Reflections on living and dying

Christine Murphy-Whyte

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Christine Murphy-Whyte. It was understandably a sad occasion, but also a celebration of her life and the legacy she leaves behind. Her influence extended beyond her work here in Ireland. Judy Caldwell, founder of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation British Columbia and Yukon Chapter, who spoke two years ago at the Europa Donna Surviving Breast Cancer conference, wrote to me to pay tribute to Christine with the following words:

Christine gave with all her heart and intelligence to the breast cancer cause. Here in British Columbia we are very aware of the work she has done and the contributions she has made on the Irish and International front. Christine is an inspiration to me and makes me even more determined to work to end the life-threatening effects of a diagnosis of breast cancer. My most sincere sympathies go to those of you who know Christine well and her incredibly supportive husband Michael, her sons and her extended family. My deepest condolences go to those of your who knew her as a great friend and a colleague at Europa Donna Ireland and abroad. I wish I had more time to be her friend.   

Tributes such as Judy’s and the many that have come to us since Christine’s death cannot help but make one reflect on what legacy we each as individuals will leave behind.  Although we live in a death-denying society, dying is part of living. That we will die is not open to question, but what is open to question is how we will die. Christine, I know, did not expect death to come for her so quickly – she still had a lot of living to do, a lot of places yet to visit (she had a passion for travel) and a lot of plans for the future of Europa Donna.   

However, listening to yesterday’s sermon and the tributes paid by her sons, I was struck by all that she had achieved in her lifetime. Head and shoulders above all of Christine’s many academic and professional achievements, is the legacy of her loving and close relationships with her mother and siblings, husband Michael, and her three sons.   

Later at home, I thought of Christine again, as I read the words of Randy Pausch*   

We don’t beat the reaper by living longer, but by living well, and living fully — for the reaper will come for all of us. The question is: what do we do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up…It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death-bed. It is the things we do not. Find your passion and follow it. ..Your passion must come from the things that fuel you from the inside. That passion will be grounded in people. It will be grounded in the relationships you have with people and what they think of you when your time comes.    


Randy”Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) was an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pausch learned that he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006, and in August 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis: “3 to 6 months of good health left”. He gave an upbeat lecture entitled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon, which became a popular YouTube video and led to other media appearances. He then co-authored a book called The Last Lecture on the same theme, which became a New York Times best-seller. Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008.   

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