This week marks a somber anniversary for my family. Last year, Jack Birdwell died unexpectedly. He was my mom’s youngest brother and always Uncle Jack to me. Jack was larger than life. Jack was the youngest child of a post-World War II Texas family. He settled down in Oklahoma, married the love of is life, and raised two sons cherishing his two grandkids. He worked hard and played hard.
I will remember Uncle Jack as the Santa Claus for each Birdwell family Christmas. He also put on the same costume each year when he played Santa for underprivileged kids making dreams come true delivering bikes and toys that were everything to those kids. Jack was a jokester, the life of the party, and along with his wife, Pam Birdwell, he told the best stories.
I flew to Uncle Jack’s funeral in Oklahoma City early last May and arrived about 30 minutes before the service. The halls were crowded with friends. I was directed to a designated room for the family. But as I entered this smaller room, which was no less crowded, I realized that Jack’s family could not be contained within these smaller walls. All of Uncle Jack’s friends, neighbors, and co-workers were there to pay their respects to a man who made everyone feel like family.
Uncle Jack never got to retire. He died in his early 60s. But he never waited to live the life he dreamed of. He made the most of his time with family, especially at Lake Tenkiller. He made memories filled with laughter and humor for so many, especially his family and himself. On this anniversary, I am so sad and angry that we all lost time with Uncle Jack. I just cannot comprehend how he missed out on so many more years than he had earned and deserved with his beloved wife, Pam, his sons Jake and Jordan, and his grandkids.
Uncle Jack, his sudden death, and his funeral have weighed heavily on my professional perspective for these past twelve months. As a financial planner, I focus on helping people envision their future and care for their future selves. My job is to help you retire and live the life you want for years. But what happens when you never get to that retirement finish line?
Financial planning can never only care for your future self. Financial advice must also encourage a full life for the current you whenever possible. Pursue your passions. Live your dreams. All in a way that will not compromise your financial safety for the long-term—it is my job to help you with that. Imagine if Uncle Jack had waited for the Gator that he immediately drove into a mud pit, the campfires and booze cruises on the lake, and all the laughter and living he shared with all those he helped to feel like family.
It is a new year and a painful anniversary for the Birdwell’s. I have needed to write about Jack, his life, and the lessons I have carried in my heart for 365 days. And wouldn’t you know that now we are living in a pandemic? Coronavirus has made us all face new demons of uncertainty, fragility, and forced adaptation. We know people whose lives have been cut short or threatened. And still, I think of a funeral in Oklahoma in the spring of 2019 when a pandemic sounded like science fiction.
I pledge to you, my current and future clients, that I will see you for your life today as well as the life you want to create for tomorrow. I encourage you to hug those you love, call the friend you have lost touch with, and express your wishes even if they scare you a little bit. Uncle Jack would tell you to live your dreams, buy the gator, and promptly get it stuck in the mud. If you can make that into a story that your wife and kids will be telling your grandkids and their children for the next 50 years, that is even better. Do not let him down.
Melissa Joy, CFP®, CDFA® is the President of Pearl Planning and a Wealth Advisor for Raymond James Financial Services. Reach out for a call today at 734.274.6744. Address: 8031 Main St. Suite 302 Dexter, MI 48130