During the past year, my wife and I started to take our four beautiful children to Signature nursing centers to visit residents, celebrate holidays, or just sing Christmas carols.
Our children are 13, 10, 8 and 6, so I thought it’s about time to teach them “the business” (just kidding). No, it was finally time for them to start learning community service, respect for elders, feeling the power of prayer, and witnessing life’s fragility up close.
So, after summer visits at Pigeon Forge, homemade Thanksgiving cards for residents in South Florida or Christmas Eve present deliveries to several Louisville centers, or just Christmas Day caroling at Palm Beach, the kids became comfortable and at ease with the hugs, the intense prayers of healing, or the special dialogue it takes to really connect.
As a parent watching this small transformation, I am proud of their growth and learning of life lessons from residents who have walked the walk and talked the talk.
During the holidays, my kids and I were reflecting about what they learned so far over a big family dinner and I could not wait to tell you…
Here is lesson #1 we could all use – Never Give Up!
To “never, ever, ever give up” is something we hear so often as a cliché, but rarely see it up close. It seems to be more of a sports analogy after someone wins – rather than a struggle for basic human survival that we witness up close, intimately.
However, when it comes to Richard Cusati at Signature Palm Beach, who has been fighting MS for three full decades after being diagnosed in his mid-twenties with the brutal disease, you see it up close and witness the inspiration you receive from the fight makes everything you are up against seem like a ‘slam dunk,’ or as we say, ‘a piece of cake.’
After each and every visit, my kids have become closer to Richard trying to rush to find him. We have a plan to always see every resident and bring small gifts to each and every one as we make our rounds, but there is joy and a comfort that when in Richard’s grace they feel a spirit that roars out of him that they are drawn to.
During our last visit, Richard pulled the four kids close to him, with all holding hands in prayer for Richard to walk again he told them this: “things will not go your way, you will be knocked down, you will receive a cross to bear, but never let it beat you, we can will miracles with prayer and hope.” As he grasped to unhook his neck brace to show them he could still control his head on a good day despite being wheelchair-bound.
Remember, this man has already beaten the odds, broken records of longevity, and despite a neck brace and painful daily therapy, he closed with the four children with “I am going to walk again…you just wait. God has a plan for me, to show everyone our spirit never breaks even when your body does. I will walk.” The kids were teary-eyed as they hugged him goodbye until the next time.
As I walked away with my wife Sony to the next room, it really hit me…it is the human indomitable soul that gives us true life, that force that took over the room and brought you in like suction to take a closer look at spiritual fire that created man from the beginning.
What I liked most was, as parents, you try to protect your children, insulate them from the pain, and try to make it “seashells and balloons” as Al McGuire used to say, but you can’t. What Richard taught each of them is the sacred lesson, we all have both a beautiful and painful journey to walk, and when bad things happen to good people, as the Harold Kushner classic title reads, we all need to get right back up knowing we will win in the end just by being in the noble fight itself full of hope, redemption and prayer. And when all of those converge in a small resident room, you start believing it may happen if we just don’t give up – ever.
Losing a Great One is Never Easy!
Prior to COVID, I think we all felt like we spent more time with work, work partners and peers than our own families. Was it good or bad? For me, I worked with some of the most talented people in the country, so I loved it. And obviously I love my family too! I had the blessing to work with a friend, brother, Savant, Mensa member, and so much more for nearly a decade and a half – Stephen Stocksdale. To say he was talented with an amazing range is honestly a great understatement in a world full of the opposite. Stephen did so much intellectually, professionally, and personally that for the first three years of working with him, I assumed it “all could not be true”. But time and time again I learned the opposite was true. He served our mission-based organization in every role (field leader, controller, administrator, VP, strategy, consultant, start-ups, etc.) and whatever else we asked of him. Despite having more professional success himself, he just wanted to help us grow in all ways.
One day 5 ½ years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we grieved with him as you would expect. But he was a determined guy and decided to not just learn all he could about cancer, but to master it. He decided there had to be a path he could carve out for himself that no doctor had considered, or he would locate new research that would help him beat it. With a scientific mind and unparalleled IQ, he found a clinical trial he was approved to get in. This trial’s treatment regimen was so potent, and Stephen was the only one that survived. He learned about transfusions, blood structures, and cancer interventions. Cancer kicked his ass often, but he always beat it back up and won again!
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today:
- “Be a Lifelong Learner” because we can always master new things and age is just a number, but lifelong learners never get old. Stephen mastered EMT services, police work, cancer research, hospital administration, heart transplant programs, high level statistical methods, travel, long term care, teaching, and many other degrees, certifications, and accomplishments over 65 years, so let’s all keep Learning and keep growing!
- “Never Give Up” because we grow everyone around us in our struggles and sufferings in ways that impact everyone around us and Stephen knew that and wanted us to get stronger, be more grateful and relearn presence, which we all did! When he came back home, he rarely missed a day at the office and taught all of us new things daily up until the moment he passed last week.
- “GOD IS SO REAL” Stephen had historical expertise on religions, studied theological premises, and had a metaphysical outlook, but in this battle, he felt like he met the Lord and had to share it with all of us. He knew he beat something that is nearly unbeatable, and he wanted time to share his story, his walk, and his private time with the Lord. He watched prayer groups with people he barely knew praying 24/7 that he receives a miracle, and he did receive one that he could share with all of us.
Our organization is going through a very painful time as a mid-size nursing home organization that has stakeholders who worked under unbelievable stress and pressure for so long and had to endure seeing some of our residents pass away. We have lost half of our team, and we are still trying to rebuild stronger and better. I think after serving through the pandemic for 2 ½ years and struggling with how to bring it all back together in this changing workplace and overworked healthcare system, and after suffering so much pulsating unknowns for so long, it was Stephen who gave us the best reason to not look back. He taught us to enjoy the struggle as something that can deepen us all and stay prayerful that God is with us during times like these. We need to rebuild and have new passion as learners, which Stephen demonstrated everyday making our lift just a little easier. And lastly, when you beat cancer four times and die from something else, how could we ever give up? It’s time for us to just “STOCKSDALE IT” and grow by learning, fighting harder and believing in our purpose!
Stephen’s office will remain untouched for now because when he left work on Monday with his ambitious assignments on his wall, we never knew we would not see him again. However, we can certainly feel his presence and we are all better people for his amazing lessons that he taught us until his last hour!