I checked out Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Lifeafter someone else’s recommendation, but I almost returned it to the library unread. A book about someone’s forthcoming death? I figured it would either be a total downer or would be one of those pink and purple fluffy cloud books. On a whim I decided to read the first few pages while I was packing the bag to go back to the library.
And I couldn’t put it down.
The author of the book, Eugene O’Kelly, was CEO of KPMG (one of the top three accounting firms, it’s a big deal) enjoying a busy but full life of 90+ hour workweeks, jetting around the world, and squeezing in time for his family here and there when out of the blue he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and given three months to live. The way he responded to that set of circumstances is truly amazing. He both used his accounting/CEO skills to set goals and pack more into his last 100 days, and also was open to changing his entire mindset to reorient his priorities and prepare himself and his family for his passing.
Along the way, O’Kelly wrote this book, hoping to give others insight into how they might be better balanced for a long life, or more prepared if their life is shortened. It certainly offers a great deal to think about. Once you start thinking about what you’d do differently if you knew you only had 100 more days left on earth, it gets you thinking about your priorities and how you actually spend your time. For example, O’Kelly realized that he had been having breakfasts and lunches all the time with people of only peripheral importance in his life, but had only made time in his workday for two lunches with his wife in the past decade. He didn’t regret the professional drive that had brought him so much satisfaction, but he realized that he could have done a better job at balancing and still been effective in business, perhaps even more effective. It was interesting to contemplate my life and relationships in that way.
I was impressed with O’Kelly’s goals for his last days. He put a priority on getting his affairs in order, which you’d expect, but he also prioritized “unwinding” or “beautifully resolving” relationships – having one last great conversation or meal or experience with people who had meant a lot to him, not just with his immediate family. I was struck by how thoughtful that was – just to give someone a really honest compliment or remember some shared moment or tell the person how much they meant to you or encouraged you. I thought about how we so rarely think of doing that for people in life, and so many people just have no idea how much of an influence they have had on our lives or how much they have helped us or how much we appreciate them.
O’Kelly boiled his goals down to three concepts: clarity – to have clutter and distraction out of the way, intensity – to pack a lot into even the smallest moments, and perfect moments – to see the perfect moments that happen all the time but we’re usually too busy to pick up on. Those concepts really resonated with me and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’d like to see those concepts in my own life. My husband would say I already hit the intensity thing a little hard as it is, but I think it would be better to be intense if I were also feeling clear about what I was doing and being mindful of and thankful for the perfect moments that happen in my days.
Throughout the book, O’Kelly makes it clear that his faith was vitally important to how he handled his last days, and although you may not agree with some of the things he believed, I appreciated reading an honest account of how someone might struggle with a diagnosis and yet be able to press on positively because of a belief that this life is not all that there is. Certainly there is a lot to think about in terms of how a Christian should think of his time on earth or his approaching death, and the conflict between loss and anticipation.
O’Kelly’s wife finished the book after his death. I found the ending particularly poignant and effective, not depressing at all. You can tell throughout the book how deeply committed their marriage was, in spite of O’Kelly’s busy work schedule, and how important family was to them, so it was fitting for his wife to take over the last chapter.
Chasing Daylight is a moving and inspiring book, and I’d highly recommend it.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.