Book Review: Chasing Daylight

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • While housesitting for some friends this week, I perused their stacks of reading materials. One book especially caught my eye – Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene O’Kelly. The 179-page book describes in first person the three-month journey that O’Kelly undertook from when he was first diagnosed with terminal brain cancer until the day that he died. So why do I recommend this book to caregivers and loved ones with Alzheimer’s?

    First of all, O’Kelly takes a very clear-eyed approach to his sudden diagnosis and realizes that his life is limited. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease also means that the person’s true mental functioning time is limited (although medication can delay the disease’s progression). Although this time limit is not quite as definitive as O’Kelly’s, it is a clear indication that another chapter in life has begun. Facing that fact is important for both the person who is diagnosed as well as family members, friends, business colleagues and social contacts. Otherwise, I have found in my experience that denying that the disease is present adds stress to not only the person affected, but to everyone else who is in the person’s circle.
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    O’Kelly also developed a very thoughtful strategy for saying his good-byes. He described the people who he placed in various rings in his circle of relationships; he also describes the “unwinding” process he used to bid his final good-byes to the people who touched his life. He thought through key details in planning every “unwinding” (such as the place and the time of day) in order to try to ensure that this meeting would be a meaningful experience for both people. He met with everyone from his old college roommate to former business colleagues.
    Chasing Daylight made me think a lot about my mother’s denial about the rate of her mental decline, and refusal to see a physician in order to be diagnosed. The sad part that was reaffirmed by O’Kelly’s book was that Mom didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to some of the people who meant the most to her. Instead she postponed reaching out to people until it was too late and her mental capacity was gone.

    We all have to face the different chapters in our life. I would encourage those who are just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and those who are experiencing mental decline (but who haven’t been diagnosed) to think about how they can handle a difficult situation – including the diagnosis and saying farewell - with the grace that O’Kelly did.

    Last reviewed by a physician specializing in Alzheimer's disease on 9/27/06.
Published On: September 27, 2006