Monday, June 1, 2015

Chasing Daylight - Eugene O'Kelly

Sub-title: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life

Now that's a sub-title that makes me pick up a book.  The author, CEO of KPMG, a global accounting and financial consulting firm, finds out at 55 years old that he has inoperable brain cancer and less than six months to live.  He chooses to apply the skills, talents, and attitude that led to his success in life to having a successful death.

It was disconcerning at first to see the business skills and practices I'd worked with in my career being applied to dealing with death. But the author knew what he wanted to do - go out as successfully as he had climbed to success in life.

Some quotes that illustrate where he came from, how he functioned at work:

"I cultivated the ability to make big shifts quickly.  When something in my life no longer worked I could abandon it with little sentiment,"

"One sanctuary from all the intensity was golf.  ...I admired what the game called for: honor, personal accountability, precision, mental disipline, and endurance."

"Just months before and for my whole life before, I had been used to --and expected-- people operating at a very high standard....our indexes for evaluating people was conpetency."

He applied his ability to "make big shifts" to recognizing he needed to be more forgiving of himself and others. "And what if I didn't shoot par?  If things didn't go as planned?  That would have to be good too.  There was always something that could make even a bad day or a bad round good.  One nice shot.  One kind gesture.  Something."

He rethinks his beliefs about commitment. "In business...your commitment was routinely measured by how many hours you were willing to work".  He understands after dealing with his suddenly shortened future that commitment is really about depth.  "..commitment is measured not by the time one is willing to give up but, more accurately, by the energy one wants to put in, by how present one is." He reflects "Before my illness, I had considered commitment king among virtues.  After I was diagnosed I came to consider consciousness king...For one thing it could help others to understand the end better.  Maybe we'll discover that death is even something worth embracing."

I could see as the story went on that he was, in his last few weeks, embracing the real priorities of life; family, friends and being involved in the present moment.  "Soon I realized to identify whole breeds of people who did not live in the present, despite what they may have believed.  They lived either in the future or in the past, or maybe nowhere at all....People who don't listen, who ask questions without waiting for the whole answer."

He embraces simplicity.  He observes that many of the people he knows "have no clear timeline to stop what they were so busy at, to step back, to ask what exactly they were doing with their life. Part of me understood that they couldn't stop, because if they did stop they would stop being relevant.  But being relevant was not relevant.  At some point its time to transition."

He applied his same organized, goal oriented mind to what he called "unwinding" from the relationships in his life.  He began with "the outer circle", saying goodbye, saying why people mattered to him, sharing the good memories, reaching closure.  It's something encouraged in hospice to help those dying to accept their circumstances and he was more peaceful with the relationships in his life by making the effort to reach out and end those relationships in a deliberate way.

The book's last chapter is written by his wife, Corinne.  At the end, he was doing all he could to help her and his children, and himself to  experience a good death.  A powerful, moving read because the author stayed true to who he was, without apologies, and embraced the changes he recognized he needed to make before his life closed.

Published: 2006  Read: May 2015  Genre: Auto-biography

ISBN: 0-07-147172-3

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