In mourning the loss of a loved one, it’s tempting to just crawl under the covers and stay there. But those who are left behind need to trudge forward, and that’s what the family of Vince Flynn is doing right now. I believe he’s watching them with pride pumping his fists into the air and cheering in that big, bellowing voice of his.
The day after her 47-year-old husband was laid to rest, his wife Lysa was delivering bouquets to people who had helped their family during the past week — like the woman who had watched their dog when Vince was in the hospital.
Since their father’s death, Dane, 17 has continued to work at his summer custodial job at St. Thomas Academy. Some of his friends came and “kidnapped” him the other night and took him out for ice cream. His daughters Ingrid, 12, and Ana, 10, have been to dance practice and saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Of course, there are times when they crumple over in tears, but Lysa said that it’s the kindness of others and the grace of God that helps them with this new chapter of their lives.
Yep, Vinnie is proud.
His last chapter
In November of 2010, Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2 a.m. on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient “Nurse Nightingale” by his side for the last two and a half years, and until he took his last breath. He fought tenaciously for survival, just like the CIA operatives do in the stories he created.
As a friend of Vinnie’s, it was hard to watch him losing this battle. This man who was bigger than life used to wrestle with gusto with our toddling twins. Eventually, those tussles became gentler and the therapeutic hormones Mr. Flynn was taking would make him drip with sweat. As the months went on, it became more painful for him to move, and he would just sit in the red chair by our fireplace and watch the twins play. And then, as of April, it was too difficult for him to get out of bed. He’d ask us to bring the identical pair to his home, where he’d enjoy passively watching them chase his dog around.
For the last four months or so of Vince’s life, someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim and some friends took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments. A barf bag was always at arm’s length.
‘Keep the faith’
Last week, outside the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Vince’s friends and admirers formed a line stretching for two blocks. Each one had a story about the author, and many were impressed by the depth of his faith. Steve Polski, who played football with Vince at the University of St. Thomas, said, “Vinnie was one of those rare guys who became more religious as he became famous. That doesn’t happen too often with celebrities.” Vince truly lived by his favorite motto: “Keep the faith.”
In his homily, Father Peter Laird, who also went to college with Vince, said that toward the end, there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.”
Asked about Vince’s faith, Lysa said, “Prayer was his life boat. It helped him keep his head above the waves. It wasn’t just a thing he checked off his list; he prayed all day long.” She went on to say that when he was first diagnosed with cancer, his sister’s boss sent him a card with a prayer to St. Jude. “It stayed on our nightstand and he said it every day,” she added. Another item that remained nearby was a copy of the “Magnificat.”
As his friends, we often witnessed his Catholic devotion, but noted that it was limited by his Type-A personality. He became anxious if Masses ran too long. And during his illness, the Flynns often stood in the back of church, as we did. As sick as he was, Vince would try to help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.
He demonstrated that faith was a priority by giving generously of his time and talent to the church and Catholic schools. He publically expressed this priority in 2012 when he wrote in the acknowledgments of “Kill Shot”:
“To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”
Following a reception at the University of St. Thomas, Vince was laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.
Atria Books publicist, David Brown, sent this note: “It was such a beautiful service; sad but celebratory. The long line of people waiting to greet the family was reminiscent of one of Vince’s book signings which I thought was very fitting. It was a wonderful tribute for a great man who I was so lucky to have been able to work with and get to know for the past eight years. I love my job much less now that he is gone. He leaves a hole for everyone.”
His godchild, Owen Tracy, 16, is feeling the hole, too. “When it came time to pick a confirmation sponsor, the first name that came into my head was Vince. I was more than heartbroken when I lost him. He meant so much to me. I hope to be half the man he was. I loved him so much and always will,” he said.
Vince also meant a lot to John Steveken, a St. Thomas Academy classmate. He credits Vinnie with saving his life. After his own late diagnosis, Vince encouraged all of his loved ones to get tested for cancer. Thanks to his urging, Steveken’s prostate cancer was discovered early. He had surgery and is doing well.
Last Tuesday as Lysa was delivering the bouquets, she talked about all the cards and letters of condolence she had received. “Vince left us many books, but what I’m reading in these notes is that he gave us much more than just his stories; these letters are about him as a person, and how much he gave to people.” She smiled and then added, “That’s his legacy.”
Schneeman is the author of the blog, Embracing Life on CatholicHotdish.com. She and her husband Eric are the parents of nine children and are members of St. Joseph parish in West St. Paul.