Today, I’m feeling profound sadness and intense self-reflection as I heard the words of Harmon Killebrew telling the world his cancer is no longer treatable. Here are the Hall of Famer’s wise and precious words shared through the media:
“With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options,”(for treating esophageal cancer) Killebrew said. He added: “I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.”
Killebrew, who’s 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list with 573, thanked his well-wishers for their support. “I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with my wife Nita by my side,” he said.
Several years ago, I was in the presence of one of my real-world heroes, as he spoke similar words. Don Backstrom – super-lawyer and Rotarian extraordinaire – stood in heroic posture and announced to the Minneapolis City of Lakes Rotary Club that he could no longer fight his own battle with cancer. He looked so alive and so courageous. So amazingly, admiringly real. His composure and peace were unmistakable. Grown men and women cried and swelled with pride in the same breath.
Six weeks later, I saw the hearse retrieve his physical shell from his home in Bloomington, Minnesota – he and his wife lived less than a thousand yards from our family’s front door.
I’m 48 years old…about halftime in my journey. Don Backstrom and Harmon Killebrew lived only about 25 years longer than me. Don’s personal eulogy that day in Rotary – and today’s announcement by Harmon Killebrew – are powerful reminders of my basic point of view: It’s how we live our lives (and face our death) that defines us – not what we do for a living.
Harmon Killebrew will always be remembered as a hall of fame baseball player by the world at large. But not that way by his family.
Don Backstrom will forever be remembered as a super-lawyer and an extraordinary Rotarian – an award will be given in perpetuity in his name. But his friends and family will remember how he lived the final steps of his journey.
The rest of us have to live with the reality that we are not Hall of Famers, or Rotarians Extraordinaire. There probably won’t be any awards given in perpetuity in our names…
Good leaders understand that how they treat other people determines how they will be remembered.
Lord, help us all live significant lives in the class and dignity of Harmon and Don. And share our gratitude every step of the journey. Carpe Diem.