Frank Henderson, whose terminal prognosis inspired neighbors to celebrate “Christmas in September,” died Friday, according to his family.
“These last 6 weeks with him were truly incredible, and gave our family countless memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives,” his 21-year-old daughter, Thea, wrote on her Facebook page. “His smile became a sign of hope for many, and a source of inspiration for people all over the world. Never did we imagine our beloved father would touch so many lives. But as it turns out, evident in the hundreds of Christmas cards we have received, the world found him to be just as special as we all knew he was.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Thea told TODAY.com her family continues to be touched by the outpouring of support by her neighbors in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline — and beyond. “We feel immense gratitude for the support we’ve received from all over the world,” she said. “They’ve truly helped us in this truly difficult time.”
On Sept. 13, Frank underwent a CAT scan after complaining of stomach pains. The discovery of advanced gall-bladder cancer for the father of five and grandfather of three was devastating. Doctors told him he had only weeks to live.
The family started to take action. Frank’s wife Jan, children Neil, Nate, Nic, Thea and Cory, and ex-wife Debbie Willis scrambled to check off everything on his "bucket list," which included home-improvement projects and taking advance "wedding" photos with Thea in a bridal gown, in case he didn't live to see her walk down the aisle.
Shoreline neighbors followed suit, posting holiday decorations last month to show their solidarity with the man who was vocal about his love for the spirit of Christmas.
Thea said support skyrocketed after TODAY.com posted an article about her dad last month. In addition to receiving heartwarming notes and gifts from people all over the world, her family welcomed NFL football stars Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, several of their Seattle Seahawks teammates and hundreds of the team’s fans to the Henderson home on Sept. 26.
“Doug Baldwin had heard of Dad’s story through a friend, and he called up Richard Sherman and said, ‘Let’s go visit Frank,’” Thea said. “They just came in like they were totally chill. And Richard Sherman told Dad, ‘Well, don’t you look comfortable?’ They just sat with him and chatted like they were the best of friends.”
Among the other active and former Seahawks to drop in on Henderson were Eric Pinkins, Jimmy Staten, Marcus Trufant and Norm Johnson. Johnson, a kicker who played for Seattle from 1982 to 1990 and remained in the National Football League through 1999, seemed to forge an instant bond with Henderson, and paid a second visit about a week before Henderson passed away.
“You could tell that those two men would have been the best of friends, the way they hit it off,” Thea added. “This picture was taken just a week before his passing, and Dad was full of smiles when his ‘buddy Norm’ stopped by!”
On Oct. 20, with the bulk of his Bucket List items checked off, Henderson said he thought it would be fun for his family to go to the beach, Thea remembers.
“It was a rainy, windy day, but Dad really loved being out,” Thea added. “When we got to the end of our walk, a rainbow filled the sky right before our eyes — a sign of God's promise to us.”
When they returned home, Frank said he felt tired and wanted to get to bed. Watching someone who’d rallied for weeks to make the most of every moment, Thea said she realized then that he was in his final days.
“He went to bed, and that’s when everything went downhill so fast,” Thea said.
After trying to get comfortable at the Henderson home, he moved to Evergreen Hospice Center in Kirkland, Washington, where he “was finally at peace” in his final few hours, passing away early Friday morning with his family by his side, Thea said.
“He really taught all of us, throughout his life, how to enjoy every moment and pack a lifetime of love into everything you did,” Thea added. “Dad extended his own life by teaching us how to do that.”
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