Recently, three generations of the McGregor family gathered at Applebee’s in north Kalispell. Sharon, 48, standing beside her children and grandchildren, grinned and teared up as Courtney Laabs passed her a blue folder tied with a bow.
The folder contained the details for a trip to Disneyland that Sharon will take in early May with her daughter, granddaughter, and son. As a grant from Dream Foundation, a national nonprofit, the vacation will hardly cost the McGregors a penny. Dream Foundation has granted close to 25,000 end-of-life dreams that inspire, comfort, and provide closure for terminally ill adults across the country like Sharon, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure last summer.
“I’m excited about seeing the joy of Disney through my granddaughter’s eyes,” Sharon said. “The wonder, the awe. And the beach. And the food.”
Laabs, a Whitefish businesswoman, smiled on as the McGregors celebrated with cake and talked about their plans for the trip. She recently embarked on a mission of her own, dubbed Iron Dreams, to raise $50,000 in partnership with Dream Foundation while training for the Coeur d’Alene Ironman in August. If she reaches her goal, she’ll be able to fund 30 dreams just like the McGregor’s. So far, she’s raised just over $4,000.
“Delivering the dream to Sharon today connected me even deeper to the incredible work the Dream Foundation does for terminally ill individuals and families,” said Laabs, whose own mother died of cancer in 2007. “Sharon epitomizes what the Dream Foundation is all about – she values quality of time over quantity of time. And she will forever cherish the pure joy that this dream will bring her and her family as well as memories that will last with her children and grandchildren forever.”
Sharon, who was spirited and energetic at the ceremony, has two rules for the trip: No sad faces, and no talk about her being sick.
“We haven’t really taken many family trips,” said Sharon’s daughter, Kailynd. “It’s sad that it’s under these circumstances, but we’re making memories.”
“We try to keep the joy,” Sharon said.
They’ll make memories of fun at Disneyland – Kailynd’s daughter Rossilyn can’t wait to meet Rapunzel – but the trip has a dual purpose. The family will also visit Huntington Beach, less than 20 miles from Disneyland in Anaheim, where Sharon was born. After living in Florida and Montana for many years, she hasn’t been there in over a decade.
“I’m really excited to show them, this is where grandma is from,” she said. “This is my beach. I remember the feeling of the sand, I love those memories. I can’t wait to see [Rossilyn] playing in the water.”
Though Rossilyn, who is 5 years old, might not remember everything from the trip, it’s something to look forward to and highlights the McGregors’ focus on making the time Sharon has left meaningful.
“The last year you can spend with someone is super important,” Laabs said. “The dreams are for adults, but a lot of them involve the whole family. With all the money going to medical bills, to be able to share a special trip and not worry about the bill …”
Laabs trailed off, but her meaning was clear. The service Dream Foundation provides – whether it’s a plane ticket to meet grandchildren or to take them to Disneyland (two popular dreams) – is significant for families coping with terminal illness, an emotional struggle with which Laabs is familiar.
To work through the pain of her mother’s illness, Laabs began training for the Coeur d’Alene Ironman. She was all set to compete in 2007 – and then in June, two weeks before the triathlon, her mother went into hospice and Laabs set her Ironman dreams aside. Picking back up where she left off nearly a decade later, she’s bringing her training full circle by dedicating her efforts to her mother and to families in need across the country.
“This brings it to a whole other level. We’re not professional triathletes,” Laabs said of herself, and her training partner, Brooke Reinhart. “But what we can do is we can touch other people’s hearts and spread the word about this incredible organization.”
Find more information about Iron Dreams online, donate, or learn about the Dream Foundation at irondreams.org. Laabs also plans to host a fundraising party at the beginning of July.
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