The Unsung Hero

Jan 17, 2021

I remember receiving the call from the funeral home that there was a family in need of my help with their father’s funeral.  An elderly gentleman had died and his son, who I’ll call “Wayne”, was my contact.  I had no idea this next life experience was about to have the profound impact on me that it ended up having.  Let us just say Wayne turned out to be MY hero.

I called Wayne and we set up a time to meet.  We agreed to meet at a coffee shop. During our phone conversation, I explained the purpose of our meeting was to plan his Father’s funeral service which would include conversations about music, poetry, readings, life stories etc. – that I wanted to learn about everything that would be important to him for his Father’s funeral. It was on that same phone call, I learned he had a brother and a sister but neither had been too involved in their Dad’s life. During that same phone conversation, I also learned that Wayne had been his Dad’s caregiver for the last several years and was the guy who drove him to all his appointments, drove him to get groceries, run errands and whatever else he could do to help his Dad. His brother had not seen his Dad in some time as he lived in a different city and was too busy with his career to get away.  His sister lived nearby but Wayne explained that his Dad only heard from her when she needed some financial help.  As we ended the phone call, he said “I’m doing this for my Dad and no one else.  It’s the last thing I’ll get to do for him”.  I thought to myself, what a great guy.  I cannot wait to meet him.

The next day I arrived at the coffee shop and awaited Wayne’s arrival. Time lapsed and it was about ten minutes after we planned to meet that I went out into the parking lot to see if he was there.  There were a couple vehicles moving about but I could not see him.  I glanced across the parking lot and noticed a red truck parking. The driver opened his door and swung his legs out and while clutching the door of the truck, lowered himself out.  He turned and faced his truck and pulled himself along the side of it, opened the rear driver’s door, and pulled a wheelchair out and unfolded it. He pulled himself up into it and started wheeling toward the coffee shop.  I turned away, a bit embarrassed that I had stared at this man, but I was in such awe of how capable he was and how normal this seemed for him.  As he wheeled toward the coffee shop, I turned to go back in and I heard the words, “Are you Todd?”.  I was humbled in an instant.  It was Wayne, and he was the man in the wheelchair.  The man who was his Dad’s caregiver and chauffeur and the man who was planning his Dad’s funeral; all on his own.  We had a great conversation that day and I learned he had been in a car accident when he was younger (he was about 50 now) and was paralyzed from the waste down.  Rehab had helped him to get where he was, but he had not improved in years. He said, “these are the cards I was dealt; I’m doing my best.”. 

The Life Celebration was beautiful, his brother read a eulogy, his sister wept uncontrollably, and Wayne sat in his wheelchair in what seemed to be in total peace and contentment.  He had a smile on his face and kept his eyes closed for most of the service.  As we ended our time that day, I stepped down from the podium to shake hands with the family (which is what I normally do) and when I approached Wayne, I leaned down, put my arms around him and whispered in his ear “buddy, you are my hero”.  He looked up at me, winked and said “I could say the same.  Dad’s service was perfect”.  A tear rolled down his cheek.

Always grateful for these beautiful life moments and experiences and the amazing people I have the privilege of meeting.