By Bob Houghtaling

Miracles are events that often seem astonishing. Frequently we think of them in religious terms – like the parting of the Red Sea, or bringing the dead back to life. Sometimes there are those who get carried away by asserting that a game-winning home run, or last second touchdown, falls into the miraculous realm. For the remainder of this article I would like to discuss a miracle that took place in front of my eyes for 17 years. It happened every day with little fanfare and included scores of people. It also involved things like love, commitment and community. This miraculous experience was so very special in an unspecial way.

My son, Dwight, left us Feb. 21. He was 25 years old and passed surrounded by family and friends. Although losing him has been painful, Dwight’s life offered many gifts and his very presence proved to be an extremely powerful one.

Dwight Furey

Leigh Syndrome is a rare mitochondrial disorder that in its most dangerous form kills many of those afflicted before two years old. This insidious illness progressively reduces cognitive and motor functions. Obviously, Dwight never got the memo. He lived well beyond expectations. How this happened has to do with the miracle I have been alluding to.

My wife, Elaine, working with dedicated nurses, wonderful medical professionals, supportive friends, family members, and lots of affection, created an environment that defied what was considered a fait accompli. When she and Alan (Dwight’s biological father) realized that their beautiful son would never speak, walk or engage in things kids normally do, they were devastated. But, this devastation was short lived. Dwight received top medical care, schooling and tremendous amounts of attention from family. Elaine’s love for Dwight drove his care.

For 17 years I was witness to the power of love. Each day, Dwight was cared for, spoken to, and hugged. He also attended school (then, later, a program for adults with disabilities), watched TV, went for rides, received visits, and was active in the community. For someone who would never speak – love spoke to him. For someone who would never walk (except early on with a walker) he traveled all over the state. His life was active and full.

Even though Dwight would be provided much devotion and care, he gave as much as received. No miracle would have happened had it not been for his courage, smile, laughter and world class hugs. He would be the focal point of family gatherings. He would also display a sense of humor that had a devilish side. Dwight’s teachers, doctors and nurses adored him. He brought people together and this community, fueled by caring, sustained a protective umbrella that allowed him to thrive.

How do I describe this miracle? Certainly not by a single amazing event. No, this miracle has to be explained by the unwavering, consistent demonstration of love and devotion. A boy who was supposed to die around the age of two made it to a quarter century. A boy who might have been judged by what he couldn’t do died being remembered for having an amazing life. Dwight passed in the presence of loved ones. His funeral brought hundreds of people together to celebrate a life well lived. At the service it quickly became apparent that the miracle continues. Friends embraced, family shed tears and all promised to keep Dwight’s spirit in their hearts. Many came expecting to grieve and even though that occurred, most left uplifted by the knowledge that love, like faith, can move mountains.

I have been a counselor for close to 40 years and have long realized that “human connectedness’ is an important ingredient for healthy living. This received an exclamation point when it came to Dwight. The community he, his mom, and others, forged over the years demonstrated what love can do. All too often we think of miracles as distant aberrations. In my opinion, and experience, some miracles are within our power. I’ll conclude by leaving you with a poem I wrote as part of Dwight’s eulogy. It is called ‘He Never Walked A Mile’ and I hope it sums up the power of caring.

He Never Walked a Mile

He never walked a mile
Or ever uttered words
But those of you who knew him
Know this boy was heard

His laughter spoke a language
Which reached many hearts
So know now in your grieving
Such joy cannot depart

He’s with us in our caring
He’s with us when we dream
He reminds us that in loving
Our souls will be redeemed

For Dwight brought friends together
And he made us better still
The love from God’s gentle soul
Will warm the evening chill

So remember all of the moments
Those hugs and warm embrace
Cherish them in all you do
Make this world a better place

He’s with us in our caring
He’s with us when we dream
He reminds us that in loving
Our souls will be redeemed

Thank you to all who supported Dwight and his family. Also, thanks to all who create and enhance community through caring. See you soon.  

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program and is blessed to be Dwight’s Bonus Dad.