It reminded me of the film P.S I Love You, but about one hundred times more emotional when I read the story of Rafael Zoehler.
Rafael is 85 years old and dying from cancer, which means it’s time to open the final letter his father left him when he died from the same disease 77 years earlier.
He was eight when his beloved and fun 27-year-old father was taken by the disease and he was handed a box of letters, one for each major event and challenge he would encounter throughout his entire life.
Rafael described his father:
I had a father who was both firm and fun. Someone who would tell a joke before grounding me. That way, I wouldn’t feel so bad. Someone who kissed me on the forehead before I went to sleep. A habit which I passed on to my children. Someone who forced me to support the same football team he supported, and who explained things better than my mother. A father like that is someone to be missed.
The first letter, handed to him by the nurse after his father’s death, titled ‘When I’m gone’, read:
If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.
I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.
Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.
I love you. Take care of your mom. You’re the man of the house now.
Interestingly, at the beginning the box of letters was the most important thing in his life. But soon, as he got on with his life, Raphael forgot about the box.
He remembered his father’s posthumous advice when he had an argument with his mother.
The advice enclosed in the letter titled ‘When you have the worst fight ever with your mom’, read:
Now apologize to her.
I don’t know why you’re fighting and I don’t know who’s right. But I know your mother. So a humble apology is the best way to get over this. I’m talking about a down-on-your-knees apology.
She’s your mother, kid. She loves you more than anything in this world. Do you know that she went through natural birth because someone told her that it would be the best for you? Have you ever seen a woman giving birth? Do you need a bigger proof of love than that?
Apologize. She’ll forgive you.
At this point Raphael had also missed the letter titled ‘When you lose your virginity’, which read:
Don’t worry, it gets better with time. It always sucks the first time. Mine happened with an ugly woman…who was also a prostitute.
My biggest fear is that you’d ask your mother what virginity is after reading what’s on the letter.
After this he vowed to never forget the box again and found comfort in the advice for when he got married, but it was the fatherly advice on becoming a dad that was particularly touching.
Illustrating his own love for his son, the letter reading ‘When you become a father’, read:
Now you’ll understand what real love is, son. You’ll realize how much you love her, but real love is something you’ll feel for this little thing over there. I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I’m just a corpse, I’m not a fortune teller.
The most painful letter for Raphael was only four words long. The letter called ‘When your mother is gone’ simply read ‘She is mine now’.
It is profound to imagine a man on his death bed reading a letter of advice written by his late father when he was in the same position almost 80 years before.
The final letter ‘When your time comes’, read:
Hello, son. I hope you’re an old man now.
You know, this letter was the easiest to write, and the first I wrote. It was the letter that set me free from the pain of losing you. I think your mind becomes clearer when you’re this close to the end. It’s easier to talk about it.
In my last days here I thought about the life I had. I had a brief life, but a very happy one. I was your father and the husband of your mother. What else could I ask for? It gave me peace of mind. Now you do the same.
My advice for you: you don’t have to be afraid
Though his father was absent, the letters gave Raphael comfort, made him feel calm, and helped him when he needed fatherly advice the most.
Raphael thought it was ‘amazing what a 27-year-old man can teach to an 85-year-old senior like me’.