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Cathy and family in New York City

Cathy Lights Up at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Is there a moment in your life that changed everything? One that altered the path you were on, or pushed you to grow into the person you are today?

For Cathy, that moment came on what seemed like a regular day in 1986, near their home in Pennsylvania. She was waiting for her husband Jim, an avid biker, to meet her and their children Steven, age five, and Katie, age two, for an afternoon of mini golf. On his ride, Jim was struck by a vehicle and suffered a severe frontal lobe head injury. He survived the accident but was left with paraplegia and forced to use a wheelchair from that day forward.

That moment changed the course of all their lives, and for Cathy, it was the start of decades of giving selflessly to others.

In the aftermath of the accident, Cathy stepped into the role of Jim’s primary caregiver. Navigating entirely new family dynamics and responsibilities, Cathy bravely moved forward, guiding them through dark and challenging times with her relentless inner light.

“From the day of his accident, I needed to force myself to focus on each day and sometimes each hour to support him and my children,” Cathy said. “On good days, we celebrated the successes, and on terrible days we both fell asleep in tears.”

To support the family financially, Cathy returned to school to get a teaching degree. She became an elementary school teacher and continued to teach for 35 years. Along the way, Cathy taught countless students how to read and was adored for her creative lessons and fun costumes. Her students never knew if they’d come to school to find her or the Cat in the Hat in their classroom instead!

To this day, Cathy goes above and beyond, serving others’ needs before her own and taking every opportunity to spread joy.

After retiring from teaching, Cathy volunteered in her school as union president for three years, advocating for teachers during a strike. She also volunteered her time at her church and local library, participating in Read Across America.

When Cathy was asked what motivates her to serve, her eyes filled with tears as she explained, “That’s what you do! Being part of your community is critical! That’s how I grew up, and that’s how I taught my kids to be as well, although I don’t think it is valued enough today.”

Cathy’s lifelong commitment to giving has not gone unnoticed. When Wish of a Lifetime heard Cathy’s story, we seized the opportunity to return the favor. We sent Cathy and her family on a trip they’ve always wanted to take together: to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live in New York City!

Watching the parade is a long-standing tradition in their household and Cathy’s life. “I have enjoyed it as a child and as an adult; it boosts a lot of people’s spirits,” she said, explaining the significance.

“This has always been my mother’s wish of a lifetime,” Katie said. “She has always wanted to do this for as long as I can remember.”

Katie recalled one year when the family learned that only Macy’s employees could participate in the parade. Her mom teased them and said she would get a job at Macy’s just to be a part of the magic.

This year, instead of walking in the parade, Cathy and her family shared an even better experience—and one that came with some extra surprises!

After arriving in New York City, Cathy and her family sat down to enjoy lunch when a surprise guest joined them.

It was famed singer Patti LaBelle, holding her sweet potato pie! Patti revealed the big news: Cathy was this year’s recipient of Gift of a Lifetime, a holiday season give-back initiative from the Lifetime network. In addition to several other gifts, Cathy, Jim, Steven, and Katie received VIP tickets to the parade.

These were the best seats in the house, right in Herald Square, where the parade ends and live performances occur. Cathy and her family had a front-row view of the action, side-by-side with the talented performers, magnificent floats, and larger-than-life balloons.

“It was more than I ever could have asked for,” Cathy exclaimed. “Having those seats for the parade was just amazing. Certainly, fulfilling a life-long wish that I had.”

As the parade passed by, Cathy was ecstatic. And her family was thrilled to witness her grinning with joy, watching her spirits lift higher than the iconic balloons above them.

“She lit up like a little kid,” Katie said. “We quickly became the loudest ‘woo girls’ in the section—Mom and I were screaming! We had no voice by the time we went to dinner at Tavern On the Green.”

But for Cathy, celebrating together—including with their service dog—made the experience truly remarkable. “The highlight of my wish was being there with my family,” she said.

After returning home, Cathy has no plans to stop giving. She’s actively looking for new ways to volunteer and connect with the local community in their new home in Florida, where she and Jim moved during the pandemic.

“This wish will inspire her to get back out there, post-Covid,” Katie said. “It will help her to thrive in the future in ways we don’t even know yet.”

Cathy has a new story to share, one she hopes will inspire others to always look for the positive and never let go of their wishes and dreams.

“I have always been a storyteller and understand the value of sharing my story to help inspire others to dream,” she explained. “This wish will inspire others because I have always had a joy for wanting to make people happy. I brought happiness into my classroom every day, even during some of life’s darkest challenges.”

She also hopes her wish story will bring recognition to caregivers and the incredible difference they make.

“I hope my story can let other caregivers know that they, too, are valued,” she said. “I think this wish acknowledges and rewards, to a degree, all my years of being a caregiver. It acknowledges the importance of caregivers who do it every day because that is their new life path.”

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Our thanks go to Lifetime for joining us to make Cathy’s trip to New York City even more magical.

Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is changing how we age, one inspirational wish at a time.

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