Joan’s Last Wish: How Strangers Saved Christmas for a Dying Woman and Her Cat
Sixty-five-year-old Joan Price of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has only a few months to live. Price, who contracted hepatitis through a blood transfusion 40 years ago, suffers from cirrhosis of the liver. She is bedridden and cannot stand or walk without assistance. In November, after an unplanned hospital stay, Price checked into a hospice facility.
She has made her peace with her failing health, but she went to the hospice with one lingering concern: She had no one to care for her beloved cat, Isis.
It looked as though Price’s last days would be filled with worry about Isis’ future — until the kindness of a stranger and a cat-loving Facebook community granted her final wish.
Looking for a Home
“I was so worried. I cried every night,” Price says of those first days away from her cat. “I don’t care about myself. I’m ready. But I care about making sure Isis will be OK.”
Price had taken Isis in after the cat, who had been living outside, gave birth to a litter of kittens. Price had the cat spayed and the two have been together ever since. Even as Price’s health failed, her concern was for her cat: Although she knew she would not be returning from the hospice, Price continued paying her rent in order to ensure that Isis had a safe place to live. The building’s maintenance manager cared for Isis, making sure she was fed and had a clean litterbox. But otherwise, the cat was alone.
With no local family and few friends, Price wasn’t sure where to turn for help. From her bed in the hospice, she contacted rescue groups to ask for help finding Isis a new home. And that’s when Price’s luck changed: One organization forwarded Price’s plea to blogger Dorian Wagner, an area woman who often helped local rescues find homes for cats.
The Kindness of Strangers
Wagner was heartbroken to learn about Price’s situation. “I just wanted to help her," she says. "It touched me." Wagner immediately reached out to Price for more information. Once she had verified Price’s story, Wagner sprang into action, posting a plea on Facebook. "I just got a sad email," Wagner wrote. "There is a woman named Joan in hospice who is dying, and more than anything else, her concern is for her 2½-year-old cat, Isis."
Wagner’s online community immediately responded and offered to help Price and Isis. What began as a few interested friends soon ballooned to hundreds of people inquiring about what they could do, prompting Wagner to start a dedicated Facebook page to provide updates and organize assistance.
Wagner’s first worry was taking care of Isis. “I wanted to get her out of that lonely apartment and around people,” she explains. This was easy: One of Wagner’s local friends, Leslie Wynne, agreed to foster the cat. And though Isis was initially nervous in her new home, she soon warmed up to Wynne — and won her foster parent’s heart.
But Wynne’s house wasn’t the cat’s final destination. The next step was to find a forever home for Isis. Wagner partnered with Good Karma Pet Rescue and reviewed applications, checked vet references and, finally, made a decision. A friend of a friend in Michigan was willing and able to give Isis a loving new home. Another Facebook friend, who works for an airline, offered to fly with Isis to Chicago, where they would meet the cat’s new owner.
It appeared things were working out for the sweet black cat and her loving owner.
When Wagner and Wynne told Price they had found a new home for Isis, she was overjoyed. “I cried,” she says. “A big weight had been lifted.”
The news that Isis would be safe changed Price’s entire attitude and demeanor. “The next day, the nurse told me I looked completely different. She said I was shining!” Price says. “My doctor and social worker said the same thing.”
But the best gift came when Wagner was able to secure permission from hospice management to bring Isis to visit Price. It was a happy reunion for both of them. “Each time she smelled me, she began meowing and then got into my lap,” Price says. “She didn’t move for two hours. She stayed there, purring and cuddling.”
The pair has had two visits so far and plan to have more. Though Isis was originally scheduled to move to her new home before Christmas, the team decided to keep her with Price as long as possible. “They truly love each other,” Wagner says. “It’s good for both of them.”
Caring for the Caregiver
Once Wagner and her Facebook community had taken care of Isis, they turned their attention to Price herself. Wagner, Wynne and another friend, Kim Droze, took Price some of the things she had left behind in her apartment when she was taken to the hospital, including clothing and her laptop. The women also decorated her room for Christmas. When Price’s Kindle broke, they replaced it with a new one and helped fund her Amazon account so she could do more reading.
But Wagner’s online community felt there was more to be done for Price. A Facebook friend started a holiday card campaign; soon, nearly 100 Christmas cards, addressed to Price and sent from around the world, showed up in Wagner’s mailbox. “She got such a kick out of them,” Wagner says.
Each time they visit, Wagner and her friends take Price little treats, like her favorite raspberry cheesecake breakfast bars and frozen tiramisu. “I’m so spoiled!" Of Wagner, Price says, "She’s my fairy godmother.”
But Wagner is quick to point out that it’s been a team effort. “It’s incredible,” she says. “Nobody in this community knows Joan, many of them don’t even know me. But here they are, coming together and offering to help, buy Joan things she needs or even just send encouraging words.”
The other five patients in the hospice center are also benefiting from the kindness of strangers. One Facebook friend sent poinsettias to each of the residents to brighten their rooms. And Wagner sometimes takes requests before visiting the hospice. “One day they all wanted McDonald’s cheeseburgers,” she says with a laugh.
As for Price, she’s cherishing the time she has left with Isis, who continues to visit her in the hospice. “I love her. I’ll miss her. But as long as she has a good home where she’s taken care of and truly loved, I’m happy," she says. "I’m at peace.
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