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A father’s message from beyond the grave

Note: This is a very long forwarded post but well worth the read!

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 wouldnt 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.

Ive 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 hell 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 wont 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

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.


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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, youre
doing something wrong.

6. 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.

7. Hold fire! If someone crosses you, dont react immediately. Once you say
something it can never be taken back, and most people deserve a second

8. Have fun. If this involves taking risks, so be it. If you get caught, hold
your hands up.

9. Give to charity and help those who are less fortunate than yourselves:
its easy and so rewarding.

10. Always look on the upside! The glass is half full, never half empty. Every
adversity has a silver lining if you seek it out.

11. 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.

12. Be canny: you will get more of what you want if you can give someone more
of what they desire. Compromise can be king.

13. Always accept a party invitation. You may not want to go, but they want
you there. Show them courtesy and respect.

14. 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.

15. Always tip for good service. It shows respect. But never reward poor
service. Poor service is insulting.

16. 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 dont be a sycophant.

17. Always respect age, as age equals wisdom.

18. Be prepared to put the interests of your sibling first.

19. 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.

20. Be ambitious, but not nakedly so. Be prepared to back your assertions with
craftsmanship and hard work.

21. Live every day to its full: do something that makes you smile or laugh,
and avoid procrastination.

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. Never feel sorry for yourself, or at least don’t do it for long. Crying
doesn’t make things better.

26. Look after your body and it will look after you.

27. 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!

28. And finally, cherish your mother, and take very good care of her.

I love you both with all my heart.
Daddy x

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