Last year, I was visiting with a retirement community chaplain as he was preparing to attend a community costume ball. He wore a genie costume. He explained that someone had told him he should “dress not for his current job but for the job he wanted to have next,” so he wanted the job of making the residents’ wishes and dreams come true.
The conversation brought back memories of my own experience as a chaplain and our “wishing well.”
The wishing well was a large, wooden, old-fashioned well house that was placed on a stand. It contained pens and cards for the residents to write down their hopes and dreams, including the items on their bucket lists. The community came together to develop a foundation that raised money to make a few carefully selected dreams come true. A committee was created to decide which submissions were practical options and to determine how to make those dreams a reality for the residents.
Granting lifelong wishes and bringing joy to retirement community residents is definitely a form of advocacy. Advocacy is more than meeting needs; it concerns being involved with the whole person. Helping to fulfill unmet dreams and hopes ensures deeper life satisfaction, which is crucial for healthy aging, maturing spirituality, and –ultimately– for preparing older adults for dying. Dying involves living well first. Death can be more readily accepted when people are satisfied with their lives.
Churches can develop a wish fulfillment process to encourage seniors to dream and have hope. Most of the dreams of older adults are not extravagant and are fairly inexpensive. Many of their dreams fall into four categories: (1) Legacy–to pass on values to others; (2)Reunion –to be able to reconnect with someone; (3) Nostalgic–to repeat something that was of value earlier in life, and (4) Adventure–to try something for the first time. These four types of wishes are usually straightforward and easily accomplished. Even the more challenging wishes are a way to bring a church into greater relationship with older adults.
One way of assisting older adults to fulfill their dreams is to work with secular groups like Second Wind Dreams (http://www.secondwind.org/about/) and nominate older adults for dream fulfillment.