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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : To live and to die » To live and to die

To live and to die

Lamonte - February 26, 2009
I attended the funeral of a friend on Monday.  We had worked together for about 5 years at the Department of Justice.  He was about 18 years older than me but our relationship was like a big and little brother friendship.   

Like me, he had worked in private practice as an architect and then, after losing his shirt a couple of times, decided to become a civil servant with some job and retirement security.  One of the things that I lamented after moving “to the owner’s side of the table” was my lack of passion for architecture – something I had maintained since I was a boy and made the decision to become an architect, but then lost along the way..  But after joining the facilities team at DOJ, and working with my friend, whose name was Dave, for just a few months, somehow my passion returned.  It wasn’t that we were working on any great buildings at the time, but I suspect the nature of our conversations, both at work and during our usual lunch break together, gave me a new sense of enthusiasm.  I will always be grateful to Dave for that.


Dave was 72 when he died and he had only recently retired from the government last May.  Prostate cancer is what eventually took him but he had other health problems during his life.  Once an All-American swimmer at Syracuse in the 50’s Dave tried to maintain his physical activity with swimming and tennis after college but the sedentary life of an architect, with long hours slaving over the drafting table (that’s how us old times did it up until the invention of CADD) had led to Dave gaining significant weight and he had Diabetes and heart disease by the time of his death.  When Dave was in his mid-60’s he once told me that he wanted to stay working until he was at least 68 because that would be is 50th anniversary “in the business.”  Dave went to work for his father’s architectural firm during the summers after high school.  Another friend of Dave’s who had recently retired from government once told him, “Don’t retire because you can, retire because you’ve got something better to do.”  Dave was seriously concerned about retiring and then being bored to death.  And so he continued to work until he had to retire.  In the end it wasn’t boredom that killed him. It was work that took him away from the attending to the important things of life like physical activity, focus on his health and spending time with his grandkids.  I hope that, in the end, Dave was not disappointed that he spent too much time at work.


His death has caused me to ponder many questions.  How can I get back to better health after a sedentary life similar to Dave’s?  When is the best time to stop working?  Is having more money to enjoy your retirement more important than just getting around to retirement and enjoying it – whatever your financial situation is?  Unlike many of the young regular contributors on this post, I am now looking just ahead at retirement and the downhill slope of my lifespan.  I’m not looking at it as a negative thing.  Quite the opposite.  Life becomes richer and more exciting with each passing year.  But I just wonder how many more of those years to plan on.  My father is still alive and he is 34 years older than me.  I’m not sure I want to live that long but I’m also sure I don’t want to die as soon as Dave did.  Just some random thoughts.  Have a good day.



  1. Interesting thoughts. You may not be looking for actual answers to these questions, but here I mine anyway:

    How can I get back to better health after a sedentary life similar to Dave’s?

    That’s probably easier than you think. Just find an activity that you enjoy (walking, running, swimming, biking, aerobics, yoga, rock-climbing, lacross, whatever) and join a group that does it at least a couple times per week. Sometimes these groups are free, sometimes not, but whatever they cost, it’s money well spent. You can exercise on your own, but the chances you’ll stick with it are far greater if you join a group.

    When is the best time to stop working? Is having more money to enjoy your retirement more important than just getting around to retirement and enjoying it – whatever your financial situation is?

    I think only you can decide when the right time to retire is, but I suspect that you will enjoy retirement a lot more if you have built a finacial cushion and know at least approximately how long that cushion is going to last. Apart from that, I think you need to have a plan for how you are going to spend your time.

    I always have enjoyed working and don’t plan to ever retire until I have something that I enjoy doing as much as working (for me, that’s practicing law). To some people, what I end up doing in retirement might look a lot like working, but to me, if I’m making some money doing something I really love, it won’t be work, it’ll be fun. I hope to do something in the music industry or write the great American novel, but we’ll see. The point is that you have talents and interests other than your work. Find out what they are and incorporate them into your retirement plans.

    My condolences on the loss of your friend, and my very best wishes for your plans for the future.

    Comment by MCQ — February 26, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

  2. Thanks for your comments MCQ. As evidence of my age I remembered, after posting this piece, what I really wanted to write about concerning my friend Dave. So I’ll include the comments here.

    During our association at DOJ, Dave and I occasionally discussed my religion. Dave said that he and his wife, Julie, were regular listeners of “Music and the Spoken Word. Dave also told me that he had a friend, a fellow Syracuse swimmer, who told him the Mormon Church saved his life because he was an alcoholic and his wife, a member, convinced him to listen to the missionaries.

    But Dave also told me that his son and daughter were both Evangelical Christians and so we didn’t get very far into the the differences. Dave and I separated in 2003 and we only occasionally talked but when I heard of his illness and retirement I went to visit him in November. I could see and feel that Dave was really at peace with his situation and then he told me he had become a born again Christian. He also told me that on that very day of my visit, his swimmer friend has driven from Richmond, VA, to see him in Fairfax County and that his friend, whose name was John, told him that day that he should become a Mormon. John gave him a Book of Mormon.

    I met John at the funeral and we briefly discussed Dave choices about religion. John said he felt like that wasn’t really the time to press the issue and I stated my satisfaction that Dave had finally made peace with God. John said he knew that by now Dave knew the truth.

    So I find myself wondering if I was a good enough missionary during the time that I knew Dave. Should I have been more persistent when Dave’s life was in a different condition? And yet a I can’t help but remember the peace I felt in his spirit that day of my visit.

    Comment by lamonte — February 26, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

  3. I think you have to trust your feelings on this, Lamonte. They sound right to me.

    Comment by MCQ — February 27, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

  4. Lamonte: I was 46 years old and 45 pounds overweight when I changed my eating/exercising lifestyle. It took 4.5 years to lose the 45 pounds. Slow is the best way. Don’t diet, becaues when the diet ends, you go right back to the eating habits that caused the obesity.

    The solution is a permanent change in eating and exercising habits. That way, you “ease” into your goal weight, so when you reach it, you just keep your new eating habits.

    I had to learn to eschew candy and sweet desserts just like I eschew alcohol and tobacco. “Sorry, I don’t ingest that stuff any more.” Period. “Harmful substances”, to me at least, now include high caloric, high fat, and high sugar items. I’m big on fiber, fruit and veggies, and lean meats.

    Tips and tricks: Citrucell bulk fiber as a tummy filler abotu 1/2 hour before eating. A can of no-salt-added green beans (70 calories) with a little no-salt seasoning, late at night if I have to munch on something. Don’t even bring high calorie stuff into the house. 12 to 14 ounces of lean beef or chicken a day. Aerobic exercise for 2.5 to 3 hours a week (5 days of 30 minutes each is better than 3 days of 1 hour each).


    I joined a gym, and I was so out of shape that just walking 4.5 mph on a treadmill got me into the heart-rate target zone.

    Max heart rate = 220 – age.
    Target rate (aerobic, for optimum cardio-vascular benefit) = 80% of max heart rate.

    As I got in shape, I could increase the incline of the treadmill and still keep walking. At the gym, they have a smart treadmill that you grab the sensors, and you program in your weight and age and desired speed, and it automatically adusts the incline based on your heart rate to keep it in the target zone.

    Once I got in shape, I could then go 85% to 90% of max heart, and increased by calorie burn rate.

    Then I transitioned from walking on treadmill to an elliptical, which increase the number of calories I could burn per unit of time. THEN the pounds came off faster.

    I didn’t want to jog until I lost most of the weight, because I didn’t want to damage ankles and knees.

    WHen I got within 10 to 15 pounds of desired weight, I started to jog on the treadmill (treadmills have a degree of shock-absorption built in), starting at 5.0 mph, and worked my way up to 6.0 mph. It hurt, but after a few weeks, I could increase my speed.

    When I could jog 30 minutes at 6.0 mpg (3 miles), then I transitioned to real outdoor jogging.

    I couldn’t jog 2 miles continuous outdoors (even though I could jog 3 miles on a treadmill), because “real” jogging uses more (and slightly different) muscles than treadmill jogging.

    But I jogged as far as I could, walked, then jogged again when I could (all in a given workout) , and it took me a month, but finally I could jog 2.5 miles straight, then I worked up to 4, then to 5.

    When you “get back into shape” after age 40 or 50, it takes a lot longer than people in their 20′s or 30′s. So it takes patience and faith that it can be done.

    I “testify” that as long as there is nothing permanently wrong or damaged, that being overweight and out-of-shape can be “repented of” even if you’re over 40 or over 50. It just takes longer.

    Do plenty of stretching and warm up. Now, I can touch my knuckles to the floor and hold them there without bending my knees,and can momentarily touch palms to floor. I do a 10 minute walk-jog-walk (1/4 mile at 4.1 mph – 1/4 mile at 6.0 mph, 1/4 mile at 4.1 mph) as warmup before all my work-outs.

    Supplements: If you get leg cramps, you need to increase your electrolytes such as salt, potassium, and magnesium.

    Chromium picolinate (200 to 300 mcg/day) helps your body burn fat instead of muscle. It only works if you exercise. There’s no benefit to it if you don’t exercise. Chromium chloride (in multi-vitamins), and chromium polynicotinate are not effective, so you have to get a separate supplement with the “picolinate” formulation.

    Comment by Bookslinger — March 9, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  5. President Eyring had an article in the Jan or Feb Ensign about his regret of not sharing the gospel with someone before they died.

    I think we’re all in the same boat. We all have friends, associates, co-workers, etc, who would be willing to hear us out, but we chicken out of saying anything.

    His take-away quote was imagining that his friend says to him in the ‘next world’, “Hank, you knew. Why didn’t you tell me?”

    Everyone will eventually realize either at or before the great judgement day (the one at the end of the millennium) what the truth was, and who had it during their lifetime on earth.

    And, the millennium is such a long time, I think we’ll eventually run into everyone we ever knew on earth.

    So yeah, i can easily envision everyone I’ve ever known asking me that.

    Comment by Bookslinger — March 9, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

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