When Daisuke and I decided to get married, my dad became determined to walk me down the aisle. He had multiple system atrophy (MSA), which is kind of like Parkinson’s disease. He was in a wheelchair 70 to 80 percent of the time. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
What was surprising was that at this point in his illness, Greg Johnson wasn’t into trying new things. In his daily life, he resisted using a walker and got around largely in a wheelchair. Just standing was exhausting. It was too much work, he said. Too hard.
I would have been okay either way. I said, “Just having you there, Dad, is enough for me.” I told him to just go down the aisle however, in a wheelchair was fine. I wasn’t particular at all.
This was something he’d always wanted, though. And as a mechanical engineer, he had always been good at seeing solutions to problems that other people didn’t. When he wanted to do something, he was going to do it.
Dad’s Wedding Plans
I wasn’t there for most of the wedding planning. It was going to be in North Carolina, where I lived before moving to Japan to study abroad. I had met my future husband there and never left.
When I came back a week before the wedding day, I saw what my dad had been up to. He was trying a lot of different devices to assist him with standing and walking. Generic walkers. A bench seat with wheels. He would try to stand up and walk around a little bit every day. It was really tough for him. He’d get frustrated because he was afraid of falling.
Then we got him a LifeGlider. He seemed skeptical at first. He wasn’t sure he would be able to stand up for long periods of time. After trying it out the first time, he said, “I don’t know.”
He had reason to be nervous. The ceremony was going to be at the church I went to growing up, a big ole Catholic church. It was going to be a long center aisle.
So, he came up with a plan.
“When I come in, I’ll be in the wheelchair. We’ll go halfway down, and I’ll switch to the LifeGlider,” he said. “I can’t walk, but I’m going to walk these last 50 feet or so, and walk you down the aisle.”
My Wedding Day
Up until the day of the wedding, Dad went back and forth about what he was going to do. He had practiced with the LifeGlider, but wouldn’t say whether or not he was going to try to walk with it.
He was uncharacteristically silent on that point up to the wedding day. I’d ask, “What are we gonna do?” but he wouldn’t give a clear answer either way. Looking back, I think maybe he wanted it to be a surprise.
As I stood next to him outside the sanctuary, I said, “Okay, Dad. Are we gonna do this?”
He said, “You’ll catch me if I fall, right?”
I hoped I would. But I knew once we got him into the LifeGlider, it would be really hard for him to fall. We just had to get him into it.
We got halfway down. I was nervous for him as we got him standing up and strapped into the LifeGlider. I thought, It looks like it’ll be okay … 25 feet to go … 20 feet to go … We made it!
Being able to stand and walk down the aisle allowed him to see that maybe he could do more. He used the LifeGlider in pictures afterward. We were even able to slow-dance at the reception.
I was really impressed. It took a lot of courage for him to do that. He didn’t want to be frail, needing assistance. He just wanted to be there and celebrate with everyone, and he was so proud that he could.
The Gift the LifeGlider Gave My Dad
Dad died seven months after that. In the 18-month period he was sick, that day was the most energetic I saw him. He had resisted trying to walk until he had a reason. It wasn’t easy, but the fact that there wasn’t a worry of falling gave him the confidence to try.
I would have been fine if he had been in his wheelchair for the whole wedding. I was happy he was there; whether he was standing or not was a small thing to me.
But my dad was able to gain a measure of joy and strength from that experience. Without the LifeGlider, he wouldn’t have had that sense of accomplishment that he could only get by being able to say, “I walked my daughter down the aisle.”
That’s no small thing.