Chasing Daylight: Eugene O’Kelly’s Three Months to Live

In May 2005, Eugene O’Kelly was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, and given three months to live. Within two weeks, he quit his job as CEO of accounting giant KPMG and scrapped all the plans he had made with his wife and two daughters.

One night at the dinner table, O’Kelly drew a map of his relationships, and grouped them into five circles. His aim was to “beautifully resolve” his relationships, starting with the outer circles and working his way inwards.

In his outer circle he contacted them by phone or email, highlighting favorite memories and appreciation for the other person. He decided to meet his third and fourth circles in person – he would meet them for an exquisite meal, or in a beautiful park for a walk, to share memories and gratitude for what they had done for each other. O’Kelly called these encounters “perfect moments”, and it was his mission to create as many of these as possible in the little time he had left.

By August, he was focusing on his inner circle, and spent his time with his closest friends and family. A couple of weeks later, on September 10, 2005, O’Kelly died.

O’Kelly wrote a memoir, Chasing Daylight, where he began with, “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.” And he took it literally – he was told he had three months to live, not to die. O’Kelly “felt like [he] was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month – meaning he condensed his life by having more perfect moments in three months than he would have done in five or ten years of living his normal life.

So what if we could have more perfect moments too, without the news of a terminal diagnosis to motivate us to do so? In fact, not all of us will be as lucky as Eugene O’Kelly – some of us might not be given any warning at all when our time is up.