Woman flies to Hawaii for final goodbye to mother

Dream Foundation fulfills wishes of adults who face life-threatening illnesses

By Michelle Merlin
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Sarah Hammond spent 34 nerve-wracking hours of airplane travel wondering how to behave when her final connection landed.

Hammond fully understood it would be the last time she saw her mother, Jean Hammond, alive.

“It was scary. I didn’t know what to say or how to act,” Sarah Hammond, a Traverse City resident, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “I didn’t want to make a big scene out of it because I didn’t want her to be scared.”

Hammond’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s years ago and moved to Hawaii to stay with her other daughter, Karen Fuller. But her health rapidly declined, and doctors recently gave her three to six months to live.

Sarah Hammond hasn’t been able to see her mother since 2008, and didn’t expect to be able to do so again.

But the nonprofit Dream Foundation, a group that fulfills wishes of adults who face life-threatening illnesses, paid for Sarah Hammond to fly from Traverse City to Hawaii. She spent about two weeks in Hilo with her mother and sister.

The trip was one of the longest funded by the Dream Foundation, which collects airline miles as a portion of their donations.

“She had to go through several layovers, but we made it work,” said Shersy Benson, the Hammonds’ dream coordinator. “The power of love and the power of family make people do amazing things to get to the bedside in the final moments of life.”

Sarah Hammond is incredibly grateful for the opportunity, and said the visited resolved many of her complicated emotions about her bedridden mother.

“She remembered me, she could say my name. It comes out more of a whisper now, she’s so frail and thin,” Hammond said. “I leaned in and gave her a hug and told her how much I loved her and she said, ‘I love you, Sarah,’ and that just meant the world to me.”

The trip also allowed Hammond to see her sister for the first time in a decade. When the two found each other in the airport, Sarah Hammond burst into tears.

The family spent one day outside looking over the water — seemingly the first time in ages Hammond’s mother had been outside.

The visit also showed her mother was receiving proper care.

“She didn’t seem to be suffering, she didn’t seem to be scared, so that gave me comfort,” Hammond said.