80-year-old's Thanksgiving 'first' worth the wait

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

For many Americans, last week kicked off the start of a season full of family get-togethers. Whether the trip was as simple as loading the family into the car for a quick trip across town, or required crisscrossing the country using planes, trains and automobiles, millions made the journey to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

If you make them annually, these holiday treks might seem commonplace by now. For many, traveling is as synonymous with the season as turkey, frantic shopping and green bean casserole are. But for one Kentucky nursing home resident, this Thanksgiving's family gathering was far from ordinary. It was a first-ever.

Cambridge Place Skilled Nursing Facility in Lexington, KY, recently launched a program called Making Memories. The goal, Admission and Marketing Director Kara Ball told me, is to pull out all the stops do something “totally different” to make residents feel special.

“We go to the residents and we say ‘OK, what if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?'” Ball explained.

The Making Memories program, so far, has fulfilled a resident's dream of getting back on a motorcycle one last time, and it's given two married residents the big white wedding they never had. So at first glance, resident Lorraine Fazarro's wish didn't seem too outlandish: She wanted to see her grandsons.

“I'd love to see my babies,” Fazarro, 80, said when Ball asked what her wish would be.

“I've never seen them.”

Fazarro's son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons live in Allen, TX. Financial constraints made it difficult for the family to make the 900-mile journey from Allen to Lexington, Ball said, so Fazarro had never met her teenaged grandsons in person.

Ball called Fazarro's family to see if they'd be interested in visiting if they had a little help. With an excited “yes” from the family, Ball began reaching out to the community to make Fazarro's wish a reality in time for Thanksgiving.

Fazarro has lived at Cambridge Place for 38 years and has remained a favorite among the staff for her kind-hearted and happy nature, Ball said. A Facebook post by a local news station about Cambridge's efforts to grant Fazarro's wish pumped the effort. The post was met with comments from past staff of the skilled nursing facility, saying “if anyone deserves this, it's her.”

Money was raised through community donations for a weeklong hotel stay in Lexington for the family. Two women reached out with money to buy Fazarro a new outfit for the big day. Woodford Oil Co. pitched in with a gas card for the family, to cover their travel expenses to and from Kentucky.

Last Wednesday, Ball's plans fell into place. Dressed in red, Fazarro's favorite color, Cambridge staff and residents gathered under the pretense of a Thanksgiving party. Raylynn, Fazarro's aide of 15 years, tearfully asked Fazarro if she remembered what she asked for when making her Making Memories wish. She didn't, but Raylynn reminded her. She wanted to meet her grandsons.

Fazarro's family came into the room, her grandsons toting bouquets of flowers. There were hugs and kisses, and tears. Ball gave Fazarro a stack of cards and notes from people in the Lexington community who helped make the day possible.

Ball asked Fazarro if the reunion was a good Thanksgiving and Christmas present, and if she was happy with the surprise. Yes, she said.

"It's a Kodak moment," Fazarro's son, Dominick Fazarro, told a local TV station. "You know, that's what she wanted, that's what we all want.”

Through the Making Memories program, Fazarro got to spend the holiday with two loving families — her relatives, and her Cambridge family. And that's a lot to be thankful for.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.