A dream came true for a 92-year-old woman on the final day of her life, thanks to the efforts of a Recreation Therapy student and faculty members at NC.
It all began when second-year Recreation Therapy student Lindy Tymura was paired with Presentine, a resident of the Welland Hospital’s Extended Care Unit, in January. Tymura was one of four students in her class working as a ‘dreamweaver’ for Second Wind Dreams. The project is part of an international, non-profit organization which aims to grant dreams to those living in eldercare communities or in hospice care.
Tymura, who had been meeting with Presentine three times a week since January, learned that she had a passion for music. In fact, she had been an accomplished opera singer, who had performed at venues such as Massey Hall in her younger years. She began to plan an outing for her that involved dinner with family and attending a musical performance in the community. The resident’s health however, began to deteriorate. Visits with Presentine became increasingly shorter and once her health dramatically declined, an outing was no longer possible.
The performance would have to be brought to her bedside.
Professor Christine Wilkinson, who oversees that Second Wind Dreams program at NC, recalled the musical talents of Giacomo Folinazzo, an EAP professor at NC and singer who has been training in opera singing as a tenor for about two-and-a-half years, and made the suggestion to Tymura. Tymura asked Folinazzo if he would be willing to perform for Presentine at the ECU on April 11 and he accepted immediately.
It soon became clear that Presentine’s days were numbered and she would not likely make it to April 11. After a series of phone calls to Folinazzo, the NHS, and the resident’s family, the dream took place at Presentine’s bedside in the ECU on the evening of April 4.
Tymura described the scene. “Giacomo sang to Presentine while her daughter was holding her hand, and other relatives and hospital staff were around watching the performance,” she said. “It was sad, but beautiful.”
Folinazzo sang Ave Maria first at the family’s request. He continued with O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento. He was then told by the daughter that the resident had sung the same songs during her days as an established opera singer.
Even with hundreds of performances under his belt – including a recent New Year’s Eve performance in Niagara Falls before a crowd of thousands – Folinazzo noted that this performance was “the most special of them all.”
“Presentine was sleeping and breathing heavily and she seemed unresponsive to touch or being talked to. While I sang, her breathing relaxed, her eyes almost opened on a few occasions, and her head tilted back when I sang a higher note. She was basically singing with me,” he said. “I strongly believe that music penetrates us directly into the subconscious and into the soul, and although she was not responding with words, she was fully aware of what was happening. One last performance for a performer.”
Later that night, just a few hours after Folinazzo’s performance, Presentine died in her sleep.
For Tymura, who is now preparing for her first full-time job as an activity aid at Hawthorne Place Care Centre Toronto after graduation this spring, it means a lot to her to know that her efforts had such an impact on the final day of a resident’s life.
“This dream turned out to be nothing like I had expected. It was so rewarding to make a dream come true for Presentine, especially since there were times I didn’t believe it was going to happen,” she said. “It was also rewarding to see the family share this final moment with her.”
Wilkinson marveled at how all the pieces fit perfectly together to make the resident’s dream come true.
“Looking back on 10 years of dreams, some of them before I arrived at Niagara College, this has got to be at the top of the list in terms of impact,” she said. “There have been many dreams on a grander scale that seem bigger on the surface, but to see the emotional impact of this dream on the resident’s family, the staff members, the student and Giacomo, it really speaks about the power of this program on many different levels.”
After hearing about Presentine’s singing days and love and passion for music, Folinazzo said he was honoured and moved by the fact that he was chosen as the last singer Presentine would ever hear.
“Music to me is the most important part of my life, together with my family. This experience reminded me that in a few years, I will be in that bed, and perhaps someone else will sing to me before my last note-less breath will be exhaled,” he said. “I was deeply sad for a few days after I sang for Presentine, but I now smile thinking that this all happened.”
This was the third year that Niagara College has been involved with Second Wind Dreams with the NHS.