Wish StoriesPauline’s Memories Bloom at Family Reunion
More than any other flower, red roses have a universal meaning: Love. But for Pauline, age 86, they hold an even more profound significance.
When her son Nick was killed in a helicopter accident at age 29, Pauline and her family experienced a devastating loss. Pauline watched a butterfly land atop the red roses adorning his casket during his funeral. It was a meaningful moment, and Pauline knew she had to be strong for her family.
From that day forward, Pauline cared for her grandchildren, Lauren and Nicolas, as if they were her own children.
Perhaps Pauline’s big heart comes from experiencing poverty at a young age and never wanting others to suffer as she did.
Born in Greece, Pauline and her six siblings experienced the challenges of World War II firsthand. Pauline’s father was in the service and fought alongside the Allied Forces. When an opportunity arose to relocate through a program with the Salvation Army, they moved to Birmingham, AL, full of hope for better things on the horizon.
While adjusting to life as immigrants in a new country was challenging, Pauline and her family found strength in each other. After Pauline met her husband, they moved to California and started their own family, raising three sons.
But Pauline’s big heart is not limited just to her family. She has taken every opportunity to mother others throughout her life by fostering children and adopting animals. Pauline worked at a donut shop for many years and earned the nickname “Greek Goddess Donut Lady” from her customers. And every Friday, she donated donuts to people experiencing homelessness in her community.
“The shop owners said she gave away too many donuts,” Pauline’s granddaughter Lauren explained. “But they kept her on anyway because they realized she was the main attraction at the shop!”
In this season of her life, Pauline suffers from significant memory loss. Yet, her family remains core to her being, and she speaks about her siblings often. After many years apart, her wish was to reunite with them in person and feel the support of her big family once again.
When we heard Pauline’s story, we jumped at the opportunity to grant her wish and recognize the incredible woman she is today. Accompanied by Lauren, Pauline traveled from California back to Alabama for a much-needed family reunion.
Pauline’s siblings were finally in the same room together for the first time in 22 years! But that wasn’t all. To Pauline’s surprise and delight, 52 family members from multiple generations had come together to see her.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime, full-family reunion. Everybody made a huge effort to be there,” Lauren said. “It was such a magical experience—being around her family really jogged her memory. It was a miracle that she was able to recognize most of us, and she was so happy the entire time!”
The gathering was made even sweeter by the presence of red roses gifted by our friends at FTD.
“There were roses everywhere!” Lauren said. “100 long-stem roses were cut down and made into beautiful centerpieces for each table.”
One of Pauline’s nieces started singing a classic Greek lullaby to her baby during the reunion. When Pauline heard the lyrics, she said, “I know that song!” and began singing along. And soon, the entire room joined in singing the traditional tune from the Greek Island where Pauline was born.
Since the gathering, Pauline has enjoyed looking at the reunion photos, which always bring a huge smile to her face.
“This wish has had a ripple effect throughout the whole family,” Lauren said. “Thank you for giving people like my grandmother beautiful moments and memories. It has made a difference in all of our lives.”
Want to see more stories like Pauline’s?
Sign up for our email list and continue to be inspired by the stories of older adults fulfilling their dreams.
We thank FTD for their support of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP. To learn more about sponsorship and opportunities to support us, please contact Rachel Henzlik.