Chasing Daylight is the account of Eugene O'Kelly, 53, chairman and CEO of KPMG, final journey. Starting from the time of his diagnosis (late-stage brain cancer) in May 2005 and concluded upon his death less than four months later, this book is his unforgettable story.
At that time, I had no idea what the next year would bring, as if we ever do.
Unpleasant as it was, I forced myself to acknowledge that I was in the final stage of life, forced myself to decide how to spend my last 100 days (give or take a few weeks), forced myself to act on those decisions.
Some people don't think about death because it comes suddenly and prematurely.
Within a very few days of that dark moment at the doctor's, I acknowledged my timeline was no longer like most people's.
Can death really be approached constructively - like every other phase of life? With brightness?
For most people, the specter of death is brutally hard to accept. They don't want to spend even a minute thinking about it. They'd rather put it out of their mind, to be thought about - if it's thought about - at a later date. Much, much later.
When people met me, however, they could no longer ignore the notion of death - premature, unplanned for death.
People have written their own eulogies. Certainly they've picked out their cemetery plots and made very clear whether they want to be buried or cremated or tyo donate their bodies to medical science.
If how we die is one of the most important decisions we can make, then why do most people abrogate this responsibility?
Move it up.
Is there any way, really, to prepare for the suddenness?
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.
Together, over the years, we had chased daylight, only when the daylight faded this time, it would fade not just on one beautiful day among many, but on our beautiful life together.
But now ... what would I do now? What would our life be like from now on? I would need to recalibrate in every way.
In the discombobulating few days since the diagnosis one thought that had no crossed my mind was "Why me?"
Now, I would have to learn the true value of the present.
Because of my health situation, I was moving on to the next phase of my life.
We went to see a great doctor, a legend in his seventies known as the "grandfather of neuro-oncology." He mostly taught now, but occasionally saw patients. I asked him the big question: How much time?
I loved my life. I wanted to live as long as I could.
I could feel where the lasers went in, but it wasn't painful; it was hardly even unpleasant. It felt more like a vibration. I imagined my head in a microwave oven - not a place you might volunteer to put your head, but benign.
Some of my fellow cancer patients were considerably younger than I. Many of them, unlike me, were experiencing physical pain, often excruciating pain, from their cancer or from some related issue.
Like me, some of these people were confronting the final stage, trying to wind down their lives, but they were less well equipped to do it, or didn't even know how to get started.
The business of dying is hard.
Of course, the other stuff that's happening when dying - the physical stuff and the huge emotional stuff - can be unspeakably awful.
As difficult as my trip to the clinic should have been, I felt that each time I went there, my tolerance for people - this is, my tolerance for imperfection - expanded.
It was at the clinic that I really began to understand acceptance. To accept acceptance, if you will.
Having entered the final phase of my life, what choice did I have but to accept it?
You can't control everything, I told myself, as hard as it was to hear myself, a Type A personality, say those words.
Next of it was a bigger stack, the one that came with extraordinary life ?dozens of condolence cards, notes of hope and prayer from friends and colleagues whoíd heard. Next to it was another sizable collection: medicine bottles.
I just didnít know how the hell I was going to get there.
I did not want to die in a crash.
Now, I was motivated to ďsucceed?at death ?that is, to try to be constructive about it, and thus have the right death for me. To be clear about it and present during it. To embrace it.
Commitment is about depth. Itís about effort. Itís about passion. Itís about wanting to be in a certain place, and not somewhere else. Of course time is involved; it would be naÔve and illogical to suggest otherwise. But commitment is best 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.
I could not control time. I had only partial control over my surroundings. What I could control was my energy.
I felt that if I could learn to stay in the present moment, to be fully conscious of my surroundings, I would buy myself lots of time that had never been available to me, not in all the years I was healthy.
How could I learn to live - and die - with things still unresolved? I wanted desperately to live in the present - but how could I get past the past?
"The only decision to focus on is the one you are still able to make," he said.
Maybe we'll discover that dying is something not qiute so frightening. That would certainly be a nugget worth passing on. Maybe we'll discover that death is even something worth embracing.
I felt extremely lucky to have Corinne with me - all the time, I mean, but particularly now.
She would be the last person I would physically touch when I left this world.
One of my tasks before I died was to "unwind," or close - or as I saw it, beautifully resolve - my personal relationships.
Sad and occasionally troubling as it was for some people to correspond with me one last time, or to have one final meal with me, or to take a last walk in the park with me, I could soon enough see and hear how gratified they were to have this opportunity, this special time carved out just for us, exclusively to honor hte unique bond that existed between us an no one else.
The good-byes to my children and my wife, it should go without saying, would be by far the most difficult, and it seemed right that they had to go last.
I grew annoyed to think that American business had focused so incessantly on the youth market. Give me simple, simpler. And I was sure that the old and older and retired and unhealthy people in America wanted that, too. A simper cell phone. A simpler computer. A simpler Blackberry. There was a market opportunity there, I felt. Go ahead, someone. Embrace "less is more" for those who need simplicity.
Was my deterioration starting to affect my judgment? Was I getting wise - or just cranky?
I wasn't dead yet.
A river connects one place with another. That sounds simplistic, I know. But a river is nothing if not a connection. Yet that's not all it is. It can be more complex than that. It can change course.
The funeral would be held at St. James Episcopal Church, where Corinne and I had gone for prayer.
My Casket would be brought in by six pallbearers I'd already chosen.
I selected the reverend I wanted to deliver the homily.
I did not want organ music. Corinne suggested harp and flute. I liked the sound of that.
In the crowd, there would be many family members and friends. KPMG colleagues and others from the business community.
Tim Flynn, my good friend and successor, would deliver one of the eulogies. I hoped Stan O'Neal would give another one.
My kid brother William would deliver the last eulogy. He would say words from his heart, of course, but he would also include words I'd written over the previous months and sent to him, words to de delivered only after I was gone, words addressed to Corinne, Marianne, and Gina that I wanted said in front of everyone.
I asked two close friends to organize the Irish wake to follow the funeral. It would be a celebration of life, a joyful gathering for all those people I loved. A chance for them to congregate and catch up with each other, share good memories, eat well, be conscious of the fact that they were together. All in all, to have a good feeling about life.
I would be cremated. I wasn't yet sure what I wanted done with my ashes.
Why can't the last part of life be the best one? Yes ... But if the physical pain can be managed, who's to say this can't be the most spiritually and intellectually rich time of our lives? Isn't it arrogant to resume it can't be?
Almost all goals require a future. Without it, we can't plot a road toward fulfillment.
The present felt to me like a gift. (Perhaps I should say the present was a present)
Looking at how some of the people around me had managed their lives, I lamented that they had not been blessed as I had, with this jolt to life.
Why wouldn't you start doing that now with something at least as important as your money - your soul?
Three years before, when my father-in-law was dying, he kept saying he was going to get better.
I had to keep my eyes on what was in front of me. The road ahead was shortening by the day.
I did not know what the next world would be like, of course.
I was still living on Earth; I wanted to enjoy my time here; I was trying to live Perfect Moments and Perfect Days. But I also had to prepare myself. Every day, I had to spend some time getting ready for that. I had to put myself in my meditative space. I had to quiet myself. Simplify. Devote myself truly to preparing for the next adventure.
I would go with Corinne to my waled courtyard nad garden at the Clositers, listening to the sound of my fountain.
Dying, I suddenly did not feel as helpless as I might have.
At first, I was almost too weak to dress myself. After a few days of recovering from the radiation and the trip out west, I planned to start rebuilding my strength.
I liked to think that I did a good job back when I was healthy.
Almost certainly I would have been more creative in figuring out a way to live a more balanced life, to spend more thime with my family.
I was not in a transition, but - as I said before - I was transitioning myself.
It was about how, if I was going to transition to a different world, I needed to transition myself.
The end result - the goal - of a Perfect Moment was to taste as much of the flavor that life is constantly offering. But the way to all that was through acceptance.
Coming from a recently departed CEO, that was quite an epiphany! My strength was diminishing.
Corinne and I decided that afternoon that we would both have our ashes spread upon the waters of Emerald Bay, in a very particular spot that we loved.
I was zeroing in on my perfect time of day. I was getting closer to zero miles an hour. Yet as slowly as I was moving, I was chasing.
"This has been the best day of my life," I said.
By Corinne O'kelly
While I had watched him decline steadily, the pace picked up by the end of our time at Lake Tahoe.
One of our last nights in Tahoe, I felt Gene starting to go. He just suddenly felt far away. It was the evening after his mother and brother had left.
I was lying on the couch, in his arms. I commented on his "absence," and he responded, "You're going to have to take over now. I've done all I can do."
He looked at me. "Promise you'll take Gina to Prague," he said. I promised him.
The doctors wanted to take a sonogram of his stomach. "No mre tests," he told them ... and he didn't want to waste any energy enduring medical procedures that, at this stage, were pointless.
This marked the next stage of Gene's transition. He was truly shifting from the plans of the living to an acceptance that he was dying.
To die in peace, you first must accept that you're dying.
"I've had a great life," he said to me as we lay in each other's arms in the cramped hospital bed.
As a health-care provider who had witnessed death routinely, I had come to realize that if you conquer your fear, you conquer your death.
I had assisted dying patients in understanding that when you are motivated by fear, your are not able to see the best path - whether in death or in life.
he said to me, "I think tonight's the night I will die."
"I don't know that you can control so much," I said. "The body is amazaing, and the mind is even more amazing. But I'm not sure you can make your body do exactly what you want. Even for a good ending"
But Gene didn't die that day. Although he was ready, he would have to wait until his body failed.
He had been opening his eyes less and less over the previous weeks; now he hardly opened them at all. Only at special moments.
After a long moment of silence, Gene said, "I feel supported on the other side."
About a half-hour later, Gene, his eyes wide - wider than he'd opened them for days ... "Please tell them," said Gene, "that there is no pain between this side and the other side."
At some point that day, Gina, Marianne, and I were seated around Gene's bed. He looked at the three of us. "That's the most beautiful sight in the world," he said.
As demanding as the experience was on Gene, he still worried about my well-being.
In the afternoon, Gene said to me,"Most people do not have the right mind or body to be able to die consciously." ... Finally I was able to understand that to him, mind meant mental discipline and body meant soul.
I asked Gene if he was prepared to leave me. "I think so," he replied. I told him not to hang on and assured him I would be all right. He had entered into the final stage of his transition.
He was ready to go. Less than three hours later, at 8:01 in the evening of Saturday, September 10, my husdand died.