“My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.”-JH Newman (Taken from Vince Flynn’s funeral prayer card which will be shaped like a bookmark)
The past few days have been hard for everyone who knew novelist Vince Flynn–and even for those who didn’t. As his loved-ones go on automatic pilot getting ready for the funeral here are some observations and memories that pop up; helping to subside the pain.
Misty water-colored memories
When Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer in November of 2010 he immediately gave up eating red meat and cut down on sugars. Even though it must have been tough for a former college football player to do so, he never complained about this sacrifice. He was hoping to prolong his life as much as he could for his family. To aid in this endeavor his wife Lysa put her Minnesota farm girl background to work by creating a large organic garden in their back yard. Vince was very proud of Lysa’s green thumb and beamed when she’d tote a basket of her “garden goodies” to friends’ houses.
The first time he met Lysa’s family in northern Minnesota Vince was so nervous that he got sick with anxiety. They’d laugh telling the story of how during that visit he spent more time inside the farmhouse’s bathroom than he did outside of it.
Vinnie liked Lysa’s turkey Tater Tot Hotdish, Leslie’s grilled veggies and any scrumptious pies that their friend, Lauri Schneider, pulled out of her oven (but he only savored a few bites of her sweets once he was diagnosed). Cabernet was his favorite wine, and while he was living with cancer he’d enjoy a vodka-Pom “because pomegranate juice has antioxidants.” He’d watch Saturday Night Live, Modern Family and Downton Abbey. The Black Keys, Kid Rock and Eric Church were some of the artists on his playlist. Often he’d be spotted wearing plaid shirts or athletic gear from his alma maters (St. Thomas Academy ’84 and University of St. Thomas ’88).
He loved watching his son Dane (17) wrestle, play football, basketball and run track. He roasted in the stands at his girls’ (aged 10 and 12) swim meets and actually enjoyed their dance recitals, although he’d grumble about them. He was fiercely proud of his brother, Tim, who is the commander of the St. Paul S.W.A.T. team. He’d email links to articles about his baby brother and brag about him to friends.
Speaking of friends, one of my favorite stories of the 47-year-old-novelist is this: Not long after college, a buddy of Vince’s and his wife had a baby that was delivered stillborn. The auntie told me, “We were all so touched to see the friends–including Vinnie– take time from their busy schedules and come to the little one’s funeral.” I think this speaks volumes about the respect for life that these young men had.
Vince always put his friends first. Years ago, the novelist with dyslexia was traveling with his publicist from Atria Books, David Brown. When Vince got to his hotel room he discovered that it was very small. (Usually he’d have a luxury suite assigned to him.) When Brown joined Vince later that day he exclaimed with excitement, “You should see my room, it’s huge!” Vince knew right away that the staff had mixed up the rooms, but he didn’t make Brown switch with him. When I mentioned this hotel story to his publicist Brown told me this: “Vince was very special to me. He was a rare crossover of someone who I worked with but considered a friend. In fact, I’ve been telling that same hotel story over the past 24 hours. I tell people that Vince let me stay in that room 90% because he was that kind and generous and 10% because he loved having something to needle me about for years to come!”
Besides having a fun sense of humor, the left-handed author had the uncanny ability to follow two conversations at once. If his wife and I tried to have a private talk he’d hear every word–even if we were whispering–and he’d always pitch in his two-cents-worth whether we wanted it or not. About five weeks ago,Vince–who was nearly bed-ridden–had called my husband Eric and me to see if we’d bring our four-year-old twins over to his house so that he could watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 play with his dog. (Actually, they were shooting his dog with their play guns.) We were so eager to visit with him, but when we got there the home healthcare nurse had to call an ambulance because his heart was acting up. As the rescue crew worked on him my husband gathered Vinnie’s things in a hospital bag. During this time the twins and I were on the back porch that is two rooms away. The little boys were chasing the family pet and I accidentally called the dog Dane (his son’s name). When I re-entered the room in which Vince reclined he asked weakly, “Kathy, did you just call my dog Dane?” That’s when it hit me: even though his body was crumbling before us and his ability to read, write and concentrate was waning, he still had that darn gift of super-hearing. The 35 friends and family members who were around his bed on June 19 are hoping that his ears were still working well in the end as we prayed, said our thank yous, and called: “We love you, Vinnie. Goodbye.”
I’ll never forget how hard it was to explain to the twins where their friend had gone. With their limited speech they asked, “He go where good guys go?” We told Thing 1 and Thing 2 that yes, we believed he was in heaven. Since “Mifi” (twin-talk for Mr. Flynn) and Lysa always gave them chocolate milk at their home their next question was: “He hab chocat mewk dere?”
I like to think that he is with his friend Dr. Mike Nanne who passed away from a brain tumor last year. It’s a comforting thought. Maybe they’re both drinking chocolate milk (or something stronger) with the saints at an Irish pub in Heaven.
For the last four months or so of Vince’s life someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim, childhood friend Tom Tracy and my husband took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments and infusions. A barf bag was always at arm’s reach. Glenn Caruso, University of St. Thomas’ football coach who was voted Division lll National Coach of the Year for 2012, lost his mother at age eight and his father six years ago. He spent time with Vinnie one day this spring so that Lysa could plant her garden. Coach Caruso has supported Vince’s son, Dane, through many conversations and pep talks. In the fall of 2014 Dane is hoping to be on his UST powerhouse team.
Lysa’s sister has been by her side continuously for the last week, and family friends, the Aslesons, have been doing dishes, watering flowers and taking care of Vince’s kids. Amelia Santaniello (a news anchor with WCCO) took his daughters shopping to buy them dresses for their daddy’s funeral. And someone bought Lysa some nylons so she wouldn’t have to.
For the past many years every Thursday was date night for the Flynns. Often, Vince and Lysa would dine at Axel’s in Mendota. When Vinnie started to get too weak, Susie Fick and Valerie Tracy would take Vince’s place in order to get Lysa out. Being the round-the-clock caretaker for her husband, Lysa needed the break.
Come to think of it, Valerie’s husband, Tom Tracy, is probably home writing Vince’s eulogy as I jot down these thoughts. We’ve been praying for him. I’m sure he’s traveling along an emotional journey in doing so.
Signs of Hope
Vince’s children were able to visit with their dad on Father’s Day while he was in United Hospital in St. Paul. This was the last day he was able to communicate. They are so thankful for this gift. In fact, he even asked them to grab him something to eat from Cossetta’s. He seemed to be better than he had been doing lately, but then he took a turn for the worse early the next morning. He passed away two days later. Fr. Peter Laird sat on the St. Thomas Academy board with the author and they attended the University of St. Thomas at the same time. During Father’s Day weekend Father Laird sent his friend a text that said, “Everything to Jesus.” Vince replied with the last lines he was to write to the priest: “Amen!”
Ed Kocourek, Vince’s prayer mentor, gave the author one of those decade rosaries that fits on a finger like a ring. Being a Knight of Malta with a mission of helping the sick, Ed had this rosary blessed at the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France. Vinnie kept it with him throughout his illness. He even brought it with him when he was encapsulated in the MRI scanners. When Vince passed away, on his finger was this rosary adjacent to his wedding band. After we saw him take his last breath, Lysa gave the rosary to Dane.
The next day Nativity of our Lord Church in St. Paul was filled with friends of Vinnie’s who wanted to celebrate his life. The Mass was said by Fr. John Malone of the University of St. Thomas and was planned by Dan and Patty McQuillan. (Vinnie used to bartend for them at their bar and grill, Plum’s, when he was a struggling author.) Those in the pews had been saying a novena for their friend, and the Mass was originally planned to ask for healing. But God had called Vince home. On Monday people will once again fill a church for Vince–the Cathedral of St. Paul this time–for his funeral.
Yesterday I noticed that Lysa’s peaceful smile had returned. There’s still a bit of sadness behind it, but I can see the worry has disappeared from her eyes. She’s relieved her husband isn’t suffering anymore. I’m so proud of the perseverance and strength that she exuded over the past two and a half years. I know Vince will want her and their children to “Keep the faith” (his favorite saying).
The other day, Dane was playing video games with his uncle David Juran when I stopped by to pick up his little sisters for my daughter’s birthday party. He gave me a smile and I got to see Vince’s daughters smile, too, as we watched Joseph at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. They say that kids are so resilient (Thank God!), and I witnessed another ray of hope when the girls sang along with the country music station all the way home. As we drove along Highway 13 the sign in front of Moose Country read: “Vince, you will be missed.” Vinnie’s daughters were touched and asked me to stop and take a picture. One of my girls said, “Geez, your dad must have been kinda famous.”