Dream A Little Dream
● By Sandie Tillery
story: Sandie Tillery photo: Julie Eaton
MARQUIS SHASTA HEALTH CARE
Sweet Ruby sits with a screwed-up face, confusion evident, as she twists the lap belt that keeps her secure in her wheelchair. I caress her shoulder and kiss her gently on the cheek before greeting her cheerfully. She perks up, and with her characteristic warmth, says, “Oh, how you doin’ today?” I think she knows it’s me, her daughter-in-law.
Parked in the lobby later, with the sunshine floating dust specks between us, we comment quietly about how beautiful the sky is today, how lovely the flowers look just outside the window, and how much shade the big sycamore tree provides. Sometimes we carry on brief conversations, remembering people and events from the past. Sometimes we sit peacefully, I writing in the journal we keep by her bedside and she humming bits of old hymns. I especially love those moments when I start singing a favorite gospel song and Ruby joins in as the words come back to her, her natural harmony flowing in and around my precarious melody. That’s when I sense she has returned to a place of joy, a time when she sings duets and trios and stands amidst her friends in the choir.
Ruby lives at Marquis Care Shasta in Redding, a skilled nursing facility, where I visit her twice a week. I have come to greatly appreciate the care she receives. Recently I learned about a wonderful program they offer to their residents. My mind has been spinning, trying to figure a way for Ruby to benefit from it.
It is a beautiful idea: granting wishes to our elders, similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for terminally ill children. Think about it—making dreams come true in the last years of life; letting seniors revisit cherished places, experience again their favorite activities, or cross off one more item on their bucket lists. “We’re never too old to aspire or set goals. Besides, a dream come true must first start with a dream,” says Julie Eaton, Marquis Care Shasta activities director.
Two residents have been granted their wishes at Marquis Care Shasta. Earl, 74, has a need for speed, but now is slowed down by his wheelchair. In earlier years, he raced at Laguna Seca and Sears Point. In July 2008, Marquis Care Shasta made it possible for him to relive his youth when he again slid through the window of a race car at Shasta Raceway Park in Redding. Staff and family members cheered him five times around the half-mile track as he raced at speeds in excess of 100 mph. “I never thought I would do this again!” he exclaimed at the start.
80-year-old Alma wanted to see the world from 10,000 feet above the ground. Dave Everson, owner of Air Shasta, gave Alma the thrill of her life when he took her up in his four-passenger helicopter for a tour of the area, including a view of Shasta Dam that her father helped to build. Earlier in the year, Alma had been chosen 2009 Marquis Care Shasta Rose Queen. First item on her calendar as reigning queen was to experience her dream come true.
The program is funded by the Vital Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Marquis Companies and Consonus Healthcare Services. The foundation’s mission is “to support organizations and programs that provide meaning and vitality in the lives of seniors and staff members living and working in long-term care.” The foundation partners with community and national organizations to raise funds to support such things as providing backpacks and school supplies for local students, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Ronald McDonald House and the Alzheimer’s Foundation, among others. It is the hallmark of Marquis Companies’ “giving back” philosophy.
Eaton, who has the privilege of planning the New Chapters events for the residents in Redding, says their objective is not just to fulfill dreams, but to get to the very heart of residents’ desires. She says they want to “make the last memories the best.” And it is not just her. She and Administrator Jeremy Pantovich involve the whole staff, encouraging them to listen and watch, to be alert as they serve the residents. If an aide or a food server nominates someone, they are invited to participate on some level in the event. “It’s a change in our culture,” Eaton explains of their efforts to get rid of the stigma of the institutional setting. Eaton wants everyone—staff, residents, families—to share in the excitement of the “changing social climate.”
I am excited. Join me in discovering how we can make dreams come true for seniors. Information is available at vitallifefoundation.org or by contacting Julie Eaton or Jeremy Pantovich at (530) 222.3630. More New Chapters stories can be found at marquiscompanies.com.