A grand­fa­ther’s prom­ise

With Maddy in his heart, Terry walked 800km to keep his word Terry Wil­son, 69, Palmer­ston North, NZ

that's life (Australia) - - Contents - As told to Jac­que­line Mey

Hear­ing the phone ring, my wife Cathy and I both jumped up from our chairs.

‘How is she?’ Cathy asked down the line.

Our daugh­ter An­gela, had just given birth to a baby girl, Maddy.

But while she was per­fect in our eyes, the doc­tors had

picked up on a few ab­nor­mal­i­ties.

‘She has cys­tic fi­bro­sis,’ An­gela said.

‘What on earth is that?’ I asked.

‘It’s a dis­or­der that af­fects your di­ges­tive sys­tem and lungs,’ she ex­plained.

The truth was, Maddy could sur­vive well into her 40s, or she could pass away be­fore she en­rolled in school.

Hold­ing Maddy for the first time, I was in love. By the time she was two, she had us all on our toes.

Her gor­geous straw­berry blonde hair flew be­hind her as I chased her around the back gar­den.

‘Tag you’re it,’ I said as we laughed to­gether.

As she grew older, I could see my­self in her.

Her love for the gui­tar brought my rusty skills to sur­face and I helped her mas­ter the strings.

Even with less than 50 per cent lung ca­pac­ity Maddy never let it stop her.

When her breath­ing got tough she’d use a scooter to whip around town, al­ways with a smile.

And when An­gela met Mark and had Mitchel and Alexa, Maddy doted on them.

Tick­ing off birth­day af­ter birth­day, the cys­tic fi­bro­sis cer­tainly wasn’t con­trol­ling her life.

‘I’m top in my class, Grandpa,’ she told me one day.

How does some­one that spends more time in the hos­pi­tal than school get so clever? I cooed over my smart cookie.

Part of her con­di­tion also meant she was un­able to gain weight eas­ily, so the doc­tors en­cour­aged her to eat… and eat we did!

Ev­ery night we’d en­joy ice-cream and a heart to heart.

One evening, when Maddy was 17, we were tuck­ing into two scoops of vanilla when she looked at me.

‘Just make sure they re­mem­ber me,’ she said.

By now, Mitchel was four and Alexa was two, and Maddy loved them more than any­thing in the world.

‘You’re not go­ing any­where,’ I said, con­fused.

Brush­ing it off, Maddy chat­ted away about ev­ery­thing and any­thing.

In the weeks af­ter though, her health de­te­ri­o­rated.

Her lung ca­pac­ity dropped be­low 30 per cent mak­ing it nearly im­pos­si­ble to breathe.

When her friend turned 18, Maddy went to her party with an oxy­gen tank.

Watch­ing her laugh with ev­ery­one, I smiled.

She’s the life and soul,

I thought.

See­ing her zest for life made me want to find a pur­pose of my own.

So I de­cided to do the Camino de San­ti­ago pil­grim­age in Spain.

The 800km trek is said to bring clar­ity and rea­son.

‘But you only ever walk to the let­ter­box and back,’ Cathy teased.

The next day I vis­ited Maddy in hos­pi­tal.

To give her lungs a break, doc­tors had de­cided to put her in an in­duced coma for two days and I wanted to see her be­fore she went to sleep.

‘You get your­self right and we can walk the Camino to­gether,’ I told her, kiss­ing her fore­head.

With an oxy­gen mask on, she smiled and nod­ded.

But the next day, An­gela called, her voice shak­ing.

‘She’s not go­ing to make the night,’ she said.

In that mo­ment, I felt my heart crack in two.

Later that night, Maddy passed away peace­fully. For days I just cried. Then I de­cided I had to do the walk – for my girl.

Jump­ing into ac­tion, I trained for a year.

I even made up shirts with Maddy’s face on them.

‘So she’s close to my heart al­ways,’ I said.

In Au­gust 2017, I set off on the walk, not only to find my­self but to keep my prom­ise to Maddy.

I’m go­ing to take you with me, I told her, tak­ing my first steps on the dirt road.

With all my clothes, my back­pack weighed 10 ki­los.

Puff­ing away, I didn’t think I’d make it past the first day.

But glanc­ing down, I saw Maddy sit­ting on my heart and I knew we could do this to­gether.

Along the way, peo­ple would ask me who was on my shirt.

‘That’s my grand­daugh­ter,’ I said proudly. ‘She had cys­tic fi­bro­sis.’

One day, I was pass­ing through a vil­lage when a lo­cal man stopped me and pointed at my shirt.

I told him about Maddy and he reached out and placed his palm on her face.

‘She will be al­right,’ he whis­pered in bro­ken English.

Stand­ing to­gether, we clasped hands and a smile ap­peared on his face.

Even Maddy’s death hasn’t stopped her from mak­ing peo­ple smile, I thought.

That stranger gave me the last boost I needed to fin­ish the walk.

Thirty-five days, and 800kms later, Cathy met me at the end.

Fall­ing into her open arms, I was a bag of bones… but Maddy and I had done it.

I even raised $5000, which I do­nated to Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis NZ, in the hope of find­ing a cure one day.

My pur­pose in life is ex­actly what she was do­ing all along, cre­at­ing laugh­ter and hap­pi­ness.

And Maddy, I am try­ing my hard­est to live just like you.

An­gela called, her voice shak­ing. ‘She’s not go­ing to make the night’

Maddy was with me on the en­tire walkMe on the left and Maddy (top mid­dle, in pink), with our fam­ily

Maddy was the life and soul ofthe room

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.