Grave
My father passed away on the morning of Christmas Eve in 2006. He was in a nursing home and I was the only person with him. The nurses told us we had a few days before he would fade into eternity – they were wrong. My mother left the faciity to run a few errands and pick up family members for a final farewell. I stayed with him for a few minutes before I noticed his breathing starting to slow. I panicked. I went for the buzzer to call the nursing staff, and then, I stopped. I stopped and thought about how he would want to pass away. Would he want it to happen with a flurry of strangers hovering over him checking his vitals, or would he want it to be simple and quiet with me holding his hand, whispering in his ear, and stroking his head? The answer was easy, and that is how he exited his 90 years of life on earth and breathed new vitality into mine.
After his death, I started my long trek out of the darkest point in my life.
I painted on canvases, I recited poems, I danced.
I took pictures of the church where he had worked as a custodian and had them framed. I hung them, along with the hammer he used in his workshed, on the stark wall of my empty apartment. Anytime I needed inspiration to keep moving forward, I glanced at his memorial hanging on the wall and I reminded myself that he is still with me and teaching me how to live.
His lessons are in my being and I am passing them along to my daughter. Sadly, he passed away a few years before my daughter was born. She will never know her Pap Pap in the flesh, but she will learn what he would’ve taught her, through me. I celebrate his life by living mine with the principles he instilled in me.
The peope we surround ourselves with, relatives or not, influence the nature of our being. We incorporate their habits and thoughts into our own. I am proud to have had a father who lived simply and lived fully.
I am far from perfect. I made mistakes. I stayed in the wrong relationships for way too long. I spent money that I should’ve invested. And I didn’t realize the gravity of those mistakes until a significant amount of time had passed. Today, I’m certain my dad would be proud to see the person I have become, despite those mistakes. Besides, he had mistakes of his own. We all do.
Today I sit here with a master’s degree, a high-paying career, and a wonderful family. It took me some time to get it right, but by incorporating my father’s way of living into my life after his death, I was able to create a satisfying path of my own. For that, I am thankful. His hammer still hangs in our family room, and we still use it. It is a constant reminder of the life he lived and the way in which I continue to construct mine.
If the communication happens to go both ways, I want you to know this:
I will never say I can’t do something.
I will never say I’m too old.
I will never force myself to stay up late when I’m tired.
And, I will always have some ice cream.
Thank you for everything <3
Do you have a lost loved one who continues to touch your life and teach you lessons? I would love to hear from each and every one of my readers. Tell me about your special someone in the comments. Let’s celebrate their life!
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