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  • Geoff Cordner

Money Talks

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

If you wanted to get an accurate snapshot of someone’s life, where would you look? Their phone? Their handbag or wallet? Their computer? Their bedroom? Their car? Any of these suggestions would have merit, some more than others. But another one that may be even more revealing, depending on the situation, is their bank account.

When Ben died he left no will. As a healthy, vibrant, fun-loving young man with the world at his feet, and the rosiest of futures ahead of him, I am sure he never saw the need. Who can blame him?

What I did not know at that time, but discovered over the weeks and months following his death, is that, where relatively small amounts of money are involved, banks will generally release funds and statements, subject to compliance with various protocols and safeguards, to a deceased’s next of kin.

One of Ben’s two bank accounts had been opened just three days before his death. In typical Ben fashion it seems he had reached his own conclusion about the (dubious) merit of maintaining a high balance in his day-to-day transaction account, conducted his own comparative research about available options, and set up a new interest-bearing investment account with another bank – opened with a starting balance of many thousands of dollars – all without seeking input or advice from anyone else.

How many young people his age would have the confidence and/or the nous to do that? But that’s the kind of young man Ben was. Someone who, when a decision needed to be made, and action needed to be taken, would weigh up the options – admittedly, very quickly on occasions! ‑ and act. No dithering, no second guessing, no hesitation.

For better or for worse, Ben’s MO throughout his life was to always keep moving forward, often at whirlwind speed. Don’t look back, because regret, and resentment, are a waste of time and energy. And don’t bother looking sideways either – because a life lived comparing yourself to others isn’t really your life at all.

And I love him all the more for those qualities.

I can still remember vividly the day I attended the bank where Ben had opened his new interest-bearing account to discuss what had happened to my son, and to provide proof of his death, and other necessary information and documentation. As I sat in the branch, talking to the young male bank employee, who was not much older than Ben, I felt two equally strong, but distinctly contrasting sentiments hit me like a tsunami.

The first was immense pride that my 21-year old son, after having been very much an easy‑come easy-go accumulator and spender of money from adolescence onwards, had so clearly “got his shit together” in a financial sense as he entered the third decade of his life. And the second, unsurprisingly, was an overwhelming sense of sadness that he would never get to enjoy the fruits of his own efforts.

As the young man left me to photocopy various pieces of paper I had brought with me, the wave of emotion broke, and so did I.

Some days later I mustered the courage to review and reflect on the statements provided by the second bank ‑ detailing transactions in Ben’s day-to-day account over the preceding year, the last of his young life. On doing so I observed he had consistently earned just under $300 per week during that period from his casual employment as (i) a porter with a company responsible for managing the arrival and departure of cruise ship passengers; (ii) a maths tutor; and (iii) a research assistant at Macquarie University.

Not a bad effort for a full‑time student who was simultaneously maintaining the highest achievable Grade Point Average of 4.0 in his Advanced Science course!

Which only serves to confirm what had become very apparent to those of us who knew Ben well as the years progressed – he had a seemingly limitless capacity to get things done, and to successfully juggle the many elements of his busy life, generally without raising a sweat. Because, as those bank statements attest, there was a lot more to Ben than study and work.

Like cultivating his relationship with the love of his life, Laura – a relationship that involved frequent dates and other social engagements, both casual and formal. Like maintaining a car. Like organising registrations for the soccer and OzTag teams in which he played. Like attending concerts and festivals on a regular basis – usually purchasing multiple tickets for “the group”, and getting repaid by the other attendees individually. Like single‑handedly keeping multiple fast food franchises, and Uber, in business. Like (seemingly) conducting a firsthand survey of every club, pub and grogshop in the wider Sydney Metropolitan area.

All work and no play can make a dull boy they say. And no-one in their right mind would ever have accused Ben of being dull.

I said at Ben’s funeral, and again at the Celebration of his life two days later, in early February 2019, that he was as happy in those first four weeks of 2019 as I had ever seen him. All aspects of his life seemed to be giving him so much pleasure. His relationship with his girlfriend, his relationships with us, with his friends, his University course, his work, his sport. He was saving money; he was planning for the future; he was looking at the entire world around him with that captivating, infectious smile on his face, and it was smiling back at him from all sides.

I am indescribably sad that Ben has died. But if we had to lose him, then I am so glad I can carry forward with me the knowledge that he was truly truly happy when that happened. And that his life, cruelly short though it was, was as special to him then as it will remain forever to those of us who love him.


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