Christmas came a little early this year for Thelma Fisch of Grimes.
Thelma, a WesleyLife at Home client who soon will celebrate her 100th birthday, received a big surprise earlier this week: a fully decorated Christmas tree that WesleyLife team members had prepared for the 2018 Festival of Trees and Lights. This marked WesleyLife's first year of participation in the festival, which benefits Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines.
"When we learned we could donate the tree, we asked our Public Health Nursing team members to put their heads together to suggest a deserving client who would appreciate and enjoy it," Heather Stuyvesant, Director of Annual Giving for WesleyLife, said. "They suggested Thelma, and the festival staff was kind enough to deliver the tree to her after the event ended.
"We were so excited to be able to surprise one of our clients in this way, and so grateful to our friends at Blank for helping to make this happen."
WesleyLife case manager Porshia Taylor coordinated with Thelma's daughter, Ronnie Vitiritto of Clive, to make sure Thelma would be home to meet the tree-delivery team. Ronnie and her mother both were at Thelma's house to receive the delivery, which was a big surprise to Thelma -- and Ronnie said she will never forget her mother's response when she realized what she was receiving.
"My mother is a proud person and didn't want anyone to see -- but when she realized what was happening, she grabbed a little blanket that she has and started crying into it," Ronnie recalled, her eyes tearing. "She just kept saying, 'Why did they choose me? I don't know why they're being so kind to me.'"
The tree, 7 1/2 feet tall, is decorated with special ornaments that were donated by residents of WesleyLife's eight communities. It fills a corner of Thelma's warm and cozy living room, and even on a bright winter day, its strands of bubble lights glow brighter than the room.
Gazing at it from her favorite chair, Thelma told a group of WesleyLife team members, "It's the most beautiful tree I've ever seen. I wish I were a poet so I could write about how beautiful it is."
Daughter Ronnie said the donation of the Christmas tree is "just one thing in a long line of many things" WesleyLife has done to make her mother's life more meaningful.
"When Mom began to have difficulty cleaning her house, you were there for that. When she started having trouble with her personal care, you began coming to bathe her, and she has always been treated with so much dignity," Ronnie said. "Then she started receiving meals from Meals on Wheels, and every driver has been so kind. You have been angels to our family."
Ronnie said she especially credits WesleyLife registered nurse case manager Matt Rankin, her mother's primary caregiver, for being a critical liaison between Thelma and her family.
"I go to Arizona for several weeks in the winter, and I'm so used to being involved in my mother's care that being away is very stressful for me," she said. "But Matt and I stay in touch, and he is proactive about informing me if anything has changed, or if anything has happened that he knows I'd be concerned about. He is wonderful and has really become like part of the family."
Ronnie said her interactions with WesleyLife have changed her attitudes toward aging -- and even, to a certain degree, her outlook on the world.
"To know you all care so genuinely about older people and that you recognize how wonderful my mother is as a person, not just an 'old person' -- that reminds me just how much good there still is in the world," she said. "I'm blessed that WesleyLife helps keep her healthy and happy so we can enjoy having her here for another Christmas."
To learn more about the ways WesleyLife at Home can help someone you love, contact us at wesleylife.org, or by calling (515) 978-2777.