To the world, he was Superman. But to William, the late actor Christopher Reeve was just an ordinary guy. He was “Dad.”
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William Reeve, or Will, then only a child, could do nothing but stand by as his father faded away after a series of devastating blows. Christoper Reeve was paralyzed after a horse-riding accident severed two of his vertebrae in 1995, and he died of a heart attack resulting from septic shock nine years later.
But that wasn’t to be the last of Will’s losses.
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Dana Reeve, Will’s mother, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer shortly thereafter. She passed away less than two years after her husband.
Will wrote a heartbreaking letter to himself at the tender age of 13, finding himself alone in the world but for two siblings after the excruciating loss of both parents. Will shared the letter with CBS This Morning. “You’re at the lowest point of your life,” he began. “You’re in a hospital room in New York City, and you’ve just said your final goodbye to Mom.”
“You’re 13. She’s 44,” he continued. “Lung cancer. Never smoked. Gone, just like Dad.”
Will is now 26 years old, is a contributor to ESPN’s SportsCenter, and has dabbled in acting. It seems the sage and stoic writing of his younger self worked wonders in helping him to heal. But Will attributes his success to the guiding hands of his late parents.
“Here’s the good news,” his letter continues. “This is the low point. There’s nowhere to go but up, and that’s exactly where you’re headed … You will always remember the good stuff.”
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Speaking to People in 2016, Will opened up about the influence his parents had during his formative years. “They were the people who told me to turn off the TV,” he said, “to eat my broccoli, to go to bed.”
“It was a totally normal childhood.”
Not everything about it was normal, of course. “Not every child experiences going to the grocery store and seeing their dad on the magazine at the checkout aisle,” Will shared. But the young boy was never adversely affected by his father’s fame. Nor his disability. Reeve the elder even taught his young son how to ride a bicycle from his wheelchair.
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“We couldn’t be spontaneous,” Will continued, lamenting the occasional limitations of his father’s reduced mobility. “That could be difficult, but my parents did such a good job of staying true to their values.” The Reeves’ values live on in the legacy they left behind, a legacy in the form of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated to discovering cures for spinal cord injuries.
The foundation often posts messages of love and gratitude to their founders on social media, most recently to their “very own Superwoman, Dana,” whom they have described as “a powerful voice for caregivers and a fierce advocate for equality.”
Will’s gratitude toward his parents and the job they did in raising him has permeated his life since the apex of his tragic double loss. Even at the age of 13, he wrote positively about the future.
“Mom and dad will be there with you every step of the way,” he wrote. “How lucky are you?”