A Texas man who died one month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer left behind a self-written obituary filled with the big lessons he learned during his “75 eventful years on Planet Earth.”
Lonnie Dillard loved getting the last word and was reluctant to stop now, he explained as he introduced his life advice.
“Unfortunately, I did not know all these lessons all my life; some I paid very dearly to learn. Or re-learn. But I do know that if I could live my life over, I would want these as a starter kit,” he wrote.
Dillard, who died at home in Austin on Dec. 18, was gifted with good humor and great story telling, said Sandi Sain, his wife of more than three decades. He’d been writing for years and had a habit of reading obituaries in the newspaper. He drafted his own obituary about five years ago.
“Lonnie was my everything. We had no children. We were soulmates, best friends, partners in all things. He was the romantic love of my life,” Sain, 71, told TODAY.
“I am grateful and moved by the responses to his obituary. It gives me great joy to see him remembered in such a powerful and meaningful way.”
Here’s some of Dillard’s life advice:
Choose to be happy: “Happiness is not the result of what does or does not happen to you in your life as much as your attitude about what does or does not happen. It's a decision you make. Every day.”
Do not "save things for nice": “Not the new guest room towels, the good crystal that will surely chip with everyday use, nor that ridiculously expensive jacket you bought on a lark in Florence. ‘Nice’ may never happen; life is lived now.”
Focus on people: "Making and keeping friends, like tending a garden, requires attention and effort. Yet doing so yields greater returns than anything else you will ever do."
Don’t be obsessed by money: “Having money is always better than NOT having money. But beyond basic needs and a few luxuries, money is not a requirement for happiness.”
Keep learning new things: “Time spent learning — anything — is never time wasted.” Dillard had three careers, his wife said: ordained Presbyterian minister and counselor; founding partner of an investment banking firm; and president of an insurance company. His education and experience included teaching, psychology and counseling.
Be kind: "There is no substitute for a good deed; but simply helping a stranger laugh or smile can lighten a load, too."
Set your own priorities: “They say that it is always better to have ten items on a list than only nine. I say trying to do everything ‘they’ say can snuff out whatever genius you have in you, as well as make you miserable in the process.”
Be true to yourself: “There is no one more you than you. You do have something unique to offer your piece of the world. Damn convention or the critics. Take a chance!”
Travel: Dillard jokingly warned that seeing other parts of the world could be dangerous because “if you are not careful, you could find yourself questioning whether your culture, country, or religion really does have a monopoly on all the right answers.”
Travel was a passion for Dillard, his wife said. The couple summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, explored Papua New Guinea and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef. Dillard loved exploring on foot when the couple lived in cities including Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Paris, France.
The obituary ended with a tribute to Sain: “My greatest regret is that I must now suddenly leave behind the light of my life, my loving beautiful wife,” Dillard wrote.
Finding out he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in November was a great shock, Sain said. The main symptom was fatigue. When his abdomen became very uncomfortable right before his diagnosis, Dillard went to see a gastroenterologist. A CT scan revealed the cancer, which is particularly deadly and comes with few treatment options.
Dillard didn't want to undergo chemotherapy if it would only delay suffering without quality time, his wife said.
“He was not willing to put himself or me through difficult treatments, the stress and pain for only a few weeks or a month’s gain,” Sain noted.
“I would have kept and cared for him forever, but he trusted me to respect his decision and his love for me in making it.”
A virtual celebration of Dillard’s life will be scheduled in early spring 2021.