Life & DeathOctober 23, 2020
As we can’t look away from the Mayor of America’s one-man luge, and the head-on collision of multitasking and Zoom, we risk losing sight of the profound: Americans are dying from the novel coronavirus at a greater velocity than any crisis in our nation’s history.
Childhood, education, failure, success, and relationships shape us. But I’d posit that what defines us is life and death — bringing a child into the world and losing someone you love. Not the moment of birth or death, but the proximate before and after. More people are losing more people than at any point in our history.
In the past week, I’ve received five emails (usually on LinkedIn for some reason) from people seeking guidance on how to provide a sick parent a good death. Below is a similar email I received two years ago on the topic, and my response. It’s never felt more relevant than it does today. The logistics of taking care of loved ones during Covid may look different, but the groundwork is the same.
Hi Professor Galloway,
I am reaching out because I trust your opinion and would love your advice. I am 26 and have been building a career in digital marketing at a consumer products company.
In January my dad was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer, and I have made the decision to move back home to be with him and my mom. I have been planning on continuing to work … but have this nagging feeling that it’s not worth it, and the extra money is not as valuable as full days with my family during this time. Still I am worried that halting my learning right now will hinder my career in the long run.
I wish my dad was able to help me answer this question with a clear head and from an unbiased place. I would love your opinion on this as a second-best option!
I’m sorry about your dad. I have no real credentials nor empirical data around providing comfort to sick parents. What I can tell you is what I did when my mom was sick and what I learned. It’s key to point out, however, that I was in a different stage in my career. I was 39 and had established some professional stature and economic security, which in your twenties you likely don’t have. These are very personal decisions. A lot of it boils down to your relationship with your parents, logistics, and resources. So, with that, some learnings:
My mom was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and was given three months to live. She asked me if I could help her die at home, and I agreed. I moved in with her so we could spend time together and make her exit more dignified. She passed seven months later at home.
Learning: Where you die, and who is around you at the end is a strong signal of your success or failure in life. I believe it doesn’t matter how nice your home is; if at your exit you’re surrounded by strangers under bright lights, it’s a disappointment. Granted this isn’t an option for many people, but if you die at home, surrounded by people who love you, you are a success. It’s a sign that you forged meaningful relationships and that you were generous with people.
Learning: Give care to the caregivers. My mom’s four sisters and best friend each spent 3-4 weeks living with us helping to care for her. This was key, as there were things I couldn’t help with. One way I was able to add value was to help make their stay more enjoyable. One of my aunts loved to talk; I do not. I speak for a living, and when I’m home I want to hear my kids’ and my wife’s voices, but I don’t say much. But with her, we’d stay up late and talk for hours, about nothing.
Another aunt likes to drink and gamble. I’d take her to a bad casino in Summerlin, Nevada, give her $100, and sit with her at a $.25 roulette table as she drank White Russians. She’d get drunk and start flirting. She once took a guy’s cowboy hat off, placed it over his crotch, and screamed, “The cowboy’s a goner!” I don’t even know what that means. Several times I wanted to shoot myself in the face. But my roulette-playing, White Russian–drinking aunt was showering my mom every morning, and I loved her for it.
My mom’s best friend, Karsen, was a raging alcoholic. She was also addicted to painkillers — three years later she was one of the 46,000 people who die from opioids each year. Karsen just wanted someone to drink with after my mom was asleep. Take your mom to the movies, go out for lunch, and take walks together. She has a tough road ahead of her being the primary caregiver for your dad.
Learning: Boundaries. Your dad’s remaining days on this planet are important, and so are yours. You need to have your own life/space. I left every Thursday and went to NYC or Miami to keep friendships and work somewhat alive. Economic security is key, and for that at your age you need to establish professional momentum. I’d speculate your dad would appreciate you adapting your life, but not transforming it or putting your career on hold. You will likely have kids of your own, and your parents’ grandkids will also need a dad who can provide for them and feels relevant professionally. Only you can decide what this balance is.
People often outlive their prognoses. My mom was given three months, and lived another four. Unfortunately, one Sunday I flew back, and she had passed 30 minutes earlier. I wish I’d been there, but I wouldn’t change the approach. Had I not had some semblance of a life, I would have been less pleasant to be around (and I’m not that pleasant to begin with). On one of those weekends I met someone who, two years later, I had a son with, and then another. Had I not attended to my own life/needs/happiness, my mom likely wouldn’t have grandkids. She’d be pleased to know I have a son who looks like her, and whose middle name is hers, Sylvia.
Learning: Shared media. My mom and I both love TV, and we watched a ton of it together. It was awesome. Frasier, Jeopardy, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends. What’s the media your dad enjoys? If it’s books, read to him; music, listen together. Watch his favorite movies.
Learning: Relive his life. Looking at pictures and asking my mom to share stories from her childhood and adulthood was rewarding for us and gave her a chance to live her life again. Facilitate this as much as possible.
Learning: Nothing unsaid. Impossible to say “I love you,” or how much you admire your father, too much. Impossible. I used to sit next to my mom on the couch, hold her hand, weep, and tell her how sad I was she was sick.
Learning: People will surprise/disappoint you. My mom had several close friends who never visited or even called much. It was as if they were worried they might catch her cancer. I don’t think these were bad people, they just dealt with it differently. Conversely, her last boss, a successful guy 20 years younger than her, with his own family, would get on a plane every four weeks, come sit by my mom’s side (where she would vomit into a plastic container every 15 minutes), and would talk to her for an hour before heading back to the airport.
Learning: It’s the illness speaking. My mom was remarkably good-spirited through the process. However, it’s not uncommon for people to be unreasonable, even mean toward the end. It’s the illness speaking. To the extent you can, ignore it.
What I Know
As the father of two, I can somewhat relate to your dad. I think about the end a lot, so I can make better choices today. At the end, I believe parents want two things:
- To know their family loves them immensely.
- To recognize that their love and parenting gave their children the skills and confidence to add value and live rewarding lives.
Your message and LinkedIn profile confirm your father has achieved both these things. It must be a huge source of comfort for him to have such an impressive son.
P.S. If you watched The Social Dilemma (highly recommended), or even if you didn’t, you’d like my conversation with Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor and advisor to Zuck who appears in the movie, on this week’s podcast.
First of all,Thank you so much to professor.This knowledge helpful for our future.
Trump could pardon Snowden and release the classified information related to the domestic surveillance program and military drone strike program (forget the name but it had a cool sounding “kill matrix”) but Trump is too stupid to properly smear Biden and Obama before he leaves office……..www.jobztip.com
Professor, those were powerful and insightful words. Thank you for sharing.
My mom passed away two years ago and I helped, along with my sister, to take care of her in those last months. 100% on every one of the learnings you listed. She left us with all five daughters and four grandchildren surrounding her- she would have wanted nothing else.
Quality read. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Scott. I am currently reading this in the parking lot of the cancer centre, where my dad is getting chemo treatment for stage 4 lung-cancer (with COVID, only patients are allowed in the hospital). I recently moved back to Canada from overseas to be with him. I read Algorithm to Happiness a few summers ago and your experience / reflections on being there for a loved one at the end of life stuck with me. I took solace in those reflections while on my plane ride back and I take solace in reading this now. Thank you. p.s. Shared media –> absolutely this. Each night, we watch his favorite show (Anderson Cooper 360) and then switch back and forth between the history channel and CNN.
Thanks, am crying and have a call with my CEO in 15. I always love to read what you have to say. You are wise and funny and comforting.
Thank you, Scott! It’s always a pleasure to read you. This time it was so different, so personal. It is sad and beautiful and true, it makes me want to cry. Again, thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing. I lost my dad of 92 years in August. He was my best friend as well. I left my job in CA to be with him for 3 months until he took his very last breath. i struggled with moving him back home to pass away and to be surrounded by his loved ones instead of staying at the nursing facility. After reading your article, i know I did the right thing. Thanks again for your words.
Thank you for sharing Scott, incredibly assertive and deep…
After 35 years of living in CA, I find myself in my parents CT home these last 30 days, helping my parents deal with my father’s recent prognosis of an aggressive lung cancer that has metastasized to the bones and liver. My three sisters, two that live within an hour’s drive, and one that lives in Melbourne, AU are all here with me, as are my wife and two daughters. I read aloud your post at the dinner table tonight. Not a dry eye at the table. Your words hit home, hard, and gave us wonderful reasons to cry, to laugh and to appreciate the love that our father has given us his 61 years as a husband, a parent, and for the many people who have written and called, a friend. These words especially, defined the moment for all of us: Where you die, and who is around you at the end is a strong signal of your success or failure in life. Thank you for helping us realize the value of this time together and how much he deserves all of our love. We are ever hopeful that there will be more time together in the months and years ahead, but we also cherish this time and relish the chance to come together as a family.
Thank you for sharing your kind insight on this deeply personal chapter of your life. With so many of us living with our families right now, this post hits close to home.
Wow…still thinking about those stories and advices. Thanx for sharing!
Incredible post. Certainly if there was a rubric for the impact you’ve made on peoples lives, both you and your mother raising you would receive exemplary remarks.
I never know what to expect from you, G. One day I am on a Sprint soaking up a few insights (courtesy of a emerging market bursary *thank you, by the way*), the next you are kicking someone’s ass with some raw and revealing data, and this time a few scoops of earnest and heartwarming care. Fortunately, you don’t do it to be liked. Which is what makes it have more depth. Personally it remains a pleasure to be surprised on these levels. A blend of reality and vulnerability is a damn good mix. From Africa, much respect! And thanks. Not much that I like to read without frowning a little cynically, but this is lekker (South African term for great!)
Thank you Scott for a most meaningful and profound post that I’ve read in a long time.
Scott My son introduced your blog to me and I have always enjoyed reading it and your perspective on life but today it is so nice to see that you , who has a beautiful mind has an even more beautiful heart. Total respect 🙏
Thank you for sharing this beautiful letter reminding us what’s truly important in life. It’s also a lovely tribute to your mother as she clearly impacted so many people in her life.
So touching and kind. Great advice.
Thanks for this Scott. I love your podcasts and thoughts on business, but also love these moments of zooming back out to remember what’s really important.
Thanks Scott for a sincere and thoughtful column, sometimes we forget what’s important in this very short existence we have.
This is so touching… You have reminded me that family and especially our parents is everything to us. Thank you professor 🙂
As a son who is wrestling with the same problem, I keep asking myself – am I doing enough? Have I done everything I could possibly do? Am I a bad son if I prioritize other parts of my life over my mom? … one cannot underestimate how Covid makes this terrible situation even worse. Thanks Scott, Reading this this morning made me feel better.
Poignant lessons. Well said Scott
Chapeau Scott~well said. Laying down the unvarnished truth in a compassionate voice while recognizing the necessity of balance and perspective.
So well said, Scott. Thank you!
Wonderful heartfelt advice. Thank you for sharing it and enriching all of us.
Read Atul Gowande’s ” Being Mortal ” before helping someone. It makes everyone a better care giver.
Well-spoken, Scott. I cried; I am crying. No matter how much we do and care for our loved ones crying – post-death, is part of grieving and grieving is a good thing and can last a lifetime.
Heartfelt advice given with lots of mercy and no malice Scott. Sorry about your mom – you did her proud.
Scott, love your posts. But today I’m writing to call out some either sloppy (my hope) or disingenuous (not my hope) research at the start of yesterday’s post. In your opening deaths-per-day chart Covid leads the hall of shame with an average of 808 deaths per day, which indeed squares up with CDC’s tally. But, the premise in the opening paragraph that “Americans are dying from the novel coronavirus at a greater velocity than any crisis in our nation’s history” is dismayingly untrue. The chart benchmarks Covid against seven other events – six wars plus AIDS. Missing from the list are the Spanish flu of 1918, which yielded about 1,780 deaths per day in the U.S. during its course (per CDC). Also missing is the 1957 Influenza Pandemic which killed 255 per day (at the midpoint of Wikipedia’s range), which would put it 4th on your list just behind WW II. Perhaps heart disease (1,773 deaths per day) or cancer (1,641) might have been included? I could continue and eventually drive Covid off your list of eight bad things, but the point is made.
Hi there, great article for sure but also agree with Harrison L. Quick number of deaths per year of cancer in the usa seems to be 606 K / 364 equals 1660 deaths per day of cancer. Why cannot be mentioned anywhere and why cant we get as alarmed as fast to get a cure versus a flu which will mutate every year anyway.
Agreed. The proper way to analyze the numbers is per capita. For example, there were only 31 million Americans during the civil war and there are 328 million today. The civil war deaths based on today’s population would therefore be over 5,000 per day. In 1945, the population was about 140 million. You can do the math to get more accurate comparisons.The number of deaths from Covid is still high. On average, we average over 8,000 deaths per day from all causes. Over 800 deaths per day from Covid would indicate 10% are coming from Covid which I find tragic. However, the next obvious question would be has there been an increase in the number of total deaths per day during the pandemic? It could be that if less people drove, you could have less traffic deaths. On the other hand, I know suicides in Japan have increased although deaths and cases there have never been that high. This has been attributed to more people becoming depressed due to isolation. Also, roughly 1/3 of Covid deaths have been attributed to nursing homes in this country. If we eliminated those deaths, the daily average deaths relevant for most people is really closer to the 500s. In short, there is too much simplification and these sorts of statistics are too often used to further an agenda. It is curious that the MSM reports daily cases but not deaths. Instead of daily deaths, they will give a story about a tragic story of one death. 8,000 people die every day. There is bound to be at least one tragic death. Covid is serious but can be dealt with if we limit contact, wear masks and wash hands. This is possible. Look at Asia. Taiwan still has only 550 cases. My greater hope is that the flu and Covid vaccine will eventually be combined into one shot annually as the flu has killed 12,000 to 61,000 annually since 2010. The flu roughly kills about the same number of people each year as homicides.
Professor, Thank you for sharing this particular private part of your life. It is good to have a different perspective on what we think and what we will do. Make me think about my parents and my fathers-in-law and what I would do when their moment comes. Thank you again.
Great read and truly touching given the times. There are many who are suffering under this crisis and those words provide some peace. Love the Dog.
“Strategies for a sprint” would be a good subtitle. Things get different when months become years. No friend is going to fly-in every two weeks for ten years, Gulfstream or no, especially when almost every person they ever knew is dead. Talking about family memories gets tough when someone says: “I’m not happy. When are my mother & father going to come get me?” and, no, they are not speaking metaphorically. Then there is caretaker abuse, which is less easily laughed off when intermittent means every few hours, year after year. Good piece. You’ve got the “what to do in the months before hospice” thing down, and I hope you never know enough to write the essay about longer-term no-end-in-sight caregiving.
The power of being human. Thank you Scott!
Scott, this really hit home. I was living in Vietnam when my 87 year old father fell and was unlikely to enjoy the freedom of living on his own any longer. I hopped a plane with my wife and kids in tow and my brother and sister did likewise from their respective homes. As we expected, with full-time dependence on others the next step, he stated it had been a wonderful life and he was ready to wrap it up. We understood completely and spent the last days beside him until he left us. The amazing thing was that he did not pass until the three of us left the room at the same time. It seemed that though he was ready to go, his love for his children, and ours for him, would not let him leave us while we were so near. I wouldn’t trade those last days we spent with him for all the material riches in the world. Thank you for your wonderful insights and for taking me back 11 years to again be reminded just what is truly important in life on this particular rock in the universe.
Thank you for such a compassionate, personal and human post – what great advice and counsel for a difficult period in this young man’s life. Well said.
Agree with your advice. Eight years ago my Mom began a long decline (COPD and she was 93!). Two brothers and I agreed to share overnight responsibilities. We promised her she would die at home, and we would not take her to the hospital if something “happened.” She had outlived almost all of her friends, but we made a patchwork of paid helpers, hospice care, staff from her business and her younger friends. And then one of us — her kids — would have dinner and stay the night in another room with a baby monitor on in her room. My brothers were fantastic — patient, dear, gentle and thoughtful. Complicated regimes of pills and scheduling, all done with spreadsheets and calendars. She kept her mind clear until about four or five days before the end. When one of us would get tired, the other two would buck us up. We never regretted the five or six months of our routines. I lived four hours away and would come for a week or so at a time, my brothers lived closer. But we all did about a week each. We never regretted the time, the effort or the closeness we felt to her and each other. She died at home, on a day when she never really woke up. None of her kids were with her at that moment — but we had been there, and she knew it and loved it. The best is that we know we did our best, we did what we set out to do, and she died among her loved ones.
My first reaction to your post was to quibble with your COVID statistics. Then I actually read your post. Bravo! Having lost both of my parents to disease I wish I had someone like you to give this advice. In hindsight I would have done more to spend time with them and to help my sister who did the bulk of the caregiving. I suspect those who complain about the COVID statistics didn’t read past the opening chart.
I found this both moving and uncomfortable. I applaud your words. Thank you.
Thank you Scott for sharing your ordinal story and for raising a very important and another tragic outcome of this epidemic. Not just extensive deaths but loss, and so many elderly and sick passing on without their loved ones by their side as they’re allowed to be there. Poor effort Bill. Sharing our own journeys as a way of supporting others is part of our point and there is so much anxiety and fear right now that every share helps. My dad passed suddenly whilst abroad where he lived alone. 3 months after his own mother passed and all whilst his twin granddaughters were fighting for their lives after being born 3.5 months early. My dad died in a hospital in Gambia, my gran in a nursing home in ger hometown with her family around her. I’m with Scott, it matters for the dying and it matters for the surviving and I’m publishing a book on the matter because it always does but especially now.
Poor effort, Scott. I expect more from you than scaremongering and cod psychology.
How much are you paying for what you “expect”?
Bill, what a nasty and unnecessary comment you wrote. I got a lot out of this compassionate and intelligent piece. If you didn’t you always have the option to just close the window and carry on with your day.
Easy, Karen. He didn’t claim psychology. People asked advice & he shared. For free. That’s the gig. If you take nothing else from it, it will give insight into an end with strangers & bright lights.
Really nice piece, and I’m sorry about your mom. As I read it, I kept thinking how relevant your approach is for loved ones who are not terminally ill, too. (Scaled way back, of course.) One thing my son taught me in his death is that tomorrow’s never promised. I’ve so much admiration, love and respect for those who continue to “check in” with me. I’ll grieve my son for the rest of my life, and friends and family can’t take the hurt away, but I don’t know where I’d be without the kindness they’ve shown me. Don’t take those you care about for granted.
..been enough. What I’ve learned from you about relationships has actually turned out to be an order of magnitude more. Thank you.
You’re a very wise and good man, Professor. I came for the tech, and that wou;d have
Found it a very compelling read… shared it with my friends on FB… Not the moment of birth or death, but the proximate before and after. More people are losing more people than at any point in our history. Where you die, and who is around you at the end is a strong signal of your success or failure in life.
No truer words have ever been spoken. “I believe it doesn’t matter how nice your home is; if at your exit you’re surrounded by strangers under bright lights, it’s a disappointment.” Thank you Prof G
As a 65 yr old son of a fading 87 year old father, and mother with Alzheimer’s, this post hit me dead center. No pun intended. I will continue on my current path which your thoughts encourage. Thank you for the insight!
Love reading your work always Mr Galloway. However it is breathtaking (and depressing for humanity) how such a critical thinker can just blindly swallow the fear narrative. You have not adjusted the numbers for population size so the scale is completely distorted. The population of the US during the civil war was 31 000 000. So you you should times the “deaths in civil war” figure by over 10 times to compare with todays covid figures. 2.4% of the population died in the civil war while, currently, (assuming all covid deaths are from covid and many of those are contentious due to comorbidities) covid has killed about 0.065% of the population. The civil war went for 4 years, the covid pandemic is about 7 months old. Your numbers either over dramatise the effect of covid or belittle the disastrous impact of the American Civil war. Neither is helpful for a rational discussion. You would have to triple the world war one figures and times the world war two figures by 2.5 as well. The flu epidemic in 2017/18 in the US https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html killed 61k Americans (estimated it could be higher). Flu epidemics are about 6 months long. So in that season 338 people died a day from the flu which on your table above would put it ahead of World War 2. If you took the CDCs worst estimate of 95k deaths in that season you would get 527 deaths a day. That would put it above covid. Those numbers are estimated so any of those numbers could be the true number (as could a lower number of course). That is just for 1 flu season. For some reason we have decided covid has a never ending rolling season which is again distortive if you are trying to compare apples with apples. The first season of covid is behind us. We are moving into winter in the northern hemisphere and surely a second season. You have played very fast and lose with the data here and I find that very disappointing. We need to be able to have accurate good faith discussions now more than ever. Fear data like this does not help that.
Great post, thanks a lot!
Over 675,000 died from Spanish flu in USA. So your statement about Covid is not correct. The USA did a fine job coming back from the Spanish flu epidemic. The very old and already sick (co-morbidity) are dying from Covid, very sad but we have to continue to run our country. My 83 year-old mother in a nursing home got it (me too at 57) and both asymptomatic because we are healthy people, and don;t have all kinds of underlying health issues.
In case no one has accused you of this for awhile, you’re a total mensch (according to this shiksa.)
Thank you for sharing with such honesty and candour.
Your most beautiful post yet.
Early in Feb. this year, I got a call that my mother in a nursing home in MA was failing. My husband and I quickly got a flight from our home in FL and arrived to find that she was much better. We stayed a few days and I read to her from The American Story by David Rubenstein, which I had purchased for reading on the flight north. She requested I read the chapter on Ronald Reagan by H.W. Brands to her. Whenever I would stop reading, she would squeeze my hand so hard. My husband and I told her that we’d return in April as previously planned for her 102nd birthday. By mid-March Covid-19 closed down the nursing home. I never saw her again but I have the memories of her telling me all she knew about Nancy Reagan and drifting off to sleep while I read to her.
I’m incredibly sorry to hear this. Care homes the world over are demonstrating incredible cruelty in the guise of “keeping us safe”.
Scott, you are correct, relationships define success. We (my sisters and I) were able to have both our parents pass at home, with lots of loved ones around them.
Thanks Scott. I’m grateful to have your voice in my life.
A great post. Touching and wise.
This was great. This should be required reading for all, especially in the new normal. Cheers, Benjamin
As I mourn the recent loss of my mother, I completely concur with your advice. After a nightmare scenario of contracting covid in the hospital after being admitted for a non-covId reason, I am so thankful for the last 48 hours that I was able to have my mom home in the care and comfort of her family. I am devastated for all those mourning loved one who were not that lucky. Please everyone, stay safe. Wear masks. Wash your hands. Keep you distance.
As always: profound. Insightful. Sage. And this time hits home. Even at ten years to the day. Thinking of you, mom
Hi Scott. Thanks for sharing! All the best, Lj
I also feel like most humans are wired to remember the most deeply felt and irreproducible moments mentioned in this post: birth/death. I think we are also wired to experience the emotional hole that is left if we are absent, in body or spirit, for either of those moments. I take the chart to show that there are at least 808 confirmed, probably devastating, emotional hole creating occurrences happening daily in the US that, other countries have been able avoided. History should look upon this episode of American sociopathy with nothing less than appall and disgust. This post, though, shows the hope and humanity that raises our personal and social health. Thanks for sharing Scott and thank you to thoughtful commenters.
Sage insight, been there, done that – a number of times. Great read by a Dr. In Boston ‘Being Mortal’ and we all are.
Scott, I read all of your stuff with great interest and appreciate the honest and sincere way you write and speak. I lost my wife to cancer a couple of years ago and I also was looking for a way to make dealing with death easier for her, particularly the anxiety she experienced contemplating her death. I’ve since delved into the research that is occurring with using psychedelics to treat anxiety in terminal cancer patients ( as well as addiction, PTSD, depression and a variety of other problems). Don’t know if you’ve heard about any of this but I am encouraged by what I’ve seen so far and hope that the research continues. Johns Hopkins is one of the first to start this research but recently a number of other places have taken it up as well. Michael Pollan wrote “How To Change Your Mind” to highlight this work as well as other benefits that psychedelics offer to society. It’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. I thought you might be interested in this. Thanks for the work you do.
So well written, brought tears to my eyes. And very appropriate guidance. I lost my father 13 years ago and I was fortunate to be able to go home (for context I lived in London and my parents in Calcutta) to be with my mother during my father’s time in the hospital and until after his death. Incidentally not unlike Scott, my brother would fly down on Thursdays/Fridays and return on Monday to his city. Everything you say resonates with me; life choices are hard and eventually the balance you achieve will depend on one’s priorities and how one wants to live their life. My brother and I were both blessed, that our choices were not difficult. Love, family, wellbeing has always been a priority and we were there when our parents needed us most.
Heartwarming….your mom was a lucky woman to have you as a son.
My 71 year old father was also diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer last year. He died twelve days later. Spend as much time with him as you can, you never no how much time you have. I wasted so many years and I would love to see him one more time.
I’m crying bc of you – again. Well done 🙂
Is it irony that the cause of the deaths in this post is not COVID but cancer and cancer kills 1,600+ people a day- double that of COVID? source: http://www.cancer.gov. Seems like you should have used cancer, not COVID to make your point.
Well done. There’s no playbook for that situation and everyone’s circumstances are different… Great advice.
I have elderly parents. In their 80’s. They live in the south. I live in the north. We don’t see each other often and I feel guilty for not making it to see them as often as I wish. Every time they call I brace myself…is this the call? Your article puts things in perspective and sheds light and guidance from the POV of having been there before. I feel better prepared. Thank you.
This post made my cry. Your ability to articulate what it means to know that you are losing someone you love, that your time with them is precious, is so ‘right’ I lost my Dad a year and a half ago and when he died, he was surrounded by his family. He was sick for 10 years and it dominated our lives. I would say to your reader that you have to balance your live, with knowing that your time is short with your parent. Keep working, and living your live, while focusing on your Dad. xxx
Wow, just wow. It hits me, moves me. What wisdom (that should be in CAPS), love & humanity from a life lived…
This is the best thing I have read in a long time. Thanks big dog 🐕…
Thought provoking, deep, human, helpful. A message of appreciation and a challenge to help rebalance and put more focus/energy on meaningful things. A positive surprise as I was not expecting you diving here. Thanks for this note Scott.
Your analyses on companies and markets are always enjoyable and insightful…but nothing compares to this honest, blunt reflection on what’s most important in life: family, love, and purpose. I and many others profoundly relate to these words with our own family illnesses and the presence of loss that surrounds us in 2020. So many amazing comments…but one of your most thought-provoking comments is to balance these tough moments and remember to continue your career / aspirations that your parents very likely want you not leave behind just for them. I’m in my mid-20s, so I don’t full appreciate death yet, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and what my life will mean. It makes total sense that in somebody’s dying moments they would like to feel that their life meant something and their impact lead to the success of their kids. And so continuing your march, even in these hardest of times, towards your career goals can truly be a sincere/profound homage to their value in your life. I too experienced this chaotic / uncomfortable feeling last year when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (thankfully now in remission), and I was really struggling emotionally to balance working crazy hours for my startup at a critical time for our company and taking a train every 7-10 days to NYC to be with her for her treatments. Nothing is harder in life than seeing your parents in a fragile state. She was always so supportive of my work and didn’t want to hurt my career progression, but I always felt so so guilty when I left. How much time do I have with her? Is my work really worth this feeling? What would make her happy and comfortable? Looking back and reflecting on this post helps me realize that balancing our self-progression while being there for them is probably what our parents want the most, and that it can be almost against their wishes to give up on your life just to constantly be with them. Certainly everything in moderation, and I will always put my family and their health first, but this is a subtle and profound point that I think gives us sanity in our most overwhelming/sad moments. Thank you, Scott, for this incredible post and also for your book TAOH, which I read last year while caring for my mother. We actually listened to the audiobook together on some car rides and she really loved it. Watched a lot of The Crown together too because she loves drama TV shows. Feels amazing to generously love and take care of somebody who has given so much to your life. It will never be enough / comparable, but we can try our best. Thank you and well wishes, Scott. Love from Baltimore.
Lost my mom from biliary tract cancer 11 years ago when I was 28, and now my dad is diagnosed a dementia this year. He stays my hometown quite far from me and I’m currently working mom with two kids. Phisically I can’t stay with him daily life now unlikely what I did for my mom when I was single but I’ve been travelled somewhere near his home together with my family & sis family and share my sadness and concern toward him via a letter. (It’s quite hard to communicate with dad compare to mom.) Your advice makes me think about good death even though tremendous sorrow remains family heart. Thaks for sharing.
Scott, I find your business analysis thought-provoking. Posts like this remind me you are also and exceptional human being. Enhorabuena. Don´t get cocky though. Your Spanish still leaves much to improve. Cojones!
Few things I read make me so emotional. Posts like there are so incredibly human. Thank you for writing these.
Scott, thanks for this post. One of the best reads whole damned weird year.
Good points, but as you said, YMMV. My mother was diagnosed with Cancer and given 3 months to live. My sister called me with the initial diagnostic as I was heading to the airport, I was trying to close a long worked deal that could save our company. Also had two school age children and a working spouse. On the way to the customer, I stopped to visit my mother. I told her that I could cancel the trip, not sure if I really could. “You have responsibilities, nothing you can do here” was her response. She was lucid and I said I would stop by on my way home from the trip so we could talk. When I came back a week later, she couldn’t recognize me and died 2 weeks later. My sister told me that my mother didn’t want me to neglect my other duties, to expect it would make her feel selfish. We come into the world alone, and leave alone. Expecting to have the perfect death that puts out the living is a self centered wish.
Thank you for this Scott. It made me think back on When Breath Becomes Air… “That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” – Paul Kalanithi
This is wonderful. Having now had both my own and my wife’s parents die, it truly resonates. Having no regrets about spending time with parents them in their final days does assist closure and grieving.
writing this and wiping my eyes. I’ll forward to my kids. This post will touch many. thank you for sharing.
That was simply profound. Thank you.
One of your best.Lots to unpack. Thanks for sending it today.
There is so much wisdom in what you wrote. And done so eloquently and with compassion and empathy. God bless you!
Professor: That was a very honest, direct and moving letter. It provided great advice to a young person at a critical point in his life. I know from prior editions that your mother’s influence on your life continues, and I think it would have made her proud.
Seriously, thank you for this post.
Thanks for sharing your perspective. In a word (two) – always useful.
Hi Scott, beautiful post, thanks for sharing!
I relate to everything you have put into this post. I have been a caregiver for 2 dying loved ones and now as I am in my 8th decade, I am hoping for exactly what you have described here.
Scott, such good advice. My Mom, sister and Father were sick before they died and I was able to spend at least some time with them. My brother died in an accident 19 years ago last week. I never got to say the things that never should wait…. This young man has been given an opportunity and I know he will make the most of it and always be glad he did.
Like the chart but it seems like you should factor in the population for each period to make it more comparable.
Thanks for pointing out that it is the small ordinary things that really matter. So much of that has been denied so many during this pandemic.
When a parent dies you will always fear you did not do enough. If possible make sure to be ahead of the curve with planning their final weeks of care and pain control: things can start to move fast. This time is wretched but working to ensure they don’t suffer needlessly will help immensely both for their quality of life and your later regret. Kind, considered palliative care whether in their home or a hospice can be critical in the last weeks and days. If they do choose ultimately to go to a hospice be aware that their health can drop off very quickly once admitted – either as a function of their own realisation of inevitability or simply that to that point they will fight beyond reason to put on a brave face to reduce the stress on their loved ones. Wherever they are when their health does hit that awful cliff, I would really try to be ahead of the curve especially with comfort and pain control to help reduce their suffering and the emotional toll and regret it can cause the loved ones they leave behind. Cancer sucks.
Scott, I am an old (54) guy that was introduced to you by my 25 year old son and enjoy reading your books and blog. Today’s we especially poignant, thank you. By the way, here is a story about a that cowboy. A older married couple on their first cruise had the misfortune of experiencing a malfunctioning toilet. The cruise ship toilets use suction to remove the contents, but somehow the wife managed to get caught in the suction and no matter what she did, she could not un-lodge herself from the toilet. She called to her husband and after a long time of trying, they realized they would have to get help. They called and explained the situation and were told an engineer would be there shortly. When they heard a knock on the cabin door, they both realized they needed to cover her up, so the husband quickly tossed his hat onto her lap and then led the engineer into the bathroom to access the situation. A few moments later, the engineer came out and announced that he could help the lady, but the guy is a goner.
Scott – when you get political you tend to be like Kara and lose all of your logic abilities. that chart is flat out misleading and minsinformation though. you need to adjust for population size. For example, without going into in depth detail, the US population in 1865 was about 31M. Today it is 325M, so it is 10x the size. So to put your civil war comparison in context you need to 10x that number and it would be more like 5000/day and 6x the Covid number. So your chart is very misleading. And this principle applies to all the data points.
Jay – Scott is presenting how many people are dying per day due to covid, not %of people per day. Anyways, the main point of difference here I see is that you believe that the % of people dying is a more important metric, which means that you think it’s okay for 808 people to die everyday, as long as it remains low as a percentage of the total population. I think this view itself is quite controversial. This is not like saying because our population is larger now, individual lives are worth less, which unfortunately include your own life and your loved ones. You should read “the Righteous Minds” to maybe get some more insights on this.
Hi Scott, There are two newsletters that I read with most interest. One is yours obviously. The second one is “The Red Hand Files” where the great poet and artist Nick Cave responds to his fan mail about creativity, love, grief, etc. Yourself, and himself, could not live in more different worlds and perspectives. However this week the two newsletters had a lot in common.
Thanks for sharing this story prof. It is profoundly great learnings .
What a lovely and thoughtful post – thank you.
Given the very questionable nature of Covid numbers, both in testing methods and data manipulation, that chart is an irresponsible display. Not to mention the inaccurate comparason between eras of very different populations. Regurgitating USA Today is just not empirical enough for this important issue. Love most of your work, but that’s a miss.
If that’s your only takeaway from this thoughtful and moving article then it’s clear that your parents didn’t raise you as well as Scott’s did.
Thank you. My mother died in April after a brief illness. She was in FL for the winter, but we hail from MA. Unfortunately we were in the early stages of covid then and due to travel limitations and hospital restrictions, she spent much of the second phase (which ultimately became the death phase) of her illness alone with strangers to “comfort” her. Even my dad, whom she had been with for 61 years, wasn’t allowed to see her until the doctors realized her death was imminent. Although my mother and I had a complicated relationship, I would have given anything to be with her and my father during this time. She was a 76 year old woman who had never lived alone — in fact, she spent 60+ of her 76 years in a multi-generational home. While I am glad that she’s no longer suffering, I think I will forever try to make peace with the way she died.
Seconding what so many others have commented here: Thank you for being open and sharing your very personal experiences, thoughts, and humanity. I’m usually a quite stoic person, but was brought to tears. Again, thanks.
Screw up for making me cry as I sit on a toilet reading this. As a former practicing doctor who has helped both patient and loved one with the transition, and someone who has lost many loved ones, your advice is the best I have ever seen. I recently got back from a casino; my mom and I shared a love of gambling. She was never really successful on the slots, while I go up and down. But whenever I play now, in the back of my mind is my mom and how win or lose, she loved to gamble, mostly cursing the machines.
Another beautiful and courageous post – thank you
This is so true and so filled with such humanity. And so important for us caregivers to hear it from other caregivers. Thank you.
Your No Mercy / No Malice today hits at home for me. I have 3 Daughters who are disabled. I had twins that were born premature (2 lbs.) My full term Daughter is autistic. My wife and I gave up our business and dedicate our lives to bringing them up. If I can be of any help to your followers you can count on me!
Sending you thoughts and prayers.
Just a note – in India, love is considered implicit, and there is not really a way to say “I love you” in a regional language. However, just being present makes up for that.
As we all age, managing the health care crises of older relatives/our parents and preparing to say good bye is a very common experience. Thank you for sharing your honesty and humanity in retelling your own family situation. Agreed–a successful and rich life is not about the stuff what we have but the relationships we’ve formed and nurtured during our lives. The time we’ve given others. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. PS–You know you’re doing something right when a former student asks you for this “life advice” which I would guess is clearly outside of the curriculum. Well done.
Thanks, just, thanks…
I love this – all of it – thanks for sharing…appreciate your humanity and openness to sharing the personal side…
Scott, glad you covered a softer topic like this instead of just the typical ecomm titans. Look forward to your newsletter every Friday (titan analysis included). I chose to be an Advisor for a startup trying to help people and employers tackle precisely the topic you covered this week. I wanted to add more purpose into my own life and more importantly help advance an organization that adds more purpose and good into the world. LifeGuides has guides that your 26 year old could talk to that have already gone through caring for their aging parents. They have other guides that have gone through what Karsen and her family went through. LifeGuides cares for the Caregivers be it Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Covid & many other life challenges. Not trying to make this a hard sell just hope you and your readers will check out the site and decide on your own if this 501 3(b) organization can help build a Culture of Caring at their own organizations. We all know Silicon Valley could use help in that area!
This is the first post I’ve received after subscribing. Man, am I thankful for the timing! Two years ago I quit my job to care for my mother during her final weeks. That time together has proven more valuable than I could have imagined, both for our relationship and for my personal growth. Beautifully reasoned advice, Scott. Thank you for sharing.
100% Scott. I was a hospice volunteer for and your advice is spot-on.
One of your best post, Scott! Thanks for sharing this amazing insight. It makes me remember why I consider you one of my internet mentors!
Touching message and wonderful advice to someone in a very challenging situation. Well written and provides perspective on a life event we will all face.
Kind of bad data analysis as the crux of this post. As populations increase like a ski jump – need to use percent of total comparisons – otherwise not always relevant comparisons.
I bawled through reading this, not from sadness or regret but happiness that you took the time to write and share this…so beautiful
Great post. Though I listen to Pivot, I’d have been hard pressed to know your kindness and sensitivity!
Dear Professor, Great and touching perspective. Thank you for sharing. Regards from Brazil.
A well founded and well structured post. Good stuff mate.
Wow. A beautiful story and sentiment. Thank you
Great, great, great post! A topic we don’t stop to think about, until you have to, right? I appreciate the perspective.
So much wisdom here. My 83-year-old parents are healthy, but my thoughts often wander to what awaits us. I will be saving this post for future reference. Thank you!
I’ve appreciated what you’ve shared, but it seems that you’ve nitpicked the crises you’ve shared. I can only _assume_ this was for the purpose of swaying public opinion. Why didn’t you include the Spanish Flu, in your numbers? And I keep seeing wars in this conversation, but I think wars are hardly comparable to viruses..
Well written, Prof Galloway, thank you for sharing the value of time and family.
Scott, as always you have so much insight in your advice and I always read your messages the minute to come into my inbox. Your advice and point of view expressed here is so thoughtful and considerate and personal. Thank you for sharing this journey with all of us, and giving this advice to another young man who is searching for the best way to help a loved one say goodbye with love and dignity. What matters to your parent, or sibling, or loved one as they approach death is an important question to ask that we often are too afraid to face. Ask them and talk to them, no matter how difficult. In addition to your excellent advice and personal story, I also found great solace in reading Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal”. Thank you Scott for sharing.
Re: Life and death advice to a worthy student. Honest, measured, candid. Delivered with kindness. Many thanks this week to you for this share.