(2 of 3)
Others choose a certain dream to make a statement about their lives. Juanita Reaves, 49, a mother with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, wished for the freedom of a hot-air-balloon ride with her family. Before the trip, she anticipated looking down on the countryside where she used to run, ride her bike and take walks. "My body is dying, but my mind still has a thirst for life," Reaves said in an e-mail. "I hope to show people with ALS and other disabilities that they don't have to be limited to ... only those roads where their wheelchairs will take them."
As profound as the effects can be for the dying, fulfilled dreams can leave an equally poignant mark on the living. They can bring back a semblance of normal life, if only for a few hours or days, for family members who have spent months watching a loved one struggle with disease. For Mary Irvine, whose stepdaughter Candice, then 24, wished for a family cruise, the dream allowed her to see a glimmer of Candice as she used to be. "We snorkeled, we hiked up a god-awful hill to a lighthouse, we took ballroom-dancing lessons, we went to the casinos. Candice knew everybody on the ship," says Irvine. A mechanic in the Air Force, Candice died of breast cancer three weeks later.
Dream providers can find themselves changed as well. After years of radiation and chemotherapy had destroyed Shirley Nelms' teeth, Nelms wanted a new smile so her teenage daughter would look at her with pride. Dream Foundation tapped Dr. Roya Akbar, a Marietta, Ga., dentist, for about $9,500 of donated dental work. Nelms' joy at the result was so moving to Akbar's staff members that, two months after her death, they continue to keep her photo on their computers as a screensaver.
To begin the process of granting a wish, Dream Foundation asks prospective recipients, on their own or with help from hospice social workers, to complete an application detailing a preferred dream and an alternative. The applicant must meet the group's qualifications. It won't, for instance, grant wishes to people with chronic ailments who aren't terminally ill. Dreamers tend to come from low-income families that have little money for extras after illness has depleted whatever savings they had. When approved, a case gets assigned to one of 75 volunteer "dream captains," who organize the project and coax companies into donating products and services. Foundation staff members purchase services such as hotel stays when needed to fulfill a dream.
For Donnie Forbis, who hoped to hear his band's original music on national radio, Dream Foundation arranged a broadcast on a Sirius satellite channel, including a party that day with family and friends and a call from celebrity volunteer Priscilla Presley. For Dorothy Hensley, 89, who longed to be a published writer, the group approached an inspirational website, which posted her personal essay on dying. Both Forbis and Hensley lived to hear from fans. Local television and radio covered Forbis' national debut, and Hensley has received more than 1,000 e-mails in response to her piece.