She gets a birthday bouquet every year from her dad - who died four years ago

Ms Bailey Sellers cared for her dad, Mr Michael Sellers, when he had pancreatic cancer.
Ms Bailey Sellers cared for her dad, Mr Michael Sellers, when he had pancreatic cancer.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK • When Ms Bailey Sellers turned 17 on Nov 26, 2013, there was an unexpected bouquet of flowers waiting for her on the front porch.

"Happy birthday," the note read. "You'll receive these until you're 21. Love, Dad."

Her father, Mr Michael Sellers, had died earlier that year from pancreatic cancer at 56. One of his last acts was setting up the recurring flower delivery, making each birthday another opportunity to hear from him anew.

Since that day, she had dreaded her 21st birthday, when she knew she'd hear from her father for the last time, she said in a phone interview on Monday. His final delivery came to her home in Johnson City, Tennessee, last Friday, and her photo of her father's note struck an emotional chord on social media, where it was shared hundreds of thousands of times.

"It means the world to me," she said of her father's final note. "I'm going to cherish that for the rest of my life."

Ms Sellers, a junior studying psychology at East Tennessee State University, is the youngest of four children. She was 16 in 2012 when her father slept through most of Christmas - his favourite holiday - and his family realised something was wrong. Doctors determined that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

In the middle of her sophomore year of high school, she decided to drop out so she could be home-schooled while caring for her father.Eventually, when his care became too much for her, her mother stayed home too. He died on Aug 25, 2013.

When she received a delivery of flowers three months and a day later, neither she nor her mother knew who had sent them until they read the note, Ms Sellers said.

One year later, as he promised, the next flower delivery arrived.

The annual deliveries brought mixed emotions for Ms Sellers.

"Everyone knows I hate my birthday," she said. "I don't want to celebrate it. It's just a reminder he's not there anymore. And at the same time, I can't wait because I get those flowers.

"It's a reminder he's still here with me, but at the same time, he's not."

She was especially anxious for her 21st birthday. But two days before her birthday, after a stressful day of Black Friday shopping, she was surprised to find the flowers waiting for her at home, this time a bit early.

She brought the flowers inside and couldn't make it through a sentence of the note before she "lost it", she said. While the previous years' flowers usually had short greetings, this time a handwritten note with butterfly stickers was attached. Her mother read the rest of the letter, with the whole family crying.

"This is my last love letter to you until we meet again. I do not want you to shed another tear for me my baby girl for I am in a better place. You are and will always be the most precious jewel I was given. It is your 21st birthday and I want you to always respect your momma and stay true to yourself. Be happy and live life to the fullest. I will still be with you through every milestone, just look around and there I will be. I love you Boo Boo and Happy Birthday!!!! Daddy."

She said she wasn't sure if she'll continue to dread her birthdays. She does know that she plans to get her own flowers each year, with a single white rose to represent her dad.

He left items for her siblings that are locked away for milestone events like weddings and childbirths, with her mother promising him she wouldn't give them out until those days, she said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'She gets a birthday bouquet every year from her dad - who died four years ago'. Print Edition | Subscribe