When 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.”
My dad passed away when I was 16 from cancer and before he died he pre payed flowers so i could receive them every year on my birthday. Well this is my 21st birthday flowers and the last. Miss you so much daddy. ? pic.twitter.com/vSafKyB2uO— Bailey Sellers (@SellersBailey) November 24, 2017
Her father, 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 Monday. His final delivery came to her home in Johnson City, Tennessee, on 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.”
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 favorite holiday — and his family realized something was wrong. Doctors found tumors spread throughout his body and 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. She would get his medicine and cook for him while her mother, Kristi Sellers, was at work, and the time together further bonded them.
“I’m really happy I did do that because I got to spend every second with him, and I don’t have any regrets,” she said.
Eventually, when his care became too much for Sellers, her mother stayed home, too. He died 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, Sellers said. One year later, as he promised, the next flower delivery arrived.
“Happy 18th Birthday,” he wrote. “Spread your wings and fly. I will always love you! Dad.”
The annual deliveries brought mixed emotions for 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.
Michael Sellers was her basketball coach from when she was 4 to 15, and she said she never saw him more excited than when her team won a national championship in 2012. He was a strong Christian, and loved shooting driveway hoops and talking about Jesus, she said.
She thinks he set up the flower deliveries because “he was concerned I would take it the hardest,” she said. 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.
Bailey Sellers said she had been heartened by the response on social media, where people have said she made them appreciate their fathers more, and fathers said they aspired to be like hers.
“It’s overwhelming, and also exciting that everyone knows who Mike Sellers is,” she said. “It makes me really happy.”