I have to share a story from the book, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene O’Kelly.
Eugene O’Kelley (Gene in the book) was living his life as a corporate guy in a big time accounting firm. He was in his early fifties and in wonderful health, until he wasn’t.
Somewhat out of the blue, doctors informed Gene that he had terminal cancer in his brain and was expected to live three months.
That was it.
Only three months… to live.
Gene’s book is a memoir of those final three months of life. His wife, Corrine O’Kelly, finished the last two chapters once he was in hospice and could no longer write.
Sometimes this was a simple phone call. Sometimes it was a long walk. Sometimes it was more of an elaborate adventure—like when he took his mom and sister boating for a day.
These were warm moments, not sad goodbyes.
It was more of a “clearing the air,” except there was no problem to clear.
Gene spent his last 3 months actively expressing how his loved ones, friends, mentors, acquaintances, etc made an impact on his life. He sparked meaningful conversations that said, “You matter to me.”
There’s a quote that puts why this matters into context:
That’s what Gene was doing.
Gene vehemently emptied the gratitude in his heart and was able to die empty (at peace).
To me, this is enlivening.
(I’m paraphrasing here) Corrine wrote that a doctor came to visit, spent a little time with Gene, and then the doctor told her that in the six years he’s been doing full-time hospice work he’d seen numerous people, younger and older than Gene, with the same diagnosis as Gene’s.
More often than not, they experience what’s called terminal restlessness or end-stage restlessness.
This is an agitated state that frequently requires heavy medication, like antipsychotics, opioids, and benzodiazepines (tranquilizers). This state is caused by a combination of factors. It might be fluid pressure on nerve impulses, or something physical, or its source maybe social or spiritual.
Like I said, horrifying, right?!
Then, the doctor went onto say:
“A lot of people arrive at that final stage not having done the psychosocial and spiritual work that would have brought them more peace.”
It’s true for older people, but especially young people like Gene. The doctor realized that Gene’s unwindings plan was somewhat compulsive and seriously type A wanting to tie everything up as if it were possible, but that “ultimately it was positive.”
Gene did that work while he could.
The doctor couldn’t help but compare Gene’s attitude with that of another man he had recently tended, a very senior executive at one of the big pharmaceutical companies. This man was about 60, not particularly close with his family, not close to his children, with no real spiritual foundation, and he would talk, and mumble, and even cry out in the middle of the night angrily barking the names of colleagues and superiors. His rankings were deeply upsetting to his wife and to others who came to see him at the end. The man had to be heavily medicated. He died restless.”
I couldn’t read that without taking action…
I want the peace that Gene had.
I want to live awake… not sleepwalking.
I want to experience more serendipity (finding something valuable and delightful when you’re not looking for it).
I want to do something good with all of that for the people I love.
I know you want those things too… but you probably sense how this could be an overzealous TRAP. It sounds wonderful and energizing and smart, but you know that when the day-to-day life demands call, this is the first thing to get saved for “later.”
That’s why I’ve created a physical book to help you dig in and also 52 weeks of meaningful activities we can do together.
Does that sound ridiculously fun or what?!
Here’s to going beyond the gratitude list and status quo starting now.