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His life ended quickly, but he didn’t want his exit to be meaningless.
Lonnie Dillard, 75, of Austin, Texas, who died Dec. 18 just more than one month after receiving a stage-four pancreatic cancer diagnosis, avoided the typical stale obituary format by taking matters into his own hands. And instead of focusing on himself while penning his tribute, he inspired his readers to take a look at their own lives and consider his words for how to make them more rewarding.
“I hope to make your time worthwhile,” he wrote. “Instead of cataloging careers and adventures I have had, honors I received, missteps I made or women I loved (I was blessed to have more than my share of each of these) or bemoaning how much my sparkling wit or wisdom will be missed, I thought it better to share a few of the big lessons I learned during my 75 eventful years on Planet Earth.”
His top three points focus on what comes for free: love.
“1. A mother’s unwavering love can turn a very ordinary little boy into an extra-ordinary man, if only in his own mind,” he wrote.
“2. 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.
“3. As Buddhists say: Be kind; everyone you meet is traveling a difficult journey. There is no substitute for a good deed; but simply helping a stranger laugh or smile can lighten a load, too.”
The following paragraphs continue with these truths — some of which include how world travel must inspire us to question whether our cultures have “a monopoly on all the right answers,” how time spent learning will never go to waste and how, if “your word is no good, chances are very good, you are not either,” he wrote.
Most of all, he includes messages on living in the moment and the meaning of happiness.
For the former, he said, “Waste is a sin. 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.”
And for the latter, “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.”
Dillard is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Sandi Sain — whom he called a “good sport,” which he added is the highest compliment he can pay anyone — and “friends too numerous and far-flung to mention.”
A native of west Texas, Dillard attended Lubbock High School. His touching obituary made it onto the class of 1965’s Facebook page, where former classmates shared fond memories: “I remember Lonnie as a cheerleader,” wrote one. “He was a great, optimistic guy.”
“Very thought provoking and powerful obituary,” wrote another commenter. “I remember his energy and happy attitude … Prayers for comfort to the family.”
Even strangers were moved by his words — no doubt what he’d hope his legacy would be in the unconventional obituary.
“Wow, I am so glad I took the time to read this even [though] I did not know him,” wrote another. “Thank you for sharing.”
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