A father's message from beyond the grave
Ever wondered what it is like to have Death staring straight in your eyes? Is there anything you will like to do or change before you draw your last breath? What if you have a family with young children and perhaps some precious time left? What would you do?
Here's a sad but true story to be shared, about a loving dad and husband, who did what he could in the little time he was left for his family. From their country cottage filled with memories of Mandy Flanagan's late husband Paul, she shared with us their story.
Paul, a teacher, who died of cancer at the age of 45 in November 2009, passionately believed his children, Thomas and Lucy, should have more than just fading photographs to remember him by. For the children were only five and one-and-half years old at the time of his passing. “There was nothing more important to Paul than being the best father he could be,” says Mandy.
“When he knew he was dying, there was no time for self-pity. He became absolutely focused on doing whatever he could to continue being a good dad to them throughout the years, even though he wouldn't be here in person.”
Amongst his preparation included letters, filmed messages, future birthday presents and his personal chest of favorite books. “Each book is accompanied by a note to Thomas and Lucy explaining why Paul loved it, and how much he hopes they will too when they're old enough to read it,” explains Mandy.
But perhaps all these gifts pales in comparison to a document titled “On finding fulfillment”, accidentally discovered on his laptop by Mandy. “I opened it and, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I discovered his bullet-pointed code to living a good and happy life,” says Mandy. And this list of 28 instructions was the very way Paul lived his life.
Addressing his children who were too young to understand the tragedy that was unfolding, Paul writes, ”In these last few weeks, following my terminal diagnosis, I have searched my soul and heart to find ways in which I can reach out to you as you grow up.
“I've been thinking about the matters in life that are important, and the values and aspirations that make people happy and successful. In my view, and you may well have your own ideas by now, the formula is pretty simple.
“The three most important virtues are: Loyalty, integrity and moral courage. If you aspire, friends will respect you, employers will retain you, and your father will be immensely proud of you. I am therefore giving you several pieces of advice. These are the principles on which I have tried to build my life and they are exactly those that I would have encouraged you to embrace, had I been able to.” “I love you very much. Never forget that.”
“He also wrote that they should never give up, and he certainly never did. He fought so bravely, so courageously, right to the end.”
Having been first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2004, where a birthmark on his chest had become malignant. The cancer was removed in November that year when their son Thomas was only a few months old. And after years of regular follow-ups, he was given the all clear in January 2008 when Mandy was expecting Lucy.
However a swelling that appears in May 2008 proved the cancer had spread to his lymph glands in his arms and neck shortly after. Even surgery and radiotherapy was not able to halt its progression. By March 2009, the cancer had spread to his brain and his condition was terminal.
“He never pitied himself,” says Mandy. “The diagnosis, and perhaps the drugs he was on, triggered a sort of mania. He suddenly had so much energy. While I lay awake upstairs worrying, Paul would work through the nights, determined to get his affairs in order.”
Having meticulously organized the family finances, arranged his own funeral, buying presents for their children, their dining room was soon filled piles of shoeboxes filled with paperwork, hand-written letters and DVD messages for his family and friends.
With Lucy christened last summer, she now has one godmother and nine godfathers. “He wanted his friends to have a permanent tie to his family, I think,” says Mandy. “And if Lucy couldn't have her father, a fantastic team of godfathers was the very least she deserved.”
With his passing at home, some eight months after his terminal diagnosis, Mandy was certain he'll be able to rest peacefully knowing that he had left the best legacy any father could. “When some people are told they have just a few months to live, they decide their life won't be complete until they've bungee-jumped off Sydney Harbor Bridge or seen the Grand Canyon. But that wasn't Paul. All that was important to him was right here. He lived and died by his own rules, and I know he had found his fulfillment.”
We all have a finite amount of time in this world, some less than others. And it is not the amount of time, rather how we use it which truly matters. Ever so often we get absorbed by our daily rat race and tend to take our loved ones for granted. Perhaps it is time we slow down and re-examine ourselves before it is too late.
A FATHER'S RULES FOR FINDING FULFILLMENT
Be courteous, be punctual, always say please and thank you, and be sure to hold your knife and fork properly. Others take their cue on how to treat you from your manners.
Be kind, considerate and compassionate when others are in trouble, even if you have problems of your own. Others will admire your selflessness and will help you in due course.
Show moral courage. Do what is right, even if that makes you unpopular. I always thought it important to be able to look at myself in the shaving mirror every morning and not feel guilt or remorse. I depart this world with a pretty clear conscience.
Show humility. Stand your ground but pause to reflect on what the other side are saying, and back off when you know you are wrong. Never worry about losing face. That only happens when you are pig-headed.
Learn from your mistakes. You will make plenty so use them as a learning tool. If you keep making the same mistake or run into a problem, you're doing something wrong.
Avoid disparaging someone to a third party; it is only you who will look bad. If you have a problem with someone, tell them face to face.
Hold fire! If someone crosses you, don't react immediately. Once you say something it can never be taken back, and most people deserve a second chance.
Have fun. If this involves taking risks, so be it. If you get caught, hold your hands up.
Give to charity and help those who are less fortunate than yourselves: it's easy and so rewarding.
Always look on the upside! The glass is half full, never half empty. Every adversity has a silver lining if you seek it out.
Make it your instinct always to say ‘yes'. Look for reasons to do something, not reasons to say no. Your friends will cherish you for that.
Be canny: you will get more of what you want if you can give someone more of what they desire. Compromise can be king.
Always accept a party invitation. You may not want to go, but they want you there. Show them courtesy and respect.
Never ever let a friend down. I would bury bodies for my friends, if they asked me to . . . which is why I have chosen them carefully.
Always tip for good service. It shows respect. But never reward poor service. Poor service is insulting.
Always treat those you meet as your social equal, whether they are above or below your station in life. For those above you, show due deference, but don't be a sycophant.
Always respect age, as age equals wisdom.
Be prepared to put the interests of your sibling first.
Be proud of who you are and where you come from, but open your mind to other cultures and languages. When you begin to travel (as I hope you will), you'll learn that your place in the world is both vital and insignificant. Don't get too big for your breeches.
Be ambitious, but not nakedly so. Be prepared to back your assertions with craftsmanship and hard work.
Live every day to its full: do something that makes you smile or laugh, and avoid procrastination.
Give of your best at school. Some teachers forget that pupils need incentives. So if your teacher doesn't give you one, devise your own.
Always pay the most you can afford. Never skimp on hotels, clothing, shoes, make-up or jewellery. But always look for a deal. You get what you pay for.
Never give up! My two little soldiers have no dad, but you are brave, big-hearted, fit and strong. You are also loved by an immensely kind and supportive team of family and friends. You make your own good fortune, my children, so battle on.
Never feel sorry for yourself, or at least don't do it for long. Crying doesn't make things better.
Look after your body and it will look after you.
Learn a language, or at least try. Never engage a person abroad in conversation without first greeting them in their own language; by all means ask if they speak English!
And finally, cherish your mother, and take very good care of her.
I love you both with all my heart.