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Personal growth: Three months to live; now what? May 11, 2017

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Concept of personal growth.
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“I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.”

These remarkable words come from Eugene O’Kelly, in his memoir. (1)

In this compelling book, O’Kelly describes his overall response to a medical diagnosis he received at age 53, of having three months, and perhaps less, to live, due to inoperable brain cancer.

Instead of being overcome with panic, anxiety, and self-pity, O’Kelly, then CEO of one of the largest U.S accounting firms, set about trying to answer two significant questions:

(1) Must the end of life be the worst part?

(2) Can it be made a constructive experience — even the best part of life?

Generally, he decided to use the skills he had developed in his professional life and apply them “to my final task.”

Additionally, however, through this difficult journey, he developed new ways of thinking and a new awareness that he says he “didn’t possess in the first 53 years of my life.”

The journey started with O’Kelly sitting across from a doctor, whose “…eyes told me I would die soon. It was late spring. I had seen my last autumn in New York.”

Nevertheless, O’Kelly says, “My experience and outlook gave me the potential to manage my endgame better than most, and I considered that opportunity a gift.”

Early on in the book O’Kelly suggests that for anyone considering “taking the time someday to plan their final weeks and months; three words of advice: move it up.”

O’Kelly says that in his profession he had focussed on “building and planning for the future. Now I would have to learn the true value of the present.” He says the biggest lesson he learned was the importance of acceptance.

His to-do list for his final days included several philosophical approaches:

* Simplify

* Live in the moment

* Create (but also be open to) great moments, “perfect moments”

* Begin transition to next state

Enjoying the experience of NOW became important:

“No more living in the future (or the past for that matter…) I needed to stop living two months, a week, even a few hours ahead…”

He says that he believed by changing his focus he could make a switch “that would help compensate for me what I’d lost in longevity with depth, quality, and intensity

“If I were in the present moment, I would be aware only of the experience I was having, not of how this might be the last time I would experience this, ever…I tried to be really conscious of what was around me, really conscious, exclusively conscious.”

“I failed”

If I write much more, about O’Kelly’s ultimate journey I will be spoiling the book for those who might want to read this story of courage and  life-potential for themselves.

All told, this is an inspiring book from a rather unique person.

(1) Eugene O’Kelly, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, A final Account, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2006, 179 pages.

— Dennis Mellersh

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