I normally don't read books that I know the ending to already.
But having seen review's of former KPMG chief executive Eugene O'Kelly's end-of-life memoir, called "Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life," I picked up a copy. I'd be lying if I said a big part of me wasn't interested in experience the non-technical writing style of an accountant for a change.
It's an easy read, in the sense that the book isn't long and the prose isn't dense.
But "Chasing Daylight" is a much harder, and harsher read, in contemplating the reality O'Kelly, only 53 at the time of his diagnosis, quickly had to face. Normally, the three-months-to-live concept seems the stuff of weepy Lifetime Network movies and mass-market paperbacks, but it was just that sudden for O'Kelly, who died of brain cancer last September.
Written along with Andrew Postman, O'Kelly's wife Corinne handles the final chapter. The book, whose title refers to an extended analogy O'Kelly uses between his last days and the end of a day of golfing, is part insightful anecdotes from the chief executive's past, part the detailing of his process to winding down personal relationships, but mostly about his mental preparation and mindset in living out his final days.
There's humor too -- references to "Caddyshack," stories from his childhood and rising to the top of KPMG. In fact, O'Kelly makes several references to the sad irony of applying his Type A personality traits to his last 100 days. He makes a list of nearly 1,000 extended relationships he has to "wind down" (he finds closure with hundreds of them before focusing on his inner circle in his final weeks), he starts writing the book, he really works at his meditation in the hope of finding a peaceful exit when his time does come.
But there's only so much he can accomplish in the limited time. A planned trip to Prague is prevented by his worsening condition; his dream goal of attending KPMG's partner meeting in November doesn't happen.
The book, seemingly meant by O'Kelly to serve as a practical guide to facing death, was most interesting to me to see inside the life of a very privileged businessman finally forced to slow down and literally experience the right-now of life. O'Kelly, who really does only have 100 days to live at the time of his diagnosis repeatedly returns to his enjoyment of the simple things in life as he nears the end, a concept he explores through a couple of demure rants against the complexity of cell phones, or his newfound enjoyment of listening to the sound of a fountain.
And sprinkled all through the work are references to the work-life balance KPMG has tried to promote among its employees, a topic on nearly every firm's plate nowadays and one that O'Kelly was a big booster of. He knows no solution is perfect in confronting the issue of those occassionally consumed by their work, and admits that even consciously trying, he could only slow himself down so much as he rose to become KPMG's chief.
But it's fascinating to see how he applied that same focused intensity to his family and friends in his final days. And he never says he would have done anything differently if given the chance to do it all again.
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