The lessons and love Sheldon left behind
SHELDON Gakowski had one goal towards the end of his 43 years of life: To survive August.
And wife Suzanne firmly believes her husband - who died from a rare form of stomach cancer - couldn't have made it to September 1 without his very own cheer squad: the Mackay community.
"It was the fact that he survived (until September) and just the incredible way of people cheering him - 'C'mon Sheldon, another day, another card, another day, another card, another day'… it was beautiful," Mrs Gakowski recalls of the campaign for people to post birthday cards to her husband.
"(The community's support) made the boys feel like their dad was heard and seen and he made an impact. He made an impact on their lives but it's always important as a little boy to see that your dad is a hero to others."
The mum of three boys - Krystopher, Matthew and Lukas - said the family's motto 'Kindness Wins' was about "good intentions with legs on".
"Everybody has good intentions… you can look at somebody who's hurting and you can go 'I wish I could make their life better'," Mrs Gakowski said.
"But true kindness is 'well how can I make their life better?'
"Making a meal, sending a card, mowing the lawn… whatever it is, it can make the biggest difference.
Sheldon said to me 'the boys are going to look back and they're going to know how kind people were'.
"It's already happening; they've got the Kindness Wins Relay for Life team next year and they talk every day about how they can show kindness in various ways.
It's such a good legacy I think. So I want to thank people for being kind, because that was the message that we wanted to share."
A father's legacy
It was said at Sheldon's funeral that normally, when a man dies, he leaves behind his legacy.
But for Matthew, Lukas and Krystopher, their mum reminds them often that they are their dad's legacy.
"I said to them, 'you are the fingerprint, the imprint of your father on this world. You will be generous, you will be kind hearted and you will be compassionate' and I think they really took that on board," Mrs Gakowski said.
Every day she is in awe of her boys' resilience.
"I think it's kind of amazing that the world now has three boys who have walked through cancer and come out winners," Mrs Gakowski said.
"They don't hate life; they're not ripped off at the world for taking their dad. It's this real, beautiful resilience and they've got this strength."
"If I fell into a heap now, he would be so pissed at me," Mrs Gakowski laughed.
"That's the thing, I'm going to keep writing (my blog), that's how I make sense of the world and how everything makes sense in my head - I have to write about it."
The Mackay Northern Beaches State High School English teacher has inspired many of her students who read her blog, and many shared stories after reading one post titled Time is Fleeting and went to hug their parents.
"Time is fleeting - what are you going to do with the time that you have?" Mrs Gakowski said.
"It's not hard to be kind.
"You can make the world of difference by being kind.
"Because he was kind. He was kind to me, he was kind to the boys, he was kind to his family… what a difference it would make if schools and workplaces, in the face of tense moments, say kind words. Instead of blowing up: kindness."
Mrs Gakowski had some special thanks to give a few members of the Mackay community who helped Sheldon along the way.
"I'd like to thank his doctor, Dr Luke Notley and the staff at the Paul Hopkins Medical Centre, (as well as) the staff at St Catherine's palliative care ward at the Mater Hospital ... they were so good," she said.
"Belinda and the staff at Mackay Funerals; they went above and beyond. What should have been a really, really tough day… ended up being a really beautiful day. There was a real sense of calm on the day and I put that down to Belinda and the team at Mackay Funerals because they really showed compassion."
The team at Kohuna Resort has named one of the common rooms the Sheldon Gakowski Kindness Wins Lounge after throwing Sheldon his 43rd birthday party on August 23.
Woollam Constructions was another business Mrs Gakowski wanted to thank.
"Managing director (Craig Percival) saw your story in the paper and was on a plane ride back to Brisbane next to (Mayor) Deirdre Comerford and they were talking about it," she said.
"He was so impacted and so moved by the story in the paper… he didn't know me from a bar of soap and said I really need to do something for this family so he wrote the most beautiful letter.
"Sheldon was in hospital in palliative care, about three days off from dying and I got the letter, opened it up and read it to Sheldon and he heard it and he smiled. The letter basically said 'Woollam Constructions are dedicated to supporting my family… it's like a kind of agreement for the boys to help them in the future. That this very busy man took the time to write a letter that was beautiful and heartfelt to say 'you've impacted me and I want to be kind to you and kind to your family' blew me away."
The difficult conversations
The other thing Sheldon has taught people, his wife says, is to have that tough talk with your loved ones.
"Have that conversation; say what they want to happen if they go… it's not an easy conversation but it's one that needs to happen," she said. "I knew what he wanted, I knew who he was… I have friends in their 40s who don't even know the passwords to each other's computers." She said talking things through with her husband "took the morbid-ness out of death".
"Just with his calm way, he just made it something not to be feared and that helped with the boys and with me," she said.
"We were there when he died and it was so tough… but it was beautiful because we were prepared and we knew that we had each other and we would be happy.
"Things like having money in the bank didn't matter; but being supported by our community and having us loved by our community… he saw that we were going to be okay.
"He said to me once, 'you are the strongest woman I know. You are the weakest woman sometimes and you're the most crazy and spontaneous woman but you are strong and you have lived through this journey and you have held my hand' and I had to tell him… you have to go now."