The Energizer

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"What for?" Beats "Why Me?": Lessons from a Short-Lived Life

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Tuesday, January 05, 2016
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I was cleaning out my files cabinets over the holidays and came across a 91-page document from Caring Bridge. It was an account of an amazing teenager who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at age 13 and died just short of her 15th birthday.  Let’s call her Kelsey for sake of privacy.

As I re-read the account written by Kelsey (when she wasn’t too ill) or filled in by her mother, I was captured by how each difficult day became a way to find grace and goodness. Indeed, Kelsey, age 13 - going on 50 in wisdom - would write about the joys of seeing a sandpiper and the fun of helping someone else. Whether giving away her lunch to someone else, or expressing continuous gratitude for the smallest gesture to ease her pain, Kelsey wrote about gratitude. She literally wrote that instead of asking ‘Why me?” she started to ask “What for?” She believed her cancer was there for a reason and she looked to understand what it was for.With clarity in the midst of all this scary and painful stuff, Kelsey came to realize it was so she could help others.

One of her Caring Bridge entries was about seeing a disabled boy in a wheel chair and how she realized how lucky that she could at least communicate.

“I stopped complaining about not being able to walk and I thanked God for everything I can do. I decided I wanted to go to a place for Make-A-Wish where I can support underprivileged kids and give clothes and things they may need. It is exciting to me because I can make a difference as a kid.”

I never had the opportunity to meet Kelsey or her amazing family, but my sister did and she shared this story with me:

‘I got to know Kelsey during this time and I was so moved by her courage and the strong spirituality that grew in her. She came to understand by the impactful connections she made with so many strangers around the world through Caring Bridge, that she was given this disease to be able to pray for others and help inspire and comfort them.

The last time I visited her at City of Hope, Kelsey told me that she now understood her purpose on this earth. She took out her Hello Kitty notebook and showed me the prayers she wrote and said daily for so many people. Kelsey asked me whom I would like her to pray for.

I felt so humbled in the face of her deep, strong faith. I told her about our 92 year-old mom and the very difficult struggles she was having. She took out her pencil and wrote a prayer for my mom in her notebook and read it to me. "I will pray for your mom’s strength and healing every day.'

Kelsey died just before her 15th birthday. She had planned her Quinceañera party but when she realized she wasn’t going to make it, she asked her parents to do it anyway and make it a joyful celebration for her and all the family and friends. People around the world celebrated her short yet powerful life.

As we begin our work and life journeys in this New Year, I believe that resiliency comes when we seek meaning rather than madness. Resilient people discover that few people show up for a pity party. By reframing the suffering of her life, Kelsey touched more people, made more friends, and created a legacy.


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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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