Being Mortal

Reflections on life

My dad died one year ago today.

He was less than 3 weeks from reaching his 92nd birthday, and knowing that doctors had given him 3 weeks to live in May of 2013 when they found he had pancreatic cancer, and that he had refused chemo and surgical intervention, that was a triumph of his will.


I just learned, at 9am (MST) that my friend, Tom Kelly, died this morning, of complications from treatment for cancer.

Tom had told me he was ill, but had insisted, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, that his cancer was in remission and he was doing fine.

I am stunned with grief.


We are more than what we do.

You are more than an air talent, or a news anchor, or a program director, or a general manager.

We, you and I, are mortal beings, perhaps the only sentient beings who understand our lives will inevitably end.

We don’t much think about it, as if by not doing so, we can avoid it altogether, but if you haven’t already faced the end of a life you love — mother, father, siblings, dearest friend — you most certainly will.

And in your other roles, as friend or spouse or son or daughter, you can offer help.

In your work role, where you connect with so many others, some of whom are overwhelmed with the daily reality of the process of dying, the words you choose to use can offer help. Your mere acknowlegment of their grief helps.

So why do we avoid it altogether?

Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s life.

Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the ‘dying role’ and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay.

They want to end their stories on their own terms.”

Those quotes are from Dr. Atul Gawande’s recent book, Being Mortal.

And now, weak, short of breath, my once firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

That is the voice of Dr. Oliver Sacks, his last piece — Sabbath — written for the NY Times, and one of the essays contained in a collection just published last week, following his death, entitled Gratitude.

If you or those you love are grieving now, or if you are in anticipatory grief, may you be blessed with the sure certainty of the closeness of God.

If I could give each of you a copy of both these slender books, I would.

And for those of you whose voices are heard by tens of thousands, know without doubt that some hearing you right now need the empathy you have learned, whether that’s on- or off-air.

We are more than a faceless voice. We are more than a format or liner.

We are human. We are mortal.

And we care.