January 30, 2006

How to use the little time you have left.

A man given just months to live writes a guidebook on how to die:
[Eugene O'Kelly] knew it was strange to be making a to-do list two days after learning he had three brain tumors; he also knew it was strange to count nearly a thousand people to whom he needed to say goodbye. But he clung to the role of good, methodical business manager because it worked for him. He would rethink dying from the ground up, so to speak. Then he would live differently during 1 percent of the 10,000 days he thought he had coming, having assumed he would survive into his late 70's. About 100 days were all he had left....

But "Chasing Daylight" is far from uniformly flattering. It reveals a chilly, manipulative side to Mr. O'Kelly — or, as Mrs. O'Kelly puts it, "a 'cut to the chase' approach that had made him so successful in business but could sometimes come off as abrupt in personal interactions." When he set out to bid farewell to everyone he knew, one at a time, the meetings were arranged strictly on his terms. But it is the crumbling of this very rigidity that makes the book affecting. The author taught himself new survival strategies when the habits of a lifetime failed him.
Saying goodbye individually to a thousand people? That strikes me as a very strange way to use a small amount of time well.

19 comments:

Alan said...

Just another boomer, going through his Roledex. "Hey, look at me, I'm dying, admire my stoic demeanor, be thankful of the recognition I bestow on you by using five minutes of my last year to speak with you..."

Pogo said...

Too bad he didn't decide on saying a thousand goodbyes to one person that mattered.

I for one have decided that I will not rage, rage against the dying of the light. Instead, I have opted for the Mary Richards approach:
A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.

miklos rosza said...

Some things are best kept private.

SippicanCottage said...

Sounds like:

"But enough about me. What do you think about me?"

Palladian said...

I think I'd spend 30 of those days with the best hustlers money could buy, 30 more getting to the bottom of every bottle of vintage Bordeaux I could get my hands on, 30 more painting and the last 10 praying away the sins of the first 60.

Duffy Nichols said...

Not sure why, but this reminds me of Bauby's The Butterfly and the Diving Bell, a book written by somebody who could use only his left eyelid to communicate, and then died just as he finished his book. I am not inclined to criticize O'Kelly without having walked in his shoes. At least he said his goodbyes, as opposed to merely feeling sorry for himself.

The Private intellectual. said...

Ralf, a good friend of mine, died yesterday morning in his sleep in a hospice. He knew for some time that he was going todie, and made no secret of the fact.

Instead he arranged a trip to the US to travel along Route 66 - not on a bike, sadly, as his strength was fading.

He continued with his honorary posts in public life for as long as it was possible to do so, and continued to meet with friends and acquaintances right up to the end.

You may know that you're about to go, but that should never mean resign yourself to your fate. Carry on and enjoy life right to the final moment.

Pi.

Ron said...

Oh Ann, will you say goodbye to all us commenters individually when you finally choose to stop blogging? Or when you go, will John take over, making it the first transgenerational blog?

Most likely, Blogger will be bought by some annoying outfit that will put it behind a money wall -- BloggerSelect.
Ann will be the New MoDo!

AMB said...

I think I'd like to spend that time spending a little time with my close friends and the rest with my children, my wife, my parents and my brothers and sisters. For me, time would be best spent with the ones I love, not the ones I know.

phillywalker said...

The mother of a friend of mine had what I thought was a nice approach. When she knew she had less 6 months left (but still felt pretty well, not wretched and confined to a bed), she rented a large, luxurious house in Cape May and began sending invitations to everyone she wanted to spend some time with before she died. She offered them free 1-3 week vacations, so to speak - room and board in a resort area, but on her terms - she told them when they could come. She paid airfare for some of them, too.

Her last months were a big round of get-togethers with the people she wanted to be with, on her terms, and they all had good memories of visiting her in a lovely seaside location. She managed to combine groups of people she thought should see more of each other, too - and gave everyone plenty of time off to do touristy things and see the sights, if they wanted. And she scheduled private time for herself, when she had no visitors.

I thought it was a great idea, and I know the relatives to whom I spoke remember her, and her final months, very fondly.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't know that I would be able to accept impending death. I would rather go out believing that I would beat it and fighting like hell.

HaloJonesFan said...

Of course, there's the other option--when you suddenly become immortal, your best choice is to make a point of insulting every sentient creature in the universe, individually, by name, in person.

Lars said...

One thing I would NOT do if told I had 3 montths to live is write a book about it.

reader_iam said...

phillywalker: That's wonderful, truly the best.

I can think of some amends I'd want to make, if I hadn't already gotten to them, and some extra thank-you's as well.

But (and I've thought of this, because a close relative has been living on borrowed time with a brain tumor for some years now) I think I'd spend an awful lot of time writing cards or what-have-you in advance for special occasions or milestones, or even mundane ones, to my son and others whom I love--and arranging for someone to send or present them at the appropriate times.

Maybe I'd even do a "journal-in-advance, or blog-in-advance."

I'd want them to know that I really do believe that love is an energy that does not go away, but merely converts in situation. It would be nice to leave some physical reminders of that to be dispersed from time to time.

And I'd probably try to get in order (at last!) more than a century's worth of family photos that have ended up with me, since I'm the only who knows anything about some of them.

If there were time and I were up to it, I would want to spend a month in NYC and go hot-air ballooning in Africa. And maybe visit Jerusalem.

Pogo said...

An excellent example of a good way to spend your last few months occurs in Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film Ikiru.

When a Tokyo bureaucrat is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decides his life has been wasted pushing paper. So he decides to do something with his remianing life. Depite debilitating symptoms, he fights to get a playground built for the poor.

It's quite wonderful, really.

Anthony said...

My father passed away last November. He'd been going through cancer (lung, then to brain) treatments for the preceding year and all had gone well up to that point, but he had one small tumor in his brain left for surgery. This, along with the meds he'd been taking for it, had diminished his quality of life, and this seemed to make him allow for the real possibility of death in the near future. He'd come to accept that.

In the months preceding his final surgery he made a point to see as many people as he could. Not formally to say "Goodbye" as this person seems to have done, since Dad, although accepting of the possibility, still expected to beat the disease. He might not have even been consciously aware that he was making the attempt to see all these people. But still, he wanted to see friends and far-flung family. Whether by intent or providence, he saw a lot of his old friends in those months. It meant a lot to him nearer the end, and I think it meant a lot to the people he reconnected with. Judging by the comments at the memorial Mass, it meant a lot to those other people, too. I recall my mother telling me that, after seeing one particular fellow, Dad just told her "You know, I'm really happy I shook his hand."

I was going to make some grand pronouncement on the state of human affairs right here, but now I'm too choked up to.

Freeman Hunt said...

An excellent example of a good way to spend your last few months occurs in Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film Ikiru.

Great call! I *love* that movie.

M. Takhallus. said...

Say goodbye to 1000 people? I'd have to meet, (and like) 988 people first.

Maxine Weiss said...

Yeah well, I'm coming back.....so I don't need to say goodbye to anyone.

P.S. ---Not gonna be an organ donor either, because where I'm going, I'll need all my organs, nevermind when I return!

Peace, Maxine