Throughout his adult life, Patrick Mitchell had one goal in the distance: live to be older than 100.
He knew it was ambitious, but he took steps he thought might help get him there — daily exercise, vitamins, healthy foods.
About a year ago, at age 72, his hope of becoming a centenarian was shattered when he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, a devastating discovery.
His health began to rapidly decline late last year. His daughter, Vanessa Mitchell-Delmotte, knew he wanted to squeeze more life into his final months, so she posted in a Facebook group inquiring about local bucket list ideas in the Coronado, Calif., area, where her parents live, near San Diego.
“My dad loves adventure,” she said earlier this week, explaining that she wanted to help him have as many as he could enjoy.
In November, she wrote in Coronado Happenings: “My dear dad has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I’m taking December off of work to enjoy some bucket list activities with him. Anyone have ideas?”
Mitchell-Delmotte, 38, who runs a jewelry business, wrote that her family is from the area, so tourist activities didn’t appeal as much. Instead, she was seeking some “behind-the-scenes” experiences, she wrote.
“I liked the idea of doing something that wasn’t touristy; that you couldn’t Google,” Mitchell-Delmotte said in a phone interview, adding that her dad loved to meet people and say, “You’re never going to believe what I just did!”
Within minutes, suggestions from strangers started pouring in from the group, which has 26,000 members. But what stunned Mitchell-Delmotte most, she said, were comments from people offering to personally take her father on an unforgettable experience.
One offered tickets to a special viewing of “The Nutcracker,” while another offered a horse therapy session on a ranch. Others offered private surfing lessons, a family photo shoot, piano lessons, a painting session at an art gallery and a staycation at a local hotel — all free of charge.
“It blew our minds,” she said. “I was just scrolling and scrolling. I was so overwhelmed by people’s generosity.”
Julie Wright, 45, was one of the generous strangers. She and her husband, Justin Wright, who is a search and rescue swimmer, offered to give them a private tour of a U.S. Navy helicopter squadron.
“Dad’s father was in the Navy, and I knew he had an affinity for all things Navy-related,” Mitchell-Delmotte said.
On Dec. 9, Mitchell-Delmotte and her father ventured to nearby Naval Air Station North Island, where they were given a private tour of the helicopter hangar, plus an in-depth showing of the expansive fleet of aircraft stationed there.
“My husband and Patrick sat in the cockpit and had their own conversations, while Vanessa and I sat in the back,” recalled Wright, a certified medical technician on the naval base.
While in the back of the helicopter, the two women bonded over their shared experience of coping with an ill parent.
“Having just gone through cancer and almost losing my own mother last year, I had a small sense of what Vanessa may be going through,” Wright said. “It’s never the same story, but I felt it. It hit me in the gut.”
Upon reading Mitchell-Delmotte’s Facebook post, she and her husband were compelled to help.
“If you have an abundance of love to give, you should give it,” Wright said.
While the experience was primarily intended for Mitchell-Delmotte and her father, it was equally memorable — and moving — for Wright and her husband.
Witnessing the father and daughter enjoying the day together “was such a beautiful thing,” she said. Sharing the experience with them “did more for my husband and I than we could’ve imagined.”
Others who offered up adventures felt the same way, including Vickie Quinn.
Quinn, 62, and her family owned a home in Coronado for 25 years, and even though she no longer lives there, she is still a member of the Coronado Happenings Facebook group. When she stumbled upon Mitchell-Delmotte’s post, she responded: “If you bring him to Las Vegas, I can arrange a UFC fight,” abbreviating Ultimate Fighting Championship.
She said she offered because she felt duty-bound to give back.
“So much was given to our family — especially to my son — from the people in the Coronado community,” Quinn said, explaining that her 33-year-old son, Stephen Quinn, is quadriplegic, and neighbors in the area always looked out for him. “I thought this was the least we could do.”
Quinn’s son is now an executive at Ultimate Fighting Championship, and it was his idea to offer the tickets, she said.
Mitchell-Delmotte said her father was ecstatic about the prospect of attending a match. Fortunately, at the time, he still felt well enough to take a short flight, so the two of them traveled to Las Vegas on Dec. 11, to see a match and spend the night.
Mitchell had hoped to visit Paris again, and although that was not possible given the distance, the father and daughter stayed at Paris Las Vegas, a local hotel, for the night, to “check both boxes,” Mitchell-Delmotte said.
“I’m so grateful for that trip,” she continued, adding that their hotel room had a perfect view of an Eiffel Tower replica, and they were able to witness one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts history. “We both left as mega fans.”
Since the match, Mitchell-Delmotte and Quinn, whose husband died last year, have spoken every day.
“She pours her heart out to me, and I pour mine out back to her,” Quinn said. “I don’t know her, but I love her. We’re like sisters now.”
Indeed, an unexpected outcome of Mitchell-Delmotte’s initial Facebook plea has been the many new friends she has made online who have supplied constant comfort and support.
“It has been the light in all of this,” she said.
Mitchell-Delmotte said her dad was tremendously touched, too. He felt too weak to participate in a phone interview this week and instead provided a voice recording, in which he said the offers he received from strangers showcase “the spirit of humanity.”
Throughout last month, Mitchell — a father of two children and a grandfather of three, who spent 40 years working in education — was able to experience a few more adventures with his daughter, which she chronicled on her Facebook page.
“He is such a guiding force in my life,” Mitchell-Delmotte said of her father. “Doing this together and having these memories has been really important for me and for my healing process as well.”
Mainly, she added, “I really just wanted to watch him in action. These complete strangers have been so connected to him.”
Together, they also toured the USS Makin Island and enjoyed a personalized violin concert in their backyard. During each experience, Mitchell listened attentively to the stories of strangers and shared his own.
While they wanted to take everyone up on their offers, Mitchell-Delmotte said, the timing didn’t always align, and her father was becoming increasingly fatigued as the days in December passed. Still, the offers themselves meant more to them than the experiences.
“It was the reaching out. That’s what mattered,” Mitchell said. “Especially from people who don’t know me.”
Jeremy Cooke, a local teacher and violinist, was one of those people. When he saw Mitchell-Delmotte’s post, he offered to do a private performance. He made a point of learning some of Mitchell’s favorite music — including classics by the Beatles, Van Morrison and the Beach Boys — to serenade him in his backyard.
“I hoped to provide a break and a boost for him and the family,” said Cooke, 44. “I was happy to be a part of it.”
Mitchell died peacefully on Jan. 11. Although he didn’t make it to 100, his daughter said, he felt fulfilled — and honored to be part of so much kindness and humanity.
“Dad recently said, ‘We are what we leave behind,’ ” Mitchell-Delmotte recalled. “And he is leaving behind a very strong legacy.”