Real Life

Real life: My dad's touching message from heaven

My groom and my dad had both planned a big surprise for our special day.

By As told to Take 5
When Melanie's father was diagnosed with Stage-4 pancreatic cancer, it flipped her family's world upside-down. Below, she pens a letter of love to her late father.

Melanie Willems, 26, from Sydney, NSW shares her letter

Dear Dad,
You were never one to get emotional about things, but I'll never forget the day you lay down beside me.
"It'll be right," you said. "I'll get through it."
We'd just found out you had Stage-4 pancreatic cancer that had already spread to your lymph nodes and a major blood vessel.
But you didn't dare say the dreaded C-word.
None of us did.
You were 62 and insisted on going to work each day at the dry-cleaners as if nothing had happened.
Mum and I did the same.
Even when you started chemo, you kept working two days a week.
I'd accompany you to your appointments or drive home from my job at the cinema so I could have lunch with you.
I'd recently fallen in love with a sweet guy called Jake, but you were still the most important man in my life.
"Come on, Boofhead," you said, signalling you wanted to go to the cinema to watch the latest blockbuster and action films you loved.
A chemo session.
My older sister Yvette even moved back home from Melbourne with her fiancée, Blake, so they could be closer to you.
They'd been engaged forever and hadn't got around to planning a wedding yet.
Although you were determined not to let the cancer beat you, the effects of the treatment were also taking their toll.
You looked at Yvette and smiled weakly.
"I want to be there to walk you down the aisle," he stammered.
We all choked up hearing this.
For the first time, it was clear that you were afraid.
"That's it," Yvette replied. "We're going to get married straight away."
Her and Blake started planning the reception at a local golf club.
I was excited to be her maid of honour, but you were especially happy at getting to see one of your children wed.
Part of me hoped that this horrible illness would leave you alone so that one day you'd be there for my own wedding.
But when Yvette's big day rolled around, you were sicker than ever.
Although you tried to carry on, your face was so pale.
Yvette, me, Mum and you.
Dressed in a suit, I saw just how much weight the cancer had robbed you of.
"I'm fine," you insisted, never wanting to complain.
Just getting ready was an ordeal.
We even arrived at the reception late because you were so ill.
True to your word, you did manage to accompany Yvette down the aisle before plonking onto a seat, unable to get back up.
When the ceremony finished, we were all worried about you.
A relative took you to the doctor in the gap before the reception, where you were given an injection to help with the nausea and discomfort.
Back at the wedding, you perked up enough to eat you dinner and even get up and make a quick speech.
"I'm so glad to be here and celebrate with everyone," you said.
I fought back tears at your bravery.
"Don't cry," Jake said, wrapping me in a hug.
Returning home later that night, you looked at us all.
"I'm really proud," you said. "Now I'm going to bed."
From then on, your decline only continued.
A kiss from Yvette and me.
The cancer was spreading and chemo was no longer effective.
You were torn about whether to go into palliative care or stay at home.
"Your dad doesn't want you and Yvette to see him dying at home," Mum told us.
Eventually, we decided on getting a nurse to come to the house and getting the place equipped so that you could stay here.
I was on tenterhooks knowing that the cancer was taking more and more of you.
Each day I'd speed home in my lunch break, just to check on you.
One time you called me into your room.
"Sit down," you instructed.
I did as you said.
"Love you," you said, the gruff and familiar tone returning to your voice as if by magic.
"Pardon?" I asked in shock.
"You heard," you replied.
I'd never doubted that you loved me, but the words came as a surprise.
When did you start getting all sentimental?
Before long, you became confined to the bed, barely able to speak or move.
"He can still hear you, so keep talking," the nurse told us.
Holding your hand, I'd spill my soul out to you.
You were with us on our big day.
The whole family stayed by your side, playing music and remembering all our funny stories about you.
One day we were listening to one of your favourite songs, 'Howzat' by Sherbet.
"Now that I found where you're at, it's goodbye. Well howzat, it's goodbye," the singer crooned.
As the music continued, I barely noticed the words anymore.
All I could focus on was your breathing, which was getting slower.
Watching you take your last breath shattered me.
"Love you, Dad," I whispered, kissing you goodbye.
The next few months were hard for all of us.
Even poor Jake, who hadn't known you long, was upset by your passing.
I felt so lucky to have him.
Most blokes wouldn't take on what he did so early into our relationship but he was a pillar to us all.
We went out for dinner at Darling Harbour then walked down to the giant ferris wheel.
"Let's go for a ride," Jake suggested.
As our carriage reached the top and we gazed out at the city below, Jake looked deep into my eyes and pulled out a ring.
"Will you marry me?" he began. "I asked your dad months ago, and he gave his approval."
Tears welled in my eyes as I nodded. To think you and Jake had been keeping a secret all this time, and I'd had no idea!
The incredible card you wrote.
On the morning of our wedding months later, Mum pulled me aside.
"This is for you," she said, handing me an envelope.
I gasped seeing it was a wedding card … from you!
We are not long on this planet and you never know, we may meet again, you wrote.
It was the best wedding gift I could have asked for.
At our wedding I could feel you watching down on us all; I wanted you there so much.
I even tried to read your message aloud to all the guests before I broke down in tears and Jake had to take over.
Dad you've been gone for almost a year now and it's not getting easier for any of us.
Since then I've become an ambassador for the Cancer Council and am raising awareness of pancreatic cancer.
I know you'd be proud of what I'm doing but I'll never stop missing you.
All my love,
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth biggest cancer killer of Australians. Help Cancer Council fund vital cancer research so that families, like Mel's, can spend more precious moments together. You can donate to the campaign here.

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