As I walked the hospice doctor to the front door, a question burned inside. Dad was entering the final phase of his life, and he’d recently announced that he planned to walk again. Because he hadn’t moved his legs in more than seven years, I suffered over the impossibility.
“Doctor, I worry about my father,” I began. “He’s so overly optimistic all of the time. I feel he lives in a constant state of denial.”
Studying me carefully, the kind man smiled: “He’s not in denial. What your dad has is hope. That’s why he’s lived so long.”
Returning to his room, I watched him nap peacefully and remembered. My father lived through some of the worst life offers, yet he always remained positive. Hoping to keep him that way, I came up with an idea, though I had my doubts.
To prepare the body for activity, one must exercise. So I asked a dear friend and physical therapist, Jenny Nappo, to spend some time with him. Working his tired muscles might keep his spirits up. But after several failed attempts to stand, let alone walk, I saw the mission to be hopeless.
Then God sent an angel: a new caregiver named Junior, who brought something unique to the table: He actually believed in my father, despite the fact that Dad was confined to a wheelchair.
Every day for the next couple months there were light weights lifted and mindfulness drills executed. Before long, Dad stood on those tired limbs and took a step or two. But that wasn’t good enough. He wanted to walk to the front door.
Later, on a warm August day in 2012, I received a call to come home immediately. Fearing something was wrong, I sped through the streets of Los Altos and found Junior, Jenny and my daughter Lauren patiently waiting.
“Is everything OK?” I blurted, fearful my dad had fallen.
“Your dad has something to show you,” Junior grinned.
Then I heard, “Jack, are you ready?” And, with a happy nod, Junior counted “1, 2, 3,” and up my dad shot.
Of course, Dad, now nearly 97, needed to be held under his arms for support, but his legs were moving on their own, one right after the other. Like watching a baby take his first steps, tears of delight flowed.
“I bet you thought I’d never do it,” he beamed as he sat to rest just a few feet from his destination.
Witnessing his joy became a life-changing moment for me. I saw that I needed to alter my way of thinking as I watched the connection between Junior and Dad. They were two men who began as strangers but quickly bonded at the soul because one man had a vision, and the other dared to believe in it.
Three months later, Dad passed away, peaceful and content.
I always knew that hope was an important element to life, but now I understand that without belief attached to it, it only acts like a delicate feather. While lovely in and of itself, without the wind of conviction to lift it up, it never fully dances in the air. Happily, my father’s hope not only flew that day, but also soared as something magical happened: a true miracle.
This Thanksgiving I’ll say a new prayer, that we learn to believe in one another, and not just give lip service to our hopes and dreams. By honoring each other on this spiritual level where there is no judgment, no criticism and only pure love, who knows what miracles we could create? We might just be the magic needed to help someone to the front door at the end of life.