On Valentine’s day several years ago, something strange happened. There were three cards in my mailbox. One for my wife Pam and my two daughters. There was no Valentine’s day card for my son and me.

I wrinkled my brow and thought how curious my son and I are feminists and we practice Bhakti yoga. Who would send my girls a card and not one for me and my son? Then I realized the cards were coming from Mickey, my father-in-law. I think to myself, how could Mickey send these Valentine day cards from a hospital in Texas while on a breathing machine recovering from open heart surgery?

My daughters opened up their cards and smiled. My wife was out of state in Texas with Mickey, so I opened her card. In cursive, it said, 

“Happy Valentine’s Day to the greatest daughter a father can ever have. Love Dad.”

At the moment, I pick up the phone and call Pam, who has been at Mickey’s bedside for several weeks, helping him recover from his surgery. I read the card to her and asked her, 

“How could Mickey send these cards to you?”

Pam said, “Oh, he sent those cards a few weeks early since he knew he was going to be in the hospital on Valentine’s day.”

Without warning, Pam said,

“He just got off the ventilator. He cannot speak because his voice is weak, but he can hear you. I’ll put you guys on speakerphone. Say something!”

My girls and I stare at each other. Naturally, my girls are more courageous and speak first.

“We love you so much Grandpop!”

“We miss you Grandpop!”

“Thank you for the Valentine’s day card Grandpop. We can’t wait to visit you soon!”

Then my girls look at me and expect me to speak. I grabbed the phone and I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I thought of an inside joke.

“Hey Mickey, you forgot to send LeBron a Valentine’s day card!”

The other line was silent. I was unsure if he understood what I said. Without warning, the ICU came to life with a cacophony of noise, 

“Beep!, Beep! Beep! Beep!”

My wife says, 

“Everything is fine. The nurse is checking on Mickey. We have to go. I’ll call you later. Bye.”

I immediately wondered if I said the right thing. I would have to wait another month…

Grandpop recovered. Although he was 85 years old and getting frail, he was Philly tough. He would bounce back. 

One morning, he was combing his hair and flashing a smile for the handheld mirror. When Pam noticed this, she asked him what he was doing. His response,

“That young nurse was flirting with me.”

Pam would roll her eyes and called me to tell me the story. I knew he was getting better when I heard that one.

You make the most unusual of friends when you stay long enough anywhere. There were no strangers in the hospital for Mickey. One day, a seven-year-old boy passed Mickey in the hospital hallway. He looked at Mickey and ran. Mickey would remove his dentures, widen his eyes and make a guttural moan when the boy passed by. This routine continued for several days, with the boy running away from Mickey, absolutely terrified. Then Mickey had another setback in the hospital and couldn’t walk the halls. The little boy would come looking for Mickey and peep his head around the corner to see the old man lying in bed. Mickey would scramble his hair, bug out his eyes and give a death grown to the little boy’s delight. He would run away and come back to play this game with an old man every day. Even while critically ill in a hospital bed, he was playful. He was strong and Philly tough. And in retrospect, we were in denial. We did not want to admit he was dying.

Another endearing thing Mickey did was send our family a Holiday card with a special message written in cursive with a $20 bill inside. Each family member would receive this card on holidays and birthdays.

One time, he sent me a birthday card and signed it as LeBron. I laughed hard and enjoyed that immensely. King James was and still is my favorite player. Through the years, we would go back and forth with different tags on the cards we sent each other, Kobe, D-Wade, Jordan, Wilt, Dr. J, etc.

Over the next couple of weeks, Mickey’s condition deteriorated, and he was back on the breathing machine. He wouldn't recover from another surgical complication this time. When the breathing machine was out, he could only say one word:

“Home.” “Home.” “Home.”

Grandpop wanted to go home to his physical house. He was also ready to go home and be with his God. The Catholic Priest came to the hospital to give his Last Rites.

Pam was at his bedside playing his favorite music from “Grandpop’s Playlist” and Frank Sinatra, My Way, was playing,

And now the end is here

And so I face that final curtain

My friend, I’ll make it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I traveled each and every highway

And more, much more

I did it, I did it my way

Within 24 hours of being transferred to home hospice, he died surrounded by family in peace. He was home again. When I got the call from Pam, it was challenging, but not unexpected. She says,

 “Mickey passed peacefully at home. Please go comfort the kids.”

As I’m driving home to spend time with the kids grieving Mickey’s passing, I am left wondering when was the last time we spoke. Then I remembered the last time I spoke to Mickey. That is when I committed what I thought was an epic blunder:

“Hey Mickey, you forgot to send LeBron a Valentine’s day card!”

It left me wondering what his reaction was. Did he like the inside joke? I was wondering if they were the right words. When Pam got home, I asked her if she remembered that day and what was Mickey’s response. Pam said, 

“He smiled.”

Pam had a rough February, and I thought I would lighten the mood. I handed her a St Patrick’s day card. Inside the card, in cursive, I wrote,

 “To the greatest wife a husband can ever have, Love, Bruce Springsteen,”

Every single time Mickey spoke to Pam, he would ask the same question:

“Are you happy Pam?”

He would say,

“That’s all that matters.”

That is just it. For Mickey, his life embodied a powerful lesson:

It does not matter what happens, what matters is your happiness.

To drive this message home, I’ll share a story that happened after Mickey’s passing. Pam called the car insurance company to inform them she was closing his account. Moments later, the store manager called her back to offer his condolences and share a “Mickey story.” He told her that one day Mickey and his staff had a minor argument over a bill. Mickey hung up the phone and screamed,

“Get the hell out of here!”

Mickey showed up the next day with two pizzas for everyone. While eating pizza with the staff, a Cowboys fan said this was their year and Mickey, a die-hard Eagles fan, said,

“Get the hell out of here!”

That was the secret. It did not matter if something good happened or something bad happened. Mickey would exclaim the same phrase with an energy and zest for life. He was on your side through thick and thin.

It did not matter what happened, what mattered was your happiness.

Your life is like a playlist of beautiful music. Each song in your playlist represents a story of when you touched someone’s heart. Every day we create a powerful story that gets uploaded as a song to our playlist. One day, someone will listen to your playlist, and they will hear the sweet music of your life story.

On a recent trip to Florida, I was driving east toward the beach into the magnificent bursting rays of orange hue. My bride’s hair was dancing in the air, a sparkle in her brown eyes, and rosy cheeks from the warmth of the sun. I said, 

“I have a surprise for you!”

I told Pam I’m going to play your favorite song. She did not know I was cueing up a song from Grandpop’s playlist. When the melody comes on, she recognizes the tune and smiles.

“If I could save time in a bottle…” Jim Croce’s classic tune comes on. To drown out the I-4 traffic noise, I turn up the volume.

I wonder to myself, Pam, are you happy, cause that’s all that matters…

As if reading my mind, she answers my question with her eyes and gives me that big gorgeous smile that says yes.