The Dream Foundation gives a 68-year-old Beaverton woman one last chance to give her grandchildren a spectacular Christmas
For Carol Vandehey, Christmas really is about giving.
Although her financial situation usually only allows her to give her grandchildren coloring books and other dollar-store merchandise, this year she plans on getting them some of the big-ticket items they really want.
The reason she is able to afford the pricier items this time around is simple: Vandehey is dying. There is a chance she won't live to see Christmas morning. But thanks to a grant by The Dream Foundation, she can take solace in knowing that her young offspring will have a nice holiday.
'With my (grandkids), I haven't been able to get them stuff,' the 68-year-old Beaverton resident said. 'I've just never been able to spend on them like I could the other kids growing up, so that's what I'm going mainly for.
'It's going to be so much fun . . . (It will be) just one time of being able to get them something from other than the 99-cent store. It just seems good to be able to get them something.'
Vandehey, who has a combination of bronchitis and emphysema called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has been confined to her bed for much of the past several years. Her health landed her in a rehabilitation center until this past May, when Signature Hospice social worker Maureen Sharp-Escudero helped facilitate Vandehey's move back to her apartment.
Besides making sure she has all the elements to keep her life comfortable, the hospice worker also saw a chance to ensure that Vandehey's remaining time with her family is even more memorable and arranged with The Dream Foundation to make her last wish a reality.
'I can't say anything for sure, but this is probably her last Christmas. And Carol's aware of that,' Sharp-Escudero said. 'This wish is so exciting for her; it brightened her whole attitude up.'
The nonprofit Dream Foundation is the nation's first and largest organization dedicated to granting wishes for adults battling terminal illnesses. According to the organization's Web site (www.dreamfoundation.org), it is the agency's goal to ensure 'that no adult whose life may end prematurely due to terminal illness must ever pass from this earth without realizing one final wish from the heart.'
For Vandehey, the final wish in her heart was to be able to pick out the perfect Christmas gifts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Though she said it caught her a little off guard when some of the hospice workers asked her what she would do if she had a wish, she knew immediately what she wanted.
'I said, 'A dream wish?' And they said, 'Yeah, to do anything you wanted.' And I said, 'I know what I would do, I'd love to go shopping for my grandkids for Christmas,' ' she said. 'I've heard of dream wishes for kids and stuff, and at first I felt guilty and I thought, 'I don't deserve that.' And they said, 'Yes you do, yes you do.' I had a heck of a time deciding that I would feel not guilty … and I guess there are dream wishes for everybody.'
On Nov. 30, Vandehey, along with her daughter-in-law Roxanne Meeuwsen and a few people from Signature Hospice, took to Washington Square Mall in an effort to make that wish come true. The journey started out in a medical transport donated by American Medical Response, followed by a generous meal at The Cheesecake Factory and a shopping experience like no other. As plates and plates of appetizers were brought out and placed on the table at The Cheesecake Factory, Vandehey said she was emotionally overwhelmed with the enormity of what was going on, but physically she was feeling really good.
Seated in a wheelchair with oxygen feeding to her lungs, Vandehey looked like the queen at the table of friendly faces, all ready to help her pick out the clothes and toys she is about to delight her grandchildren with. Ideas were tossed around about where the best places to go shopping were and what sizes of clothes the children wear, as well as what kind of holiday dress Vandehey was going to pick out for herself. Meeuwsen, the adoptive mother of five of Vandehey's grandchildren, said her children were going to be so surprised when they open their gifts on Christmas morning.
'(They're going to be) very excited. They have no idea, of course,' she said. 'I think they'll be happy.'
Meeuwsen and her family invited Vandehey over for Christmas morning, which, if she lives that long, should give her the chance to witness firsthand the joy the gifts she picked out will bring. Meeuwsen's children range in age from 9 to 13; Vandehey also had a list of presents to get for her other grandchildren, as well as her 5-year-old great-grandson and soon-to-be-born great-granddaughter.
Meeuwsen said her mother-in-law just being able to be at the mall that day was pretty amazing in itself, since less than a year ago the families were told they had to say their final goodbyes to her. They spent the night in the hospital, but Vandehey kept fighting for life and was soon strong enough to be taken off oxygen. She then made the move from hospital to rehabilitation center and then to where she is today, living in her apartment with in-home hospice care.
Sharp-Escudero said that the hospice workers who come to Vandehey's apartment are all very fond of her, working extra hard to ensure she is comfortable and happy.
'She is very loved by everyone who works with her; she is so sensible,' Sharp-Escudero said. 'I think she's in like a holiday glow period now. She has good days and not-so-good days, but she's a very giving person and she's really easy to talk to.'
Kim Case, the community education director of Signature Hospice, said Vandehey is just one of the many people who receive care and support from the local company. She also said other Signature Hospice patients have had their wishes granted by The Dream Foundation, including a man whose last wish was to bring his estranged family all together one last time on his birthday so he could make amends and give each of them a necklace to remember him by.
'We're about living, not about dying. This is what we do every day because we believe in honoring patients and families,' she said.
Meeuwsen said the fact that hospice workers took the time to put the shopping trip together shows just how much they truly care for her mother-in-law.
'I think there's obviously some people that care about her in hospice,' she said. 'I also see (this wish) as God taking care of her and blessing her.'
And what it all boiled down to for Vandehey was not the path she took to get to Washington Square that day or what would come later, but just how exciting it was for her to be able to give her grandchildren and great-grandchildren a Christmas to remember.
'They are wonderful kids, and I love them pieces,' she said. 'I'm just floating with it. I just felt like it's God's wish that I do this or I wouldn't have gotten to do it.'