A Luscious Luau Celebrates Heritage, Spirit of Frances

Frances Demerin came under the care of NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement just a few months before her 90th birthday. As the matriarch of a large extended family, Frances’ loved ones held out hope that she would live to see this milestone, and that they could celebrate it with her. “We were told her time was very limited, and that she may not reach 90,” recalls her son, Ron. “But then she stabilized and we thought, let’s go for it. Let’s have a nice reunion, a celebration of life while she is still with us.”

Plans for Frances’ special party swung into high gear, with the help of NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement’s Dream of a Lifetime program. The biggest challenge was finding a venue large enough to accommodate the entire clan, as the guest list soon swelled to more than 100 people, says Veronica Wertz, Dream of a Lifetime coordinator for NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement.

After securing the Joseph Nelson Community Center in Suisun, the Dream Team prepared invitations and mailed them out. The Dream Team ordered a special cake and also made transportation arrangements to have Frances brought to the community center, as she was bedridden and unable to speak or communicate clearly.

“People came from all over—from Hawaii, Georgia, Florida,” as well as from all parts of California, Ron says. “All five of her children were there, her grandchildren, her brother, first cousins, second cousins.” In all, more than 120 people were able to gather that day. To honor Frances’ filipino and Hawaiian roots, the family chose a luau theme—complete with roasted pig and leis for the guest of honor—and planned to make it a surprise for her.

On the day of the event, Frances’ granddaughter served as escort. As she was brought into the room by wheelchair, she greeted her guests with “Aloha!” and the crowd cheered and shouted with excitement, while Frances reacted with joy. “She remembered a lot of the people,” Ron says.

During the party, Frances’ younger brother serenaded her with a traditional Hawaiian song. “You could see his affection for her, so sweet and tender,” Veronica recalls. And, for a moment, “Frances was able to sing back.”

“It was tremendous for her,” Ron says of the day. “She couldn’t speak, but just cry. It was a good day for our family, a bonding moment for everybody. What a wonderful send off.”

Dream of a Lifetime

Gino Goodman, Nancy Orloff, Frances Demerin and Nina Gaston and their families were recipients of the NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement’s Dream of a Lifetime program that grants wishes of the terminally ill. Begun in 2009, this is one of the few programs nationwide that fulfill the final dreams of adults.

To find out more about this special program and its rules and guidelines, call (707) 646-3575.

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