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A man died several weeks ago

June 23, 2009

Just before Memorial Day Weekend of 2009 I heard that Perry had been found dead at his home. He had missed a weekly breakfast date with a friend who called, got no answer, so went to investigate as Perry probably assumed he would do.

A note on the door of the house said simply, “Don’t come inside. Call 911.”

I heard this third hand. I only knew Perry through mutual friends. He had been a close friend of Jim and Tom for decades.  He was part of the group who often traveled on cruises and vacations with the guys. I met him several times and found him to be a very nice fellow, easy to talk to, very friendly.

When someone is not a close friend, I don’t ask nosy questions. It’s not any of my business what happened or how. It wasn’t until a week ago that I had the chance to talk to Tom and Jim and offer my condolences. They volunteered the story behind the event.

Perry retired early at 50 years old from a large corporation. He had invested his money and planned to enjoy his retirement. Then the stock market crashed, investments vanished, home values plummeted. He watched his life savings disappear, if I got the story right. I was told that his financial planner told him the money was gone and he needed to cut back his lifestyle dramatically and get a part time job. He replied that he had a plan and it was all taken care of. Evidently this was the plan.

Having seen what happened to my parent’s life savings and pensions after they retired, I always found it frustrating to listen to the pat voices on TV and radio telling us “Well, these downturns happen. You just have to wait for the market to correct and everything will be fine again.” or “Sure, this is a drop, but it will come back. Don’t worry. Meanwhile you’ll just need to wait another few years til you retire.” Small comfort for those in their 70’s who already retired.

Meanwhile friends – who have not already had to cash in their 401k or IRA after losing their jobs – have watched as one third to two thirds of their life savings vanished into thin air. Baring a lottery winning, it’s hard to imagine rebuilding those savings again.

Someone pointed out recently that we have not seen the sort of social panic – the widespread suicides, the hopeless throngs on the streets – of the Great Depression era during this ‘economic downturn.’ Probably because of the safety net systems put into place after that horrendous event in American history. The social safety programs so many want to dismantle – just as they wanted to convert the Social Security System into a stock market investment program not too long ago.

I think the hopelessness is there, but not as evident as in the past. It’s a quiet desperation  that surfaces on occasion, in unlikely places. We become numb to the numbers posted regularly; the unemployment figures, the new plant closings, the foreclosures, debt numbers, credit rates, et al. Occasionally the national news will do a profile on some family that simply locks the doors on their home and walks away,leaving the house to the bank. Or a person trying to start over after a lifetime in a profession, now unemployed when the plant closes and it’s time to retool at 53 year old.

Jim and Tom told me of the upcoming memorial gathering where the ashes will be spread. They had lunch recently with some of Perry’s former coworkers, also retired. My friends were surprised at what the coworkers had to say. They seemed angry at Perry for doing this. For the proverbial “taking the easy way out.”

Lately it seems that it’s all coming close to home. I learn more about friends at the edge of desperation. Others who have pretty much given up and are just trying to survive. The future looks like a pretty scary place. And the new government is not the shining new agent of change we were hoping for.

Meanwhile a group of people will be gathering at a park in St. Louis to scatter ashes and remember a friend who died a last month.

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