When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 51 years ago, he was talking about a making a better future for African Americans. In his honor, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday this month with the “MLK Day of Service” where thousands of Americans across the country perform activities to make things better for others.
While there are many ways you can volunteer today, there is a service caregivers can perform for their loved one: Help fulfill their dream by achieving something on their bucket list.
The Dream Foundation
When it comes to dreams, we all have our bucket list. However, if you are battling a terminal illness, that bucket list seems even more precious but perhaps more elusive. Pain, immobility and money issues can dash these dreams and many give up their joy so they can focus their efforts on surviving. But finding those moments of peace, reconciliation, validation and pleasure are part of life – no matter whether we are at the beginning, middle or end of our days. One organization understands how important this is and grants real-life bucket list wishes to help caregivers help their loved ones achieve these end-of-life dreams. Appropriately, it is called The Dream Foundation.
Seventeen years ago, Thomas Rollerson wanted to give his dying partner one last dream: to go to the movies and see Mrs. Doubtfire starring his favorite actor, Robin Williams. Seemingly a simple request, they set out for the move theater with water bottles to keep his loved one hydrated, a critical tool in abating the pain of his illness. The theater asked the gentlemen to leave because you could not bring your own water into the theater. Rollerson, dedicated to helping his loved one see a last movie, called organizations dedicated to childhood dreams for terminal patients such as Make-A-Wish and the Starlight Foundation. All these organizations limited their help to children only and Rollerson was amazed to find no group granted adult wishes.
Undaunted, he contacted the movie studio, Twentieth Century Fox, and was astounded yet grateful when they provided a copy of the film (since the movie was still in theaters it was not yet in video stores). This experience galvanized Rollerson to help other caregivers fulfill the dreams of the adult loved one who has last wishes. Thus, The Dream Foundation was created in 1994.
To date, The Dream Foundation has fulfilled thousands of wishes for adults battling terminal illnesses including more than 2,500 dreams in 2013. Rollerson is proud of the foundation’s success – one of the few and longest-operating nonprofit organizations to grant wishes nationwide for terminally ill adults and to not limit the wishes to those with certain diseases (for instance there are other groups who grant wishes for adult cancer patients).
“I had a network of contacts in the Hollywood and film community and I started reaching out to see how others could help and it grew from there,” says Rollerson.
As opposed to the over-the-top wishes we watch Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman enjoy in the movie, The Bucket List (such as an African safari, dining in Paris and riding motorcycles along the Great Wall of China) he says his favorite wishes granted are the simple ones:
- The Dream Foundation hosted a 104-year-old’s birthday party and invited the dream recipient’s brother whom he had not seen in 40 years.
- Another woman had never stayed in a first- class hotel so The Dream Foundation gave her a weekend stay at a five-star resort.
- A 40-year-old man with lung cancer was granted a last wish by The Dream Foundation of a fly fishing trip with his young sons.
- Another dream recipient was given a state-of-the-art hearing aid “so he could hear what his grandchildren were saying to him.”
“It’s the simple joys in life we take for granted that become so important as we face ‘the end’,” says Rollerson. “I learn from each dream we’ve given and it has become a gift to me to give these dreams.”
Note: This blog is adapted from A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care by Sherri Snelling.