92: A Life Lesson in Courage

92: A Life Lesson in Courage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

A Life Lesson in Courage

It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I was sixteen years old when my brilliant, undefeatable father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. At that time, it was considered a rare form of bone cancer that caused bones to become very brittle and easily broken. He was in the hospital for months, semi conscious. His discouraged doctor told my mother that we needed to get his affairs in order because he would probably live for fewer than six months. As I slumped on the chair beside her in the doctor’s office in a state of shock, my mom graciously thanked him for the information but asked that he not tell my father that he had only a few months to live.

I adored my father and could not imagine a world without this kind and thoughtful man, with his twinkling blue eyes, always ready to help with advice or a hug. My father was still in the hospital when prom time came. My date and I went to the hospital first to show my dad how grown-up we looked. From his hospital bed, he charged my prom date with being certain that I was home by midnight.

Mom was a teacher and the life lessons she taught my two younger brothers and me as we were growing up were not the usual adolescent-oriented life skills. She set out on a courageous campaign to help my father fight for his life and we readily enlisted. Dad came home from the hospital, though he was wheelchair-bound for the remainder of his life due to the frailty of his bones. He opted to use a push wheelchair, rather than the easier motor powered type, because he wished to keep at least part of his body strong. His doctor assured him that he would be able to build strength in the muscles of his arms, though he would tire more easily.

Mom’s determination and grit helped him be present at every possible school and scouting event in which my two younger brothers and I were involved throughout our school years. He proudly attended each of our high school and college graduations, though his eyes often glazed over with the effort and his physical suffering. When Mom had to be away for the day, teaching at her school, we learned to give the Dad pain tolerance shots prescribed by his doctor. She taught us how by having us practice on whole oranges and grapefruits. Both she and my father made sure they had time for each of us whenever we needed their attention, no matter how exhausted or how much discomfort either of them were in. They strove to ensure that the three of us had as normal a life as possible, despite the illness, agony and often depression that surrounded us.

Both of my parents had dreamed of traveling their whole lives. Even though my father was ill, nothing deterred my mother from arranging trips for the two of them all over the U.S., including Hawaii, and Europe. They refused help from nurses or companions on any of these excursions. Armed with letters to regional specialists from my father’s physicians, Mom’s tiny 5’2” frame could be seen pushing Dad in his wheelchair up and down hills, across cobblestoned streets, off and on buses, trains and airplanes. These were not luxury tours they joined. The two of them rented cars and used public transportation to go wherever their wanderlust took them. From Pearl Harbor to Stonehenge and many places in between, they roamed the world with love, laughter and courage.

When I announced my engagement a few years into my father’s illness, I hoped to see him coaxing his wheelchair down the aisle between the rows of brightly glowing flowers we were planning in our back garden. I chose to get married and have the reception at home so that my dad could rest in his room if necessary.

The day of my wedding, I stood erect in the ecru lace wedding dress my mother had sewn for me, ready to take my dad’s hand as a family friend pushed the wheelchair. Then I heard a collective gasp from our 300 closest family and friends in attendance. When I turned toward my father’s wheelchair, I found him standing next to me offering his arm to walk me down the grass-covered aisle. My handsome groom’s eyes glistened as he watched us make our way slowly toward him.

We made it to the end of that long walk, and my father insisted on standing throughout the ceremony. After a brief rest in his wheelchair, this astonishing man once again stood and asked me to dance. As I accepted through a haze of tears, I could feel what it was costing him in pain and energy.

My brave, diligent mom stood there, delight radiating throughout her whole being as she watched her only daughter and beloved husband dance to the “Tennessee Waltz.”

It was due to my mom, and her determination to help my father succeed, that the idea of him walking down the aisle with me was born. While I dreamily mulled over wedding showers and parties, she had been driving my father to the beach, over an hour away from our home, several days a week for three months before the wedding. Once parked, he walked in the sand with her support. They spent an hour or more each trip so that he could build up his leg muscles enough to support him for what had to be a torturous long walk down the winding grassy path with his only daughter. It was a secret that my mother kept until after my father had gone.

It was not the only secret that she kept. My father lived ten years longer than the timeframe the physician specialists had predicted. He never knew that they had predicted a life span of only six months. My mother lived many years longer, never remarrying. When her beautiful grandchildren came along, she never tired of telling them how much their grandfather would have loved them. She traveled the world by herself or occasionally with friends or family members well into her eighties, riding elephants in Thailand, spending nights in pyramids in Egypt, joining a cooking school in France. At her death, as we were preparing for her memorial service, we counted almost 300 foreign stamps in her well-thumbed passports. She carried her indefatigable courage into her own final illness, assuring me that we would be visiting Africa as soon as she “felt a little better.”

Life without my parents left me feeling orphaned, though I was an older adult myself when Mom departed. Our family was so strong, so loving and so cohesive that it left us all a little adrift. Mom and Dad taught us to face whatever life may bring with extraordinary courage and compassion.

~Donia Moore

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