I worked for Apple for more than eight years and when Steve Jobs took his final medical leave in January 2011, I knew that he wasn't coming back. This was obvious from the medical leave letter that he sent to Apple's employees. It was very carefully worded, and the key was in the last paragraph: "I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can."
"Hope" is a dirty word for people like Steve Jobs. If Steve had any realistic expectations of returning, that sentence would have read, "I love Apple so much and I'll be back as soon as I can."
If there was a reasonable chance of his return then his resignation wouldn't have been effective immediately. Another sign is the fact that he mentioned "life"
in his last resignation letter: "I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple."
End "of my life" issues are never easy to confront.
They change how you perceive reality. When I was young and far away from any end of life issues I used to look at the elderly and think, "Don't you wish that you were young so that you could see what the future holds many decades from now?" Then I was diagnosed with late stage, wide-spread metastasizing cancer. My perception of the elderly immediately changed to: "If only I could have a chance to experience life for as long as you have." My insight into life had a complete paradigm shift.
When facing your own end of life issues, you think about some things that you never considered. I thought about where, when, or how I wanted to die – and decided it was on a hill overlooking the San Clemente Pier at sunset. I also found myself have “epiphanies” much more often. One time, I looked at a bug and was quickly struck by the realization that this "lower" form of life could outlive me. But I was than relived by a second epiphany - the fact that everything in the universe has a life cycle.
Death, as final as it is, is completely normal on an absolute level. It doesn't matter if you're religious or atheist – you can simply look at everything – living and non-living – from plants and animals to the stars and planets and realize that at some point in the future they will no longer be around. It's simply the way of the universe.
Fortunately for me, my story ends--literally--with a cure for cancer. But as robust as life is, Steve Jobs reminds us that "life is fragile."