by Amy Racina
Healdsburg, California, USA
Paul’s 84-year-old father was tired of living. He was down from 155 pounds to 103. The doctors were worried. They’d run every test. His lungs started filling with fluid. His heart was not well. They labeled it congestive heart disease and rushed him to the new hospital across town. “Nothing we can do,” said the medical staff. They declared him terminal and sent him back to die at the nursing home.
Paul flew to New England to say goodbye to his father. He pushed through his own pain and memories of a less-than-perfect childhood. He went to be with his dad. He talked to the nursing home staff, the doctors, his sisters, all the relatives and friends. He talked to his dad. “What is it that you need?” he asked. And he found out what his dad wanted.
He wanted to feel that he had choice, that someone would care enough to listen to him, to do what he wanted — not what they thought would be right for him. He spent 84 years being told what he wanted, being denied his own experience, being told what would be right for him.
“Ask for what you want,” Paul coached him, and brought pens and magic markers and index cards and paper and made signs for his dad. He put aside his own judgements and opinions. He stopped thinking he knew what was right for this man. He let his father decide for himself if he wanted his pillow straightened. He let him decide for himself whether he wanted to live or to die. He gave him back his right to choose.
“Come smiling,” the signs said. “Breathe. If you love someone, let them be who they are, not who you think they should be. Stop and listen. Ask for what you want. Accept it when it arrives. Don’t ask for what you don’t want. Be here. Be clear.” These signs meant life to a man who had given up.
Paul’s dad wasn’t eating. “That’s OK,” Paul said. He brought in bags of groceries — bowls of fruit and chunks of cheese and barbecued chickens and gallons of juice — and picnicked enthusiastically in his dad’s room, handing chunks of pineapple over his dad to the other side of the bed. His dad was inspired and began to eat too.
Paul’s dad began to look forward to the rest of his life and two weeks later they took him off the critical list. “Resurrection,” the nursing home staff said, “it’s a miracle.” They didn’t acknowledge the power of Paul’s presence, his willingness to listen, his love for his dad. They didn’t know why a tired old man would decide to live a bit longer. “Touched by an angel,” they told each other.
But I was there, and I watched the miracle happen. I saw the bright flame that lit up the cold grey darkness of that New England nursing home. And I know who the “angel” was. It was Paul.