As I walked the hospice doctor to the front door, a question burned inside. My ninety-six-year-old father was entering the final phase of his life, and he’d recently announced he planned to walk again. Since he hadn’t moved his legs in over seven years, I suffered over the impossibility of it.
“Doctor, I worry about my father,” I began. “He’s so overly optimistic all the time. I feel he lives in a constant state of denial.”
Studying me carefully, the kind man smiled. “No, you obviously don’t understand. 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 napped peacefully and remembered. My father lived through some of the worst life can offer and, yet, he always remained positive. Hoping to keep him that way, I came up with an idea, although I had my doubts.
To prepare the body for activity, one must exercise. So, I asked a dear friend and physical therapist, Jenny, to spend some time with him. Working his tired muscles might keep his spirits up and help him hang onto that thing called hope. But after several failed attempts to stand, let alone walk, I saw the mission to be worthless.
Then, as He often does, God sent an angel: a new caregiver named Junior, a giant of a man, who brought something unique to the table. He actually believed in my father despite the fact he was confined to a wheelchair. So, the journey began.
Every day for the next couple months there were light weights lifted and mindfulness drills executed. Before long, Dad stood on those old tired limbs and took a step or two. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to walk from the family room to the front door.
A few months later, on a warm August day in 2012, I received a call to come home immediately. Fearing something was terribly 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 he’d fallen.
“Your dad has something to show you!” Junior grinned.
Looking towards my dad I then heard, “Jack, are you ready?” And, with a happy nod, Junior counted “1,2,3,” and up he 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 from everyone.
“I bet you thought I’d never do it?” he beamed, as he sat to rest just a few feet away from his destination. Witnessing his joy that day became a life-changing moment for me. I saw that I needed to alter my way of thinking about hope as I watched the connection between Junior and my father. They were two men who began their story as strangers, but quickly became bonded at the soul because one man had a vision, and the other dared to believe in it.
Three months later, Dad passed peaceful and content knowing he’d done all he wanted to do in his life.
I always knew hope was an important element to living, but now I understand 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 soared as something magical happened: a true miracle.