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About my richest friend…

Several weeks ago, I wrote about my close friend, a very rich man who had destroyed his life with alcohol and anger. He was in an intensive care unit, paralyzed with a major brain bleed. At the time, there was a question of life or death. He lived.

But, what he has and what they expect he will always have is not good. His family has been told he will need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. He is paralyzed with very little progress. He can’t communicate much of anything.

How could this have happened? This man was generous, kind, funny and unbelievably successful. But, he had a dark and brutal side that tormented others – and himself. To be honest, I always thought his drinking would kill him. Seeing what is ahead for him, I kind of wish it had. This kind of life is worse than death to him. I saw him a week ago and he was in a nursing home, strapped to a wheelchair, frustrated with his inability to speak and furious that he could not have a drink. At night, they zip him into a bed with a canvas “cage” around it so he won’t try to get up. He’s paralyzed, so he can’t stand or walk. But his arms are strong enough to move him around and cause him to fall out of the bed.

I’m a little shell-shocked after seeing him. We first met in 2003 when he was a student in a nonfiction-writing course I taught at the Maui Writer’s Retreat. He was the millionaire with the attitude, a spry-looking guy who wouldn’t take his sunglasses off. I am not sure if he was trying to act cool or hide something. But, we got a brother-sister banter going and afterwards, he hired me as his personal writing coach. One side of him would charm me crazy. The other side was verbally abusive. There were days when I should have quit, but I didn’t because the money was so good and I didn’t have to live with him. He was just like having a boss that was a real jerk, only he paid me way better.

Beyond that, I loved him very, very much. He’d had a hard childhood, raised in poverty and constantly beaten by an alcoholic father who eventually shot and killed himself. With that in his DNA, it is surprising that my friend was able to become one of America’s most successful businessmen in the era. But, he knew how to rock and roll a sales force and did it with global reach, taking home millions in his paycheck.

This taught me what those millions were worth. They did not buy him peace of mind from his past. He admitted his self-esteem was terrible. He’d try to buy love with money – and that didn’t work. He had so many resources that he couldn’t hit rock bottom. He’d been in rehab four times, but always went back to the bottle.

It is such a dark story, but it really shows how money does not buy happiness. It does not fill your life with meaning. So, just be happy now, while you can. Life is fragile. Love what you have.

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