Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Lesson on How to Say Goodbye

By now, many people have heard about Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pancreatic cancer who became a media sensation after delivering a final lecture about how to achieve childhood dreams.

The talk evolved into a best-selling book called “The Last Lecture'’ that quickly sold out of stores. Now, Dr. Pausch’s co-writer, journalist Jeff Zaslow, has chronicled the story-behind-the story in this weekend’s Encore section of The Wall Street Journal, noting that yet another lesson from Dr. Pausch is how to say goodbye.

“Saying goodbye. It’s a part of the human experience that we encounter every day, sometimes nonchalantly, sometimes with great emotion. Then, eventually, the time comes for the final goodbye,'’ wrote Mr. Zaslow. “When death is near, how do we phrase our words? How do we show our love?”

He goes on to write about how the book was written during 53 long bike rides during which Dr. Pausch spoke to him on a headset. And he explains how Dr. Pausch is saying goodbye to his children and the unique challenges he faces in saying goodbye to his wife.

Mr. Zaslow notes that part of saying goodbye is remaining optimistic.

“After his diagnosis, Randy’s doctor gave him advice: ‘It’s important to behave as if you’re going to be around awhile.’ Randy was already way ahead of him: ‘Doc, I just bought a new convertible and got a vasectomy. What more do you want from me?’ “

The story includes poignant details on the everyday life of a dying man. It’s accompanied by a video that will no doubt have you reaching for a tissue at the end. And while the diagnosis of a terminal illness has given Dr. Pausch the luxury of a relatively long goodbye, his advice also resonates with people in good health.

“I’m living like I’m dying,'’ said Dr. Pausch. “But at the same time, I’m very much living like I’m still living.”