Margaret and Simon (not their real names) were in a good place: a happy marriage, two lovely boys and a successful business. But then a freak accident changed all that.
The annual ski trips were enjoyable occasions; a chance to take a break from the busyness of working life and spend quality time together as a family. But on this fateful trip, a momentary loss of control resulted in Simon hitting a tree and shockingly, tetraplegia.
Life could never be the same again. Simon and the family had to come to terms with life restricted by a wheelchair and the need for 24/7 care but the boys and the business also needed full-time support.
The stresses inevitably took their toll: the business had to be sold and sadly, Margaret’s and Simon’s marriage was destined not to last.
Speaking to Margaret 14 years later she is sanguine about the experience. Of course, there is the wish that it never happened but when fate plays its hand one can choose the response; wallow in self-pity or accept it and move on. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning,
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Despite the break-up of the marriage Margaret and Simon are still friends and see each other regularly, their sons are young adults embarking on their careers and Margaret has another successful business.
What Magaret also sees as life-changing is the opportunity to re-evaluate what was truly important to her. Before the accident she admitted being more money-focused, spending more time on the business than perhaps was healthy. She quickly came to realise that life can be so fragile, if there is something you really want to do, take the opportunity, don’t wait until later because it might never come.
Margaret made the conscious decision to spend more time with the family and to be there for the boys during a time in their lives they needed her most. Now Margaret is grateful for what she has and the lifestyle she is able to live. Her priorities are firstly for her sons’ financial wellbeing and then her financial security so she can live the lifestyle she enjoys for the rest of her life knowing she will never be a burden upon anyone.
Contentment for Margaret comes from the outdoor life that her Devon home provides rather than the material world that many chase, usually in vain.
As for Simon, rather than wallowing in self-pity; an easy and understandable route for anyone who has cruelly suffered a tragic accident he has found meaning and fulfilment in life by mentoring those who have suffered a similar fate and are struggling to come to terms with it.
Nobody would wish to experience the life-changing events that Margaret and Simon did a decade ago but there are lessons we can take from it: to reflect on what is most important to us and whether we are living a life that is true to ourselves.
Are we living our life and using our money in a way that is consistent with those values or are we too focused on a life that, on the surface may feel rewarding but, actually, is about keeping up appearances?