On Sept. 3, 2012, James K. Flanagan of West Long Branch, N.J., died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He wrote this letter to his five grandchildren just months earlier and it is reprinted here with the permission of his daughter Rachel Creighton.
Dear Ryan, Conor, Brendan, Charlie, and Mary Catherine,
My wise and thoughtful daughter Rachel urged me to write down some advice for you, the important things that I have learned about life. I am beginning this on 8 April 2012, the eve of my 72nd birthday.
1. Each one of you is a wonderful gift of God both to your family and to all the world. Remember it always, especially when the cold winds of doubt and discouragement fall upon your life.
2. Be not afraid . . . of anyone or of anything when it comes to living your life most fully. Pursue your hopes and your dreams no matter how difficult or "different" they may seem to others. Far too many people don't do what they want or should do because of what they imagine others may think or say. Remember, if they don't bring you chicken soup when you're sick or stand by you when you're in trouble, they don't matter. Avoid those sour-souled pessimists who listen to your dreams then say, "Yeah, but what if . . ." The heck with "what if. . ." Do it! The worst thing in life is to look back and say: "I would have; I could have; I should have." Take risks, make mistakes.
3. Everyone in the world is just an ordinary person. Some people may wear fancy hats or have big titles or (temporarily) have power and want you to think they are above the rest. Don't believe them. They have the same doubts, fears, and hopes; they eat, drink, sleep, and fart like everyone else. Question authority always but be wise and careful about the way you do it.
4. Make a Life List of all those things you want to do: travel to places; learn a skill; master a language; meet someone special. Make it long and do some things from it every year. Don't say "I'll do it tomorrow" (or next month or next year). That is the surest way to fail to do something. There is no tomorrow, and there is no "right" time to begin something except now.
5. Practice the Irish proverb: Moi an olge agus tiocfaidh sí "Praise the child and she will flourish."
6. Be kind and go out of your way to help people -- especially the weak, the fearful, and children. Everyone is carrying a special sorrow, and they need our compassion.
7. Don't join the military or any organization that trains you to kill. War is evil. All wars are started by old men who force or fool young men to hate and to kill each other. The old men survive, and, just as they started the war with pen and paper, they end it the same way. So many good and innocent people die. If wars are so good and noble, why aren't those leaders who start wars right up there fighting?
8. Read books, as many as you can. They are a wonderful source of delight, wisdom, and inspiration. They need no batteries or connections, and they can go anywhere.
9. Be truthful.
10. Travel: always but especially when you are young. Don't wait until you have "enough" money or until everything is "just right." That never happens. Get your passport today.
11. Pick your job or profession because you love to do it. Sure, there will be some things hard about it, but a job must be a joy. Beware of taking a job for money alone -- it will cripple your soul.
12. Don't yell. It never works, and it hurts both yourself and others. Every time I have yelled, I have failed.
13. Always keep promises to children. Don't say "we'll see" when you mean "no." Children expect the truth; give it to them with love and kindness.
14. Never tell anyone you love them when you don't.
15. Live in harmony with Nature: go into the outdoors, woods, mountains, sea, desert. It's important for your soul.
16. Visit Ireland. It's where the soul of our family was born -- especially the West: Roscommon, Clare, and Kerry.
17. Hug people you love. Tell them how much they mean to you now; don't wait until it's too late.
18. Be grateful. There is an Irish saying: "This is a day in our lives, and it will not come again." Live every day with this in mind.
As was written in his obituary, James K. Flanagan "was proudly liberal and fought unyieldingly for the underdog. He was an accomplished author, poet, and seanchai -- Irish storyteller; he reveled in recounting the joy of growing up Catholic in Jersey City and his adventures in the Adirondack Mountains and on the Western coast of Ireland. His greatest love was spending time with his family, most of all his five grandchildren" Ryan (11); Conor (10); Brendan (9); Charles (8); and Mary Catherine (5)."
"We bought our grandchildren a battery-powered car. Abby got in and was frustrated that her feet could not reach the pedals. Being the independent and 'assertive' girl that she is, she said to me, 'You, get in, drive' and off we went." -Paula Soffer
"The moment my grandson Charlie was born, it was like falling in love for the first time. When we're together, our time is spent laughing, reading, and playing whatever game Charlie wants to play. There are no limits to the silliness that takes place when we're together! My heart melts each time he smiles when he sees his Grandma Vicki. Charlie Pasternak is my best friend!" -Vicki Pasternak
"I am Ari's Grammie. I live in Dallas and he lives in New York. We don't get to visit in person that much, so we video-chat most days. Thanks to 21st century technology, we are virtual grandparents. We have eaten dinner together, played with toys, and sung. We've watched him reach many milestones like walking thanks to technology. We stay updated, though we wish we lived closer. We cherish the times we actually get to spend with him and hope there will be many more to come." -Michele Kesner
"We are loving being first-time grandparents! Evan is the most precious little boy with the most adorable personality! He makes us laugh and fills our hearts with so much love! If we would have known grandchildren were going to be this much fun, we would have had them first! We are anxiously waiting the arrival of our second grandchild in October!" -Cindy Weinstein
"Hi I'm Stephanie: a young grandmother. I have five of my own grandchildren ages 14 to 16 months and four of my fiancé's grandchildren. I'm considered the cool, active grandma. This is me with Jakob, 10, and Jesi, 9. They are both runners like myself. They have been running for three years and both run 5K races regularly and are at the top of their field. I spend a lot of time with them. Kind of like co-parenting but me being the grandparent." -Stephanie N. Torres
"Alex and me at Gulliver's Kingdom." -Maureen Dean Bartlett
"My grandkids make my inner child come out to play! And what fun we have -- true JOY!!" -Denise Lilly
"I was extremely close to my grandparents and their presence in my life greatly formed my perceptions of food, gardening, my Swedish heritage and the essence of family love generation after generation. I couldn't be more delighted to see my parents evolve the teachings of their parents as they interact with my 1-yr old daughter, who couldn't love her "gamma and gampapa" more. The more love the better, and without grandparents, we'd be missing one of the most important relationships in life." -Jamie Smith
"The best place for a nap is in Grandma's arms! This is Reagan's only living grandparent and she loves her very much." -Alice H
"Alice and me, lovingly admiring every inch of her." -Marília Levacov
"I was in the birthing room when my daughter gave birth, and I even cut the chord. She is now 11 months old and she makes us smile everytime we see her. Now that she and her mother are living wih us, our hearts are filled everyday with so much joy and so much love. And everytime she waves her grandfather smiles from ear to ear." -Helen Scrivener
"A grand love affair! Grandmother born July 10, granddaughter born July 17, exactly 80 years apart! Best friends!" -James Church
"After an exciting and exhausting day of riding Thomas the Tank Engine and visiting Santa Isabelle isn't too tired to appreciate sympathy and a smile from Opa. Izzie is the only girl in our four grandchildren and knows that she is special." -Art Pence
"Grandma Francine & Karley walk with Easter Bonnets on" -Tom Jacobs
"I didn't really want to be a grandparent this early in life, but my little buddy Sarge (aka "Holden Christopher") changed my mind in a hurry. There is no doubt that he favors me. Look at what he "chose" to wear on his very first Halloween. Tie-dye, just like Opa! He is truly a blessing beyond belief." -Dan Walden
"I enjoy my grandchildren so much! Fortunately both my daughters live nearby so I see my grandchilren often. They have grown up together and are very close, I love that! This is a photo of my daughter Misty's birthday. Sitting with her on the sofa are her children Kyle and Jessica, her older son Tyler is in in the back along with his cousins Casey & Jaden." -Michele Taylor
"Happiness is...grandmothering. What better way is there to celebrate a birthday than with grandchildren?" -Suzie
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