Friday, February 10, 2006

Chasing Daylight - The Transition

At the opening of Eugene O'Kelley's memoir of his terminal illness, he declares himself blessed. As his body fails him and his goal of showing his daughter around Prague becomes unreachable, he accepts his new circumstances without complaint.


He knows that in some important ways he is blessed. The struggles of his fellow radiation patients is enough to remind him that at least he faces his death knowing his family is provided for. Where others have to ride buses around New York alone for hours to reach their doctors, he has a family with the time and resources to take him where he needs to go. When radiation is over, he can get on a jet and go to a Tahoe vacation home. While he shares worries about how his wife and daughter will deal emotionally with his death, there is no sign that finances will ever be a problem.

It would be a mistake, though, to make too much of his material circumstances. If you've spent time at a hospice, you've noticed that wealth isn't required for a good death - and there is such a thing. (though squalor is something else.)

O'Kelley prides himself on his clear-eyed ability to accept and face change. As death looms, he tries to to die well. He "wraps up" his relationships and withdraws into his family. Each day his goal becomes stringing "perfect moments" together to make a perfect day. The progressive failure of his body is barely mentioned. As long as his mind remains clear, not being able to dress youself is a mere annoyance.

He struggles with the meaning of God after spending an afternoon with a non-believing nephew (who must be just a great guy to party with).

After another "perfect" day, where he wraps things up with his brother, we lose his voice.

Corrine O'Kelley takes over the narrative for her husband in the last chapter. A siezure dashes his plans for the trip to Prague.
"And it was that that signaled the beginning of his transition."

Corrine gives us a hint of a man with "..a 'cut to the chase' approach that had made him so successful in businezz but could sometimes come off as abrupt in personal interactions." Maybe this same approach is what enabled him to face death with serenity and surroundef by doting family.

So he was blessed - with a clear acceptance of his fate, with a pain-free death and a clear mind, and with a loving family to care for him. Without his impending doom, would he ever have spent time with his 14-year old daughter before she moved away? For a brief time, while he died, in important ways he lived like he hadn't.

The challenge for the reader is to not put off living. We don't all get a three-month warning or a clear-headed, pain-free end, or a chance to wrap-up things with our friends and warnings. For me, an accountant in the middle of tax season, it's like a visit from Jacob Marley.

This is my last post on Chasing Daylight. My prior posts are here, here, here, here and here)


Brent said...

What an incredible journey for him. One that none of us want, but would like to take as well as he did if it was cast upon us. Reading through all your posts, it certainly causes me to reflect on my own life and how I would handle a quick end to it. It's rather uncomfortable to consider.

Anonymous said...

I just heard of this book from the National Brain Tumor Foundation Newsletter and I quickly did a Google search to find out more. I have just lived this life somewhat, as my mother was diagnosed with a GBM last May as well. She lived her last 6 months of life with me at my house not knowing what the next day would hold for her. This experience has taught me to be thankful for every breath you have and always appreciate those around you. I am still struggling to live life without my best friend, and I've found that time does not make it easier, despite what others might say.
Thank you for your posts about this book, as I look forward to reading it to get another family's perspective on their journey down this difficult road.