Two years ago, my son Travis needed help. He asked me to help his closest friend, Sue, fulfill her dying wish to see Hawaii. Sue had been ill for some time, but had just learned that the doctors did not expect her to live another full year. There were no other opinions to seek, as her doctors were already the best. They had told Sue, do all the things you want to do. If you have a lifelong dream, fulfill it now, because this is it.
Sue was devastated. She worried about her family, and who would care for them. And, she contemplated all of the things she hadn't done, and wouldn't be able to do. Travis was deeply upset about losing her, but more importantly, he wanted to make her last year as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. He talked to Sue about what she wanted to do. He learned that seeing Hawaii was more than a dying wish. It had also been a lifelong dream. She had yearned to visit Hawaii since she was just a child, living in a small country town.
When she grew up, Sue did all of the things she was supposed to do. She married, had children. She worked full-time, and made a home. She was a girl scout leader, and the neighborhood cooking mom. She had friends she spent time with, and had card nights. She enjoyed her life, but always in the back of her mind was that thought, that one of these days she would get to see Hawaii.
A point came when life had settled. The children were older, and bills were a little easier to manage. She started to put a little money back for her trip. She started making some notes on the sights she wanted to see and the places she wanted to visit.
Then her step-father Claude, became terminally ill. Sue invited him into her home to provide him with the proper care and comfort.
It was during this time that Travis became very close to both Sue, and Claude. He already visited frequently, as friends of the children. But he began playing cards with Claude each day, and having long conversations about life experiences, and lessons learned. When Claude needed to sleep, Travis would cook with Sue, and talk more about life experiences, and lessons learned, from a different perspective.
This went on for a few years. The men played cards together and talked, almost daily. Then the cooking and talking would take place. During this time, Travis considered both Sue and Claude his best friends, despite their age differences.
Eventually, Claude's illness won, and he passed. After the services, Sue and Travis continued to cook together often. After their mourning had subsided a bit, from time to time, they would contact me to join them, for cards and daiquiris on the patio, or similar things. We always had fun and laughed a lot. I knew Sue was having health problems of her own, but she was always in good spirits when I was present, so I had no idea how serious they were.
Over dinner one evening, Travis was deeply troubled. He told me then that Sue had less than a year to live. He told me that she wanted to see Hawaii, and the stories of how it had almost been possible several times, but that life had always thrown an obstacle in the road that resulted in a detour of her plans. He said it had been her lifelong dream, and now it was her dying wish, She was his best friend and he needed to help her fulfill that wish.
That night we set up a Go Fund Me account. He contacted some people who were involved with charities about the proper wording and presentation. We then sent it out to people we knew, posted it on social media, and printed out some flyers that we posted around town.
Over the next couple weeks, we had a few donations showing about a thousand dollars. I was worried though. Based upon the doctors assessment, Sue would only be physically able to make the trip for about a 6 month window. One thousand dollars would barely pay for one round trip flight, no lodging and no food. Along with Sue and her husband, at least one other person had to go to assist with care and in case of emergency. I was looking at my retirement plan, and loan options, because this had become so important.
Then we were blessed. Some very generous people who prefer to remain anonymous, contacted us, and offered to fund the majority of the trip, for several people. Travis was able to tell Sue his plans, and she was overwhelmed with joy.
Over the next couple months they discussed locations, sights, events, and activities that she had always hoped for, each day. Planning the trip brought her joy. In between the excited planning, Sue spent as much time as possible with her grandson, and Travis set up a schedule, bought tickets, and made reservations.
In June, 6 of us flew out of O'Hare, Sue, her husband, my niece Amethyst, her husband Dustin, Travis and I. We knew that an 8 hour flight would be difficult for all of us, but almost impossible for Sue. We took a long lay over in Seattle to break it up, going both ways. We went out and explored the city a bit. This eased the difficulties of the flights, but of course added two additional trips through security.
Despite advance arrangements for the serious health conditions and disabilities, security was not easy. We were most definitely a motley crew. The young, the old, the small, the large, the quiet, the loud. We were a group you would never have expected to find traveling together. Perhaps this made us suspicious, because in some places they insisted on searching through medical bags and equipment. Sue's breathing machine was even broken during all the handling and we later had to spend several hours finding a replacement.
Finally we made it though, and we landed in Honolulu together, some of us with no more than a back pack and others dragging behind multiple checked bags. We each had a different set of expectations, some hoping for excitement and adrenaline, others pampering and luxury, others relaxation and culture. But all of us knew that our overall goal was to help Sue have this experience she had always wanted.
We picked up our rented Tahoe, and checked into our rooms in Waikiki. The first afternoon we drove along the southeast coast, stopping at fishing inlets, going into Diamond Head crater, and then to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, taking in the beauty, and soaking in the fragrance. We each had to absorb our "wow factor," to realize that we really were in Hawaii, and we had two weeks to experience it.
We went for a crazy expensive but delicious dinner that night, to celebrate the fact that we were there. Sue and I sat across from each other discussing our plans, and the food, as we tried the ceviche, the prawns, the 30 day aged steaks, and drank drinks with hibiscus extract and black lava salt.
Over the next two weeks we did as many of the things that Sue had always wanted to do, as possible. We visited Sea Life Park, Dole Farms, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Pearl Harbor. We shopped in the international market and different gift shops. We each got sucked into the sales pitch at different times and places. We bought frivolous souvenirs. We drove through the city, and walked along the beach. We went on a sunset dinner cruise, and attended a luau. We ate shrimp, fresh fish, poke, poi, plantains, pineapple and mango, and drank frilly drinks with paper umbrellas.
Obviously some things Sue had wanted to do 20 years prior, were not an option. We didn't consider the hike on Diamond Head, or through the nature preserves. We didn't consider surfing lessons or parasailing. Some of the activities we did had to be adjusted along the way. Sue often depended upon a wheel chair, and that restricted some of the places she was able to go. Even the ramp entrance at Pearl Harbor was a bit frightening, but she made it.
In all honesty, there were moments when there was some friction and tension between our group. Traveling with others is always difficult, and melding interests and expectations into one common itinerary is a challenge. Add to that a great diversity among co-travelers. But knowing it is the fulfillment of a dear friend's dying wish adds an entirely different layer. There were times when we had to separate into smaller groups, and times when each of us needed to be alone.
Despite that, it was a wonderful trip. Sue was finally able to fulfill a lifelong dream to see Hawaii, to see the flowers and the trees, the ocean and the mountains, to have a lei hung around her neck in welcome. It was everything she expected in some ways, and nothing like she expected in others, as it was for all of us. But she was satisfied. She would talk about the trip for the rest of her days.
After our return home, Sue spent as much time as she could during that time enjoying her only grandson. She was in a lot of physical discomfort, but we had dinner a few times during those weeks. She repeatedly expressed her gratitude, and talked about Hawaii. She also talked about her services and memorial, that she was planning herself. That was another dying wish, that her services be done in the manner that she wanted. Coming to terms with life being cut short is a heavy burden.
Three months after our trip, Sue was hospitalized. Travis had been there each day, then one night, he called me in distress. The doctors had told Sue she would not make it through the night. I met Travis at the hospital, and we went to Sue's room. She was surrounded by her family, awake, talking, yet all the while aware it was her last night.
We spoke personally for a moment, and she thanked me again, and asked me to pass my thanks on to those who had paid for the majority of the trip.
She told me what a blessing Travis had been in her life. She told me what a good man he had become, and to never forget how blessed I was to have him as a son.
She then told me to live out my life long dreams, not to let them become a dying wish, as she had. She said she hoped I wouldn't be so dumb, that I would never experience or understand exactly what it meant that someone cared enough to make it happen.
I hugged her around the medical equipment, and promised her I would not.
She moved on less than two hours later.
I think about Sue often. I keep the sea shell necklace she bought at the market on my dresser.
There is no way to express all of the feelings thinking of her, our trip, or her passing, bring up. I can't even try.
I just know that me living my dreams was important enough to her on her dying bed, that she made me promise.
I will keep that promise.
If you have a friend whose life will be cut short by illness, and you would like to help them fulfill a dying wish, try these organizations: http://www.epicexperience.org/ http://www.dreamfoundation.org/ https://www.secondwind.org/
Losing Sue, and knowing how fast a lifelong dream can become a dying wish, is one of the reasons we launched Gypsy With a Day Job. If you would like to know more of them, start on our Who We Are page. Who We Are..