Reading about Steve Jobs’ death tonight at the age of 56, I feel a renewed sense of urgency to seize the moment. I’ve already lived a year more than he did. With that in mind, today I’ve chosen to re-run a post I published on February 10, 2008. When I wrote this, my friend Laurie’s husband Jim had just died of a brain tumor.
A memorial celebration was held yesterday for Jim McKennan, the husband of my friend Laurie Gordon. He was only 54 years old and the father of four school-age children. Over 700 people came to the service.
I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Jim the last few weeks before he died. On each occasion, I left with the conviction that our connections with others nourish and sustain us as much as our dreams.
Throughout his life, Jim’s priority was his loved ones. He was enormously successful in business, the creative genius behind the Wendy’s campaign that featured founder Dave Thomas. But he almost never left his house before nine in the morning and tried to be home by six each night. He didn’t want to miss seeing his children off to school and hearing about their day when they returned.
So in honor of Jim, here's a column I wrote about him in August of 2006 when he first became ill:
When we pursue a dream, our spirits wake up. But as our hearts begin to soar and we head off to whatever destination we've chosen, it’s vital to remember that what’s most important in our lives is not in the future. It’s here and now.
Jim McKennan knows this all too well. On June 1st he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, a complete surprise for an active and seemingly healthy man who is the father of four school-age children.
The odds are not in his favor. But as dire as his situation is, much good has already come from it. His family and friends have rallied around him. “Team Jim,” they’ve dubbed themselves. And through a wonderful organization called “Caring Bridge” (www.caringbridge.org), a website has been created to brief everyone on his progress. On it, Jim and his wife Laurie are keeping a running journal documenting his course of treatment and its side effects, both physical and emotional.
Some of the entries are heartbreaking, such as when Jim shares his experience of Googling the medical term for his tumor. “It made for interesting reading,” he says, “until I remembered it was about me. I cried all night. I cried over the things I was afraid I was going to miss…cried over the help I wasn’t going to be able to offer…cried for the companionship I wasn’t going to be able to give. It was uncontrollable.”
Other entries are poignantly funny. My favorite describes Jim’s experience of losing his lush, silver locks—a result of his chemotherapy. Riding in his friend’s car with the windows open, his hair flying everywhere, he says, “Right now I look a bit like a dandelion that has gone to seed.”
Several times a day well-wishers sign the site’s guest book, adding their words of encouragement and wisdom. And every so often, Laurie posts a new photograph of Jim with family and friends.
From this mosaic of journal entries, well-wishers’ expressions, and pictures emerges a portrait of one human life, a speck of radiant stardust surrounded by a constellation of support and caring. Addressing his ever-growing team of champions, Jim writes: “I can't begin to tell you how powerful your messages and your prayers feel to me. They go beyond saying that you care, they do something else truly remarkable. They keep me in the present, in today, and that simple fact makes me feel exponentially stronger.”
Like Jim, we are all stronger than we suspect and more fragile than we imagine. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. As Laurie says, “What seemed impossible five weeks ago, has begun to seem routine. . . . I don't know if that's good or bad, but that's how you live with this and how you continue to find the light and stay out of the black hole of what ifs.”
A week later, she adds: “Everyone tells me to be strong. . , but I tell you. . , my whole being--physical, mental, emotional, spiritual--has been stretched, turned inside-out, exhausted from this shock and trauma. . . . And so before I get up [each morning], I want to remember and feel that most important thing. Life itself, and the breathing. . . . Where there's life there's hope. And that brings some peace and comfort.”
Right now, Jim and Laurie’s most fervent dream is for Jim’s tumor to disappear. But in walking toward that dream, and in doing battle with any and everything that’s coming in the way, they’ve understood that this moment is the only one they have.
Note: To read Jim and Laurie's Caring Bridge journal (have plenty of tissues on hand), click here.