How Losing My Brother Taught Me To Outlive Myself



Two words that, when separate, seem innocuous; however, when they are put together, they can pack quite a punch.  As Yoda, the wise mentor from Star Wars, would probably tell the Jedi council if those words came up in a meeting, “Ponder upon these, I must.”

Too often, I feel, many of us, myself included, take many things in life for granted.  How many times do we wake up and just go about the morning routine, not even thinking about how each day, each minute, each second, is a GIFT, not a given right?

Am I guilty of thinking this way and forgetting that each day is a gift? Absolutely!  In fact, my “wake up call” happened on May 29, 2001 when my brother Todd, whom I have blogged about before on the Taylor’s Gift Foundation blog, was killed in an ATV accident.  Todd was a registered organ donor and his belief in organ donation made me become an advocate and an ambassador for Donate Life Minnesota and Wisconsin.

After Todd died, the “outlive yourself” message really took on an entirely different meaning in my life. In fact, it was one of the first times I really gave the meaning of this message any meaningful thought.

Todd and I were lucky in that we grew up on the Setzke homestead; our great grandparents homesteaded on the property in 1884.  In fact, the house I lived in for the first two years of my life contained part of the first house built on the property.  That house also held the first organized school in the area.


Everything that our great-grandparents did and every decision for the farm, created a living legacy, one made to outlive them and create a home for future generations.  We still live on the homestead today; it remained a farm until the late 1960’s.

While talking to my best friend, Kristen, who has her PhD in biology, she mentioned the impact each person has on the world.  Every decision we make can help or harm our environment.  She is working in aquaculture and is actively trying to save species of fish in the ocean.  According to Kristen, losing even one creature would have a drastic effect on the ecosystem of the ocean; the same would hold true for the earth.  If we want to “outlive ourselves,” then we need to start thinking about the choices we make in our daily lives, start remembering that each day is a gift that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

I asked many of my friends and colleagues what the phrase “Outlive Yourself” meant to them and the general consensus was a focus on giving back to others.  Many said that helping others is the right thing to do when alive and being an organ donor is another way of ensuring that legacy of giving continues.

What does “Outlive Yourself” mean to me?  It means so many things. It makes me realize the power of organ donation.  One person can help 60 people with organ and tissue donations; what if the donor recipient became the next scientist that helped discover the cure?  What if he or she became instrumental in helping to stop the fighting in the world?  The concept of that is truly, well words cannot convey the impact of what I am trying to say.

Your life, my life, it is NOW.  Every decision and action we make has an equal and opposite reaction. We can change the world, we can “outlive ourselves” and leave a legacy, a positive, promising legacy, one full of hope, if we stop and think about how each day is a gift.

For me, to “outlive myself” means giving back, being an organ donor, and making sure that my big brother’s story is told.  I want people to know the Todd that I knew and loved, the guy who was compassionate, caring, would fight for the underdog, and who taught me about the importance of organ donation.  Todd’s legacy of “outliving himself” was to impress upon me the importance of spreading the word about giving back, to talk about organ donation.  So, to honor his memory and because I believe in it, I am doing that.

Love you big brother, now and always.

Written by Christy Setzke


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