Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life
By Eugene O’Kelly and Corinne O’Kelly with Andrew Postman
McGraw-Hill, 2006, 179 pages; $25.95
Chasing Daylight opens with the startling words, “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.” Yet, this personal account of a vigorous, active man’s last 100 days is an uplifting book about embracing life to the last moment, despite the rapid approach of death. Subtitled “How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life,” it demonstrates true death with dignity, and has particular relevance in our time.
New Yorker Eugene O’Kelly was definitely a modern man. At 53, he was chairman and CEO of a large U.S. financial firm, working at breakneck speed, jetting to meetings around the world. He had a successful career, happy home and family, close friends – and loved it all.
He especially enjoyed playing golf with his wife Corinne late in the day. He described it as a magical time to play. “It was as if we were chasing daylight, grabbing as much time as we could.”
And then, on May 24, 2005, he received a totally unexpected diagnosis of inoperable late-stage brain cancer.
“I realized we were going to chase daylight one more time, and this time, it would fade not just on one beautiful day among many, but on our beautiful life together. Shadows would lengthen for the last time. Night would fall for the last time. Corinne would have to finish her round without me.”
A problem solver by nature, O’Kelly soon wondered, “Is it possible to somehow turn this awful time into the single best period of my life?” Resolving to try, he embarked on his last big project: making the best possible use of his own last days. Typically, he began with a to-do list. It included planning a funeral.
First, he recognized a need to find mental and spiritual tranquility. “For years, I’d been going 100 miles per hour,” he wrote. “On the day I died, I would be going zero. I had to learn how to slow down, but I had so little time left to learn.” But he worked at it methodically.
Despite diminishing energies and what he termed “a suddenly shockingly abbreviated stay in the world,” O’Kelly considered it very important to write this seven-chapter book to help others see the end of life as a positive experience. “We owe it to each other, certainly to the generation to follow,” he said.
Another major item on O’Kelly’s list was finding a way to say “the good goodbye” to the many people whose lives had been interwoven with his over the years.
“All my personal relationships were going to close with my death anyway, so why not do it in a way where I had more input?” he reasoned. So he carefully structured opportunities to make the farewells personal and special – sometimes with a last meal together, a last walk in the park, a last outing on the lake; sometimes by mail, e-mail or phone.
“I lost something precious, but I also gained something precious,” he said of those months.
Corinne wrote the final chapter of the book after Eugene’s death on Sept. 10, 2005, just 110 days after his diagnosis. She says that he succeeded in preparing so that his final weeks, days and moments could be full of ease and peace.
By respecting his life to the very end and living it as fully and wisely as possible during its decline, Eugene O’Kelly testifies to the possibility and the importance of making dying beautiful. Chasing Daylight is a powerful antidote to the despair of assisted suicide.
We all know people whose plans and dreams were dashed as abruptly as O’Kelly’s were. His insights can help us walk with them on their final journey and possibly make their dying a more positive experience. Chasing Daylight can certainly help all of us prepare for our own demise.
(A portion of the book sales will go to a trust fund the O’Kellys set up to help less financially fortunate cancer patients and their families.)