Attending Your Own Funeral: Thoughts on Finances and Legacies

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

As part of my job as an anesthesiologist, I get called to truly horrific airway events.  Sometimes they are down in the emergency department after a bad car accident, drowning, or burn.  Others are in ICU’s.  Sometimes they are even in hallways or bathrooms where people have stopped breathing or collapsed from cardiac arrest.  It’s part of the job.

Recently, I was called to an airway in an ICU in what became a surreal experience.  Upon arrival, I was informed that the patient who needed to be intubated had a a non-survivable injury, but that they were completely alert, awake, and “with it.”  Oh, and there were about 20-25 friends and family present.

After watching some of their interactions it became clear that something spectacular was happening.  The patient was attending their own funeral.  They were cognizant enough to have conversations with these people that clearly loved this patient. They shared memories and times together.  And so much more.

They all recognized their loved one was going to die and wanted to spend the last few moments sharing what mattered most to them.

While driving home from work that same day a person didn’t see me coming and turned left in front of me. I almost T-boned her.  Honestly, it probably would have killed us both if I wasn’t driving a sports sedan.  Thank God for my lack-of-frugality Brembo brakes.

All of this really got me thinking about one question:

What legacy will I leave behind?

This question can, of course, be answered in so many different ways.  Listening to the family members and friends from the story above share with this man on his death bed made me think a lot about this.  So did almost dying in a car accident 30 minutes later.

What exactly would my friends and family say about me?

Would they say that I served others and loved people unconditionally regardless of their station in life?  Would they say that I put others first?  Was I a good husband, father, and friend?

So many questions ran through my head.  What are my priorities? Am I achieving my goals? Will I have any regrets if I left this life today?  And what would my kids think about me?

Questions I didn’t ask

There were just as many questions that I later realized never came to mind when the above situations occurred.

Given the depth and breadth of the topics covered on this website mainly focused on helping high-income earners build wealth and wellness, it might surprise you that none of the questions that entered my mind had anything to do with money.

How much money will I have or need?

If you or I die, how much money do we need?  The answer, of course, is none.  My family will need plenty of money, but I have protection there with life my term life insurance policy.

This one was as far from my mind as the east is from the west.  Money was not on my mind as I watched those family members morn the loss of a loved one before they died.  I was in awe of how much they loved this person and the memories that they cherished and shared.

Did I invest my money the right way?

My investment philosophy and investment techniques were not on my mind either.  I wasn’t even concerned about my savings rate.  Surely, I’ve spent ample time taking care of my family’s finances in the unlikely event of my premature death.

The fact is that money is not the end all be all.  It is a means to an end, but we rarely live our life in a way that reflects this truth.  Money will rule everything around us if we let it.

Did I work enough?

Particularly in shift work specialties, many doctors consider a missed shift money lost.  This prevents us from taking vacations, spending weekends with our kids, and causes eventual burnout.

I’ve never seen anyone on their death bed – including the person mentioned above – that talked about work.  They never mention the unfinished project, the money they missed out on, or the aims that they never achieved.

It’s about faith, family, and friends.  Every. Single. Time.  We should learn from this.

You Only Live Once (YOLO)

We have all heard the above phrase.  YOLO.  There are few things more true than this. It is a fact that you only live and die once.  That said, a YOLO perspectives often produces hedonism.  Buy what you want.  Eat what you want.  Do what you want.

YOLO tells us that we aren’t promised tomorrow; only today.

This kind of thinking is worthless, of course, if you end up living substantially longer and didn’t prepare for the much more likely event that you live a long life instead of an early demise. In fact, the more common problem is that people don’t have enough saved for retirement.

It also doesn’t take into account many religious views, which teach quite the opposite of YOLO.

People Only Live Once (POLO)

The YOLO perspective is inherently selfish, which I think lacks a lot of perspective.  Regardless of your religious convictions, we clearly weren’t born to be alone.  Since the beginning of human existence, we have always created and cultivated communities.

For this reason, we should think more in terms of “People Only Live Once” or POLO.  This places the emphasis not on ourselves, but on other people.  If we start living our life thinking of others first, we might have a different set of answers to what we want to accomplish in this life.

Given the above experience, it made me wonder – if I were to die tomorrow – what I would wish I had done more of in this life.  Here’s the first five things that popped into my head:

  1. Empower and love my wife
  2. Spend time with my kids
  3. Invest in my family
  4. Help others avoid pitfalls that they should know exist (hence, this website)
  5. Give abundantly to those in need (another goal of this website)

The items in the above list are honestly the first five things that popped into my head.  It says a lot about who I am and what I hold close to my heart, even if I don’t always do the best at showing that every day.

Take Home

All of us only live once, which means we only have one life to show the people around us how much they mean to us, how much we cherish them, and to love them the way that they deserve.

Take some time to inventory what is most important to you and if that is where you are spending your time.  If it’s not, then make some changes.  Tomorrow is never promised and regrets are hard to process after the fact.

In the end, just remember that money is an important means to an end, but it is not the end itself.  It is a tool.  Time is the real end and we all have a limited number of seconds, minutes, hours, and days.  Use that time to do what matters most to you!

Have you ever had a life altering experience that made you contemplate the direction of your life?  Does your current schedule really reflect what matters most to you in life?  What is holding you back?  Leave a comment below.



  1. Xrayvsn

    First off, glad you had those brembo brakes to avoid a serious collision.

    It does take something like that to put all things in perspective which you have nicely done.

    I’m sure it was a sad setting regarding that patient who knew was going to die but still with it, but actually he was given an opportunity to make peace with friends and family in a meaningful way, which I would say the majority of us will never get to do.

    Money is a tool like you said and not the thing that matters when the end does come. Of course knowing I have enough money set aside to provide loved ones with a comfortable life will make me feel great when it is time for me to go.

    Experiences with loved ones and wishing I had more of them would be the thing I would regret if I was to suddenly die before my expected time.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Agreed on all counts, Xrayvsn. Glad for breaks. A super sad situation.

      Even at this early stage in my career I can tell I am going to like more time off to do things outside the hospital that I love. Most of these include spending time with my wife and kids. Right now it feels a bit like 24 hours in the day is not enough at the moment.

  2. Dr. MB

    Well said TPP! Master your money and you will live a wonderful life. If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life being a servant to money instead.

    Money is only meant to help one live the life they really want. Hopefully it is not used for anything more.

    One of the most important things in life are relationships. Money doesn’t even really help with that.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Money is a wonderful servant and a terrible master.

      Someone much wiser than me said that once, I believe.

  3. Doc G

    I like the POLO philosophy. It takes focus off ourselves and puts it on others. I’m glad your close call turned out OK.

  4. Gasem

    This is exactly why I employ a financial adviser. I’m competent to make any decision because it’s my avocation my wife and kids will have a lifetime of needs after m demise and deserve equivalent competent advice. It’s simple to stuff some dough in a brokerage. It’s much more complex to deflate that account in an efficient manner over a lifetime whether that be yours or your legacy. What I want is my wife to say I’m glad he set it up this way.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      You and I are gonna have to agree and disagree on this one, Gasem.

      I agree that to want a good plan in place for my family if I die prematurely. I want someone to help them with it, too.

      Until I die, though, I won’t waste my money with a traditional FA. My wife will have the contacts of some good flat fee hourly advisors for any guidance she may need that I didn’t outline.

  5. Samson

    Excellent article and I happened on your site through Doximity. I have given similar advice to young docs and med students and find your wisdom reassuring. I am not too far from retirement and appreciate you taking care of the 5th thing on your agenda-helping others. Thank you !

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks, Samson! I appreciate the encouragement. Just trying to be a part of the solution to some tough problems.

  6. Cathy Carroll

    You’ve convinced me to book my next vacation and “lose” some shifts.


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