As I grow older, I learn more about the fragile state of life. With increasing frequency, I am receiving calls about good friends and loved ones passing. There are instances where some pass too soon and others die naturally as an endcap to life. We all experience episodes like this; there is no prescription to make them less painful. As an advisor, I find my focus on enriching peoples’ lives now even more essential. I want our clients to have full lives filled with good memories and cherishing the people around them. I hope to remove their worries about money and build financial plans that answer their nagging questions that keep them up at night. I challenge all of you to focus on what is most important to you - right now.
As I think about my friendships and treasure memories of those who have passed, I would like to share my thoughts about a good childhood friend, “Elf,” who passed away on May 28, 2021.
I am growing accustomed to more of this type of news, but this one hurt…. big time. It is with profound grief and gratitude I tell you about Elf. Hopefully, I strike a chord in the music of life that we are all used to hearing and honor those that have departed.
Elf’s parents immigrated from Latvia after World War II and settled in Seattle, just down the street from my childhood home. Elf’s father fought both the Nazis and the Soviets and came to the States with nothing. He could not speak or read a word of English. Reading about Elf’s family history, it was incredible to learn what the Latvians and others had to endure to become liberated citizens and come to this great country.
To me, Elf was just a normal kid. We went to elementary school, high school, and college together. He introduced me to my wife, her friend married my friend, who introduced two other friends that also married. This was all the result of one person’s impact on us, a common thread creating ripples of unmeasurable goodness.
Elf had intentions of becoming an elementary teacher, but life got in the way. The Soviet Bloc fell, and he went back to his homeland to reclaim the family property in Latvia. We never really saw him again, except on rare occasions when he returned to the States.
Elf was political even in his youth, but not to the extent that I ever understood. I did not take the time to learn how passionate he was about returning to his parents’ homeland. It is a huge regret for me now. Elf spent a lifetime representing Latvia in Ireland, France, Iraq, and Turkey and was the Ambassador to Greece when he passed away. I treasure a picture I have of him in the audience with the Pope. He built many foreign relationships representing his country. He accomplished all of this while I was busy raising my family and building our business here in the States.
My last real memory of the Elf I knew was in 1991 when we drove to California to watch the UW Huskies play Stanford. Literally, as we were waiting for him in our car in Ballard, he was on the phone, learning he could go to Latvia. Needless to say, the Huskies won, we celebrated, and drove home. And then he was gone. The next few times I saw him he was “Elf the Statesman."
I am truly saddened by both Elf’s passing and my lack of understanding of his depth as a human. But I hold gratitude for the imprint he made on my family and friends, and only wish that I can find a way to repay him. I will cherish our days of playing basketball until midnight, watching countless goals scored on him in UW Lacrosse, playing Liar’s Poker, and of course, introducing me to my wife, Patty.
My message for you is not enlightening or profound. It is just to remember your friendships – do not rely on rehashing distant yet fond memories. Take time to cherish, embrace, and create new memories with the important people in your lives.
About the Author:
John Buller, CPA is a Principal at Soundmark Wealth Management. John focuses on building long-term relationships with his clients so they can achieve peace of mind about their financial futures.
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