You’re in a tragic accident.

You become conscious and hear the sirens in the distance getting louder and louder as they approach the scene.

The emergency medical team, quickly yet calmly, gets down to business and  does everything humanly possible to keep you alive long enough to speed away to the hospital and save your life.

Unfortunately, having experienced similar situations hundreds of times before, the medics know you’re not gonna make it.

The EMT looks you in the eye and says “I’m sorry. I’ve done all I can. In a few minutes, you’re going to die.”

What would you say? What goes through your mind?

This weekend I watched a recorded speech given by Matthew O’Reilly, an  emergency medical technician on Long Island, NY, at TED@NYC titled “Am I dying?”

In the last seven years, Matthew has experienced every emergency imaginable ranging from fatal highway car pileups to hurricane relief. He’s seen it all.

Sometimes our fate is written in stone and we can plan for our last breath. Other times we never know when our expiration date will be stamped.

Early in his career, Matthew faced a predicament in how he’d deal with someone who was about to expire. He could tell them the truth. Yet he was always concerned whether or not they’d freak out knowing they were about to die. Or, he could soften the moment and tell them a lie; encourage them to hang in there. “Things are going to be alright.” For several years, he always chose the latter approach.

Five years ago, everything changed in how Matthew would deal with the dying.

Matthew’s team responded to a devastating motorcycle accident. The biker suffered life threatening injuries and it was clear to Matthew there was nothing he could do for him. A situation he’s faced time and time again.

“Am I going to die?” the biker asked, sensing the EMT’s solemn body language. This time, Matthew decided to tell the truth.

“There’s nothing I can do for you. Yes, you’re going to die.”

Matthew braced himself for the patient’s reaction, yet was shocked with what happened next. The biker relaxed, breathed a sigh of relief, and settled into an “inner peace and acceptance” of his fate.

Since that day, Matthew has told the truth to each and every person who was about to scale the stairway to heaven.

Over the last five years, he’s observed a common thread running through each encounter:

1) The dying want forgiveness.

One patient who knew he was about to face mortality, told Matthew he wished he had spent more time with his children and grandchildren versus spending most of his time alone.

He was seeking forgiveness.


2) The dying want to be remembered.

Those that know the end is near hope they’ll be fondly remembered by family, friends, or even strangers, EMT’s like Matthew and his team.

“”Will you remember me?” is a question Matthew was asked by many in this situation.


3) The dying want to know their life had meaning.

This one impacted Matthew the most.

Those who stare death in the face want to know they didn’t spend their time on insignificant tasks. They want to know they made a dent. Left their mark.

“There was so much more I wanted to do with my life” said the woman  to Matthew, who understood she was about to check out.


Take an account of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Ask yourself the following:

* Have I done all that I can to seek forgiveness?

* How will I be remembered?

* Has my life been meaningful?

If you’re happy with your answers, I’m envious. Well done.

If you’re not happy with your results, what are you willing to do to create the answers you want?

Whatever you decide, I hope your path takes you to a place of inner peace and acceptance before you graduate to heaven.

Matthew O’Reilly TED Talk, “Am I dying?”

Photo courtesy of Wonderlane.


Share This