Remembering What We are Forgetting: A Real Life Lesson

The following story is real. It’s not a network TV show, not a Nicolas Sparks novel, not a Julia Roberts movie. It is real and crushing and can hold within it some very heartfelt lessons if you are willing to read it and remember.

It started last September. I got an email from a business acquaintance.
“I guess you heard about him- I hope it call works out o.k. – kind of a bummer.”
I wrote back:
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He wrote back within a few minutes:
“Call me.”
When he answered the phone he didn’t sound like himself- he sounded tentative and tight. His voice had less power than normal, a little hollow.
“Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but he has a brain tumor.”
It’s one of those moments when you are struck silent for a few seconds so caught off guard your mind does a back flip and short circuits.
“What kind?”
“The really bad kind. Malignant.”
“Oh no.”
I hung up consumed in thought. My very good friend, someone I had worked with really closely the last three years was lying in a hospital and was going to have surgery to remove a large brain tumor the next day. He had a wife and two kids, owned a business, and was a member of a church. The nicest guy I have ever known was… dying.
I steeled myself for the visit to ICU three days later, preparing for the tubes, beeps and the odds smells. The distinct feeling I get (that every one is being cheerful but they are hiding their despair.) I hate hospitals and hate going to them but this wasn’t about me. It was about my friend and his family.
I approached his room and tentatively walked in the door, not wanted to intrude if he was asleep or involved with some medical procedure.
“Well! It’s a great day when Shawn Doyle walks in to your room to visit!” He said brightly.
He was sitting up in a chair- with a big smile on his face. Half of his head was shaved and a Frankenstein incision with staples ran from his forehead all the way back and curled to under his ear. He was grinning at me like a Cheshire cat.
“ How are you?”
“ Like my haircut?”
“ It’s very rock and roll- maybe a new look for ya buddy. Maybe get some leather pants”
He smiled and sat there with the most contended look on this face. “You know Shawn I am a very blessed man. I have the best family in the world, and look at the amazing technology we have now I mean what they can do… it’s a miracle really.”
“Yeah I can’t believe you are sitting up already.”
“ Oh I had a great breakfast this morning I got up and walked around my room a little and I have to tell you – I am going to beat this thing. I just know it.”
We had a great conversation for about an hour. As I left the hospital I was thinking to myself “what an amazing turn of events it was; I went to cheer him up and I’ll be darned if he didn’t inspire me instead.”
I called him at home in October and November and he was always positive upbeat and full of energy. He never had anything negative to say. Ever.

December 29th I got a call from his wife. “Oh Hi how are you? How is he? ” I said. She sighed and paused and said “Well I have some bad news – he uh, passed way the day after Christmas.”

We had a short conversation about funeral details and I offered my lame condolences and told her I would help in any way I could. The kind of empty things you say to someone who is inconsolable. Words are so inadequate at times.

So why am I writing about this in a business magazine? Why? because we need to start remembering in the business world and stop forgetting. Forgetting what? The lessons I learned from his legacy. We need to remember:

We are in the people business- Yes we are about revenue and profits but we need to remember that business is really about people. It’s about kindness and decency and humanity. My friend always treated everyone with respect and value. Do we?

We need to spend more time with those we appreciate- My one regret is I didn’t spend more time with him in the last days. I was busy. I was traveling. He is gone. Time is like a fleeting sunset- one minute here the next gone and you never get it back. What have you missed? Do we spend time with those we should?

We leave a legacy- We will all tell stories about his legacy which I wrote in a letter that I enclosed in the sympathy card to his wife. He was a fine man whose greatest legacy is I don’t think anyone will ever say anything bad about him. Yeah he was that good that generous that kind. What legacy do we want to leave? When we are gone what do we want people to say about us? Not about our business or our title but about us.

We need to have more fun- I worked a trade show with him and we laughed for three days. Tradeshows are brutal and tiring- standing on your feet. He and I knew we could work hard and have fun. We had amazing results and a great show. Business is serious yes but it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Do we have enough fun or are we too caught up in the seriousness of our business?

It is late at night as I write this. In the last four weeks I have thought about him everyday. Eventually I won’t. Cruel but true. His memory will fade, but his legacy doesn’t have to. It can live on. His legacy can live on in someone like you who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him. What do you choose to remember?