Planning a trip customized for the family’s needs can sometimes be challenging but those end up most highly rewarding.
Years ago I was trudging a walk desired by no one: I was losing a husband to cancer. We had the good fortune to live in Nashville, one of the cities which has a Gilda’s Club. (In June, 2011 Gilda’s Club and the Wellness Community merged to become the Cancer Support Community. Located in over 50 towns across the United States, this organization offers wonderful emotional support and a recreational community to celebrate life and its challenges while going through the experience of cancer. If you are lucky to have a clubhouse near you, GO!!!!) While Dave attended the Wellness Group, and Sam went off to Noogieland for therapeutic play, I enjoyed the Friends and Family Group where other people, like me, were able to share how hard it was to lose a loved one in the rollercoaster of the illness. It had wonderful moments of comedy and poignant times of expressed pain. We held each other in love and trust.
There was another woman there whose husband also had brain cancer. Like me, she was a pragmatist-she knew what was coming and was trying to walk her walk for her husband and son with as much grace as possible. So when she called me in tears one evening in late September I was a bit surprised. She sobbed that the neuro-oncologist had told them that it was time to call in hospice. I asked, as gently as one can with this blunt a question, “Why are you crying?” Her answer set a tremendous experience in motion.
She said she and Kevin had always wanted to see the Northern Lights, and now it was too late. I asked how Kevin was doing. She said she never expected the move to hospice when he seemed to be doing okay. So I opined that they perhaps had a couple of months and we needed to get busy. I started planning the trip. She was amazed I expected her to go! She had no financial resources at this point, after years of this devastating illness, to entertain the idea of a huge trip.
I told her to talk up the desire for a trip with EVERYONE she knew. Within a week an article appeared on the front of the Living section of the Sunday edition of The Tennessean explaining how the family was going to have a yard sale to finance this trip. “Kevin’s Dream” explained the reason for the trip. Two weeks later on a Saturday and Sunday I helped at the largest yard sale I had ever seen. It appeared that the people of Nashville had donated their hearts and then they came to buy it all back.
I don’t know about you but the most I ever have made at a yard sale was about $500. This sale raised $33,000!!!! In addition, one of the small music publishing houses (and I wish I knew which so I could give them accolades here) donated a van and driver for the trip, once we understood that the doctor would not permit Kevin to fly to travel by train. Furthermore, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center offered to cover the cost of all lodging and meals. This experience confirmed what I had already learned in my own pathway: people are genuinely good at heart and will help how they comfortably can, if only they know what is needed.
The first step for the trip plan was identifying WHERE they could go to see the aurora borealis. The closest destination, a small community on the southern shore of Hudson Bay, had to be eliminated because the railroad providing access to that town had stopped operating for the winter months. The trip slogan soon became “Fairbanks or Bust!”
Fairbanks, Alaska is well known for being the Northern Lights capital. Hotels offer wake-up calls if the lights are visible, as most times the views are best after midnight. I learned the recommendation was to plan to be in the area for at least 3-5 days to maximize the opportunity in case of cloud cover. I located a hotel that offers a heated glass-roofed room with comfortable chaise lounges for leaning back to view the sky, and reservations were made.
(Just an aside here, I learned that there are programs available for adults, similar to Make-A-Wish. While the purpose and goal of this trip was within the realm of what the program would gift, Kevin did not qualify for financial assistance because the road trip crossed into Canada and the requirement was the trip had to be in the U.S. If he had been able to fly, it would have been covered.)
The most direct driving distance between Nashville and Fairbanks is over 3,900 miles but the side goal of this trip was to make the trip itself one of discovery and joy, not just a mad dash to the destination. The one-way route was over 4,500 miles. By planning no more than six hours a day in the van, I routed them to landmarks such as Yellowstone National Park. Later we heard tales of all the wild animals they saw. Each day had a planned activity that were permit them to enjoy the great beauty North America has to offer.
I provided the locations of hospitals along the route and we all were very happy that the trip was made without any need to use that resource. The driver came in handy about halfway through the 3-week trip as Kevin’s health was slipping and had started using the wheelchair all the time.
They made the trip with great joy, enjoying the aurora three times. Kevin died shortly after their return to Nashville and my friend was able to feel content that she, together with all the players who had made the trip possible, had answered Kevin’s Dream.
We all have a Dream. Travel yours.