One last wish: The volunteers trying to fulfil people's heart's desires

  • People
  • Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

The German Wunschewagen project, whose name translates as Wish Wagon, enables those who are seriously ill to visit places that are important to them one last time. Photo: Smilla Dankert/ASB NRW/obs/dpa

IT might be a last pop concert, or a trip to the airport to watch the planes take off – or relaxing in the comfort of your own garden.

The final wishes people have vary – but the German Wunschewagen Rhein-Main has spent the last five years trying to fulfil them for those who are seriously ill.

Often, they are wishes that their relatives cannot help with.

"We have the right vehicle and the appropriate level of medical support," says project manager Martina Roth."And we can also open doors sometimes," she says, adding it can be easier for her team than for individuals to make a wish come true.

Michaela Loos coordinates the wishes that reach the group, whose name translates as Wish Wagon, and organises trips from the office in Frankfurt.

The project is financed by donations and related to the Workers' Samaritan Federation (ASB), a German aid and welfare group.

The group has received around 700 requests over the past five years. They have managed to fulfil around 140 of those wishes, Loos says. The furthest trip was to the North Sea coast.

Volunteers sign up to facilitate journeys. One is Loos' husband, a policeman who has been part of the project right from the start.

The commitment has been really rewarding, he says. "You become much more humble and grateful for what you have," Christopher Loos adds.

"And at the end of the trip, when you look into the face of someone who is tired but who is also beaming with gratitude, then you know it was a day well spent."

He recalls taking a young man who wanted to watch the planes take off the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport.

Then there was the time he took a woman to a concert by German pop singer Sarah Connor in Fulda, where she also met the artist in person.

Loos says he'll also never forget the trip he took with a 101-year-old man who wanted to take his family to a seasonal wine tavern on the Rhine River one last time.

"People's wishes are as individual as the people themselves," says Roth. "In fact, people tend to have the greatest longing for things that can seem really minor, like visiting the allotment they once had long ago."

The project has worked together with a local hospice, the Bergstrasse Hospice in Bensheim, to help fulfil patients' heart's desires.

"These are really great and important services," says hospice director Sandra Scheffler.

One resident was taken to the Allgau in Bavaria, she says. The aim was not so much to see the region but to see snow once more – and that was guaranteed at that time of year.

The team brought another resident to spend time with his horses in the Odenwald.

Nationwide the ASB runs 22 such Wunschewagen, vehicles that are geared to meet the needs of the guests. Each contains a couch, special shock absorbers, mirrored all-round glazing and emergency medical equipment.

There is a similar project – the Heart's Desire ambulance – run by the Malteser, another charity in Fulda.

"When people know they don't have long to live, their dreams and wishes take on a whole new dimension," the project says. Volunteers also drive people to places that mean a lot to them, free of charge.

Thanks to the project, an 80-year-old hospice resident was able to spend a day on a local mountain, the Wasserkuppe, together with her siblings.

"Often, the places that people long to go to are actually pretty nearby," says Antonia Schmidt, a spokesperson for the Malteser in Fulda. There was one gentleman who wanted to take a last trip to a campsite that was particularly important to him, she says.

"Rituals become quite important for those who are dying."The group's van was set up two years ago but has only been out on a few trips so far, due to the pandemic.

The team in Frankfurt say the situation was similar for them, though the vehicle was only out of action for the first three months of 2020.

"The pandemic slowed us down but it didn't stop us," Roth says.The ambulance service was using the vehicle during those months, she says.

Roth meanwhile advises anyone and everyone to work out what their last wishes are early in life. As soon as possible, in fact.

The trouble is that for a good third of the wishes they receive, it is too late to make them come true because the person dies or becomes too sick to travel.

"The sooner we know about it, the more likely it is to work out," she says. – dpa

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