When Death Interrupts Your Life’s Plan

It isn’t where you land


When Death Interrupts Your Life’s Plan

After a day of golf in the North Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, my brother went home, sat in his recliner, put on his glasses, opened up his laptop, and died.

This was shocking news to my brothers and sisters and me. Even more shocking was the fact that is was late on Thanksgiving when we learned of his death. My brother, long divorced, was retired. He rarely traveled on Thanksgiving and usually had dinner with a friend and his family.

After missing a tee-time on Wednesday and dinner on Thanksgiving, my brother’s friend became necessarily concerned. My brother might miss dinner, but not a tee-time and certainly not each in a row.

On Thanksgiving, November 22, 2012 at age 64-years-old William “Duke” Getler was pronounced dead by a medical examiner while still in his recliner.

It is Crappy Work if You Can Get It

Billy Getler grew up in River Vale, New Jersey as the eldest brother and the second oldest child of Alfred and Edna Getler.

He enjoyed sports, especially baseball, but found out he had a gift for golf. He was passionate about the game growing up in a long, narrow town strung together by three golf courses.

Hitting his teenage prime in the 1960’s, Billy did a lot of what you would think a kid might have done in that decade. He attended Woodstock, found his Liberal voice and had a lot of good stories to tell. He also came away with a nickname that went with his inclination to dress in a pressed shirt, a tie and pressed pants for his job at a Shop Rite grocery store. “You dress like you’re a duke.” a friend said. The moniker of being the duke stuck. To his friends and family he was Duke.

After a period of self-adjustment (that is a polite term to those of us that knew him during this time and loved him anyway), Duke ended up landing a job and a home at the Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA). I had worked there, too, during a college summer.

The BCUA deals with waste management. Why beat around the bush? They are the folks that treat raw sewage.

For the first week on the job I fought down breakfast as I got out of the car each morning at the BCUA treatment plant. The kid that rode to work with me each day often lost the fight. After a while, you get used to it. I worked there for a summer, maybe two. I forget. This is a side effect of the smell of hundreds of thousands of peoples’ concentrated poop. Duke worked there for 26 years.

In the 26 years Duke (they knew him as Billy) worked at the BCUA, he was very happy. These folks became another group of close friends. He became the union shop steward. A woman made a comment on his online obituary that he was the best shop steward she ever had.

Even after his retirement, Duke called the BCUA plant to check in on everyone. Not long before his death, he called during Super Storm Sandy to check up. It was a close call for the BCUA.

Life is Good if You Have a Plan

William “Duke” “Billy” Getler had a plan for after his work life. He would golf.

He bought a studio condo in North Myrtle Beach to rehearse his retirement. Passing the test, he bought a second, bigger condo with two bedrooms in the same complex. His sights were set. He would plan to retire early.

Our cousin needed a place to live as a result of a divorce. He moved in with Duke. Anger often got the best of our cousin and he ended up a paraplegic after smashing his car during a frustrating New York City traffic jam.

We fully expected that Duke, a guy used to living on his own, would not offer our cousin any options. Instead he converted the first floor of his house as a living space as our cousin struggled through the loss of mobility his legs once provided. This gig came with my cousin’s kids who visited their father often. The kids became the closet my thing my brother ever had to having his own son and daughter.

A plan is a plan. So, at age 58, my brother announced his retirement. This meant leaving New Jersey permanently, leaving my cousin to independent living and leaving his friends at the BCUA. But there was golf to be had and plenty of it. A plan is a plan.

Golf and Duke lived very happily with one another for six years without interruption. I would often call my brother during my ride home to talk about baseball, politics, family and life. Every conversation began with my same question, “How was work today?”

Duke enjoyed his work. He was doing what he truly enjoyed every day. Life was indeed good and had worked out exactly as he had planned it.

Destinations and Journeys

Despite the focus he had on his plan, my brother ended up gathering many friends. It seems he never was so myopic as to forget to make many friends along the way.

The old gal upstairs from his condo kept a watchful eye on Billy. He did the same in return. His realtor should have just sold him his condo and moved to the next transaction. Instead, they became solid pals checking in with each other regularly and driving each other to the airport.

At his funeral, friends and family came from all over each saying the same thing: He was a good guy.

And he was a good guy, my brother. He lived a simple life. He made friends wherever he went. He had strong opinions and offered them when asked. He loved his old friends. He loved his new friends. He loved his large and diverse family.

You Can Plan All That You Want

William “Duke” Getler (aka “Billy”) lived six of the most glorious years of his life because he had a plan. He did what he loved to do every day. He even bought a little Miata convertible recently. This wasn’t in the original plan, but it sure added nice a twist.

Another item that was not in the original plan was for the plan to only last six years. But that didn’t matter.

Just like a trip, it isn’t always the destination that makes it a trip. It is the journey.

My brother reached his destination earlier than planned. His journey ended up with a collection of friends, laughter, memories and good times that made every stop along the way worth living.

Life can be very good if you plan for it. Just don’t plan to wait to live it.

(Next – More from the life of my brother. You never know when you are giving someone the gift of a lifetime.)

Al Getler is a newspaper, website, book and magazine publisher. He is also a comedian/ventriloquist and a speaker on leadership, customer service and personal branding.

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