Joyce Casanova was a bit shell shocked when she married into the family of her husband, John. He was the youngest of 11 children and she wasn't used to a large family, but over the years she found a friend in her sister-in-law Olive Nickotopulous. In fact, she found a best friend.
Joyce Casanova was a bit shell shocked when she married into the family of her husband, John. He was the youngest of 11 children and she wasn’t used to a large family, but over the years she found a friend in her sister-in-law Olive Nickotopulous. In fact, she found a best friend.
Despite becoming best friends, Joyce, now a Felton resident, hasn’t seen Nickotopulous in over a decade, but on March 17 that will all change. The non-profit organization, Wish of a Lifetime, in partnership with Homewatch CareGivers of Delaware, will send Casanova to Florida to see her sister-in-law.
Wish of a Lifetime is geared toward granting the wishes of seniors. Homewatch CareGivers of Delaware enlisted senior centers and organizations up and down the state to nominate deserving seniors. Casanova was nominated by staff at Roesville Estates, the 55-and-older community where she lives.
“I’m pretty excited,” Casanova said. “I can’t believe I’m going. I’ve spent the last seven years taking care of my husband who had Parkinson’s disease; I never got out of the house. Now I’m ready to go.”
Casanova’s long journey with her husband’s illness is something that helped qualify her to have a wish granted, said Michelle Gaffga, director of development and communications for Wish of a Lifetime. When applications are submitted to the organization several criteria are taken into account; one is personal sacrifice.
Casanova met that requirement, according to Jim Nacchia of Homewatch CareGivers of Delaware.
“Joyce was the sole caregiver for her husband who had Parkinson’s disease over the last several years,” Nacchia said. “The last few were brutal. She gave up everything she did and knew to take care of him. “She wasn’t out of the house for many hours or at all in the last part of his life. Her wish is very simply to make contact with her sister-in-law, who she hasn’t seen in over 13 years.”
Granting Casanova’s wish to reconnect with her best friend may seem small, but it’s important to reconnect seniors with loved ones, Gaffga said.
“Roughly 10.5 million seniors live alone,” she said. “Many suffer from loneliness and depression. We don’t want that to happen to Joyce. We want her to feel that connection to family; that is so important to her health and wellbeing.”
Casanova and Nickotopulous met when she and her husband moved back to his hometown after he finished a stint in the Air Force. Casanova moved into a house less than a mile from her brother- and sister-in-law.
“We weren’t best friends when we first met,” Casanova said. “We didn’t live near each other. We used to see each other five or six times a year. When I moved just a mile away we had a good time. We were just not that far apart in age and just happened to be thrown in together and liked each other.”
They found themselves off on adventures together, like taking five of their collective teenage children camping for a week and driving from New York to Missouri to visit Casanova’s parents.
“She would try almost anything,” Casanova said. “As long as I came up with a crazy idea she went along.”
The two also found they shared some life experiences. They were both pregnant with baby girls at the same time. Casanova remembers the pair sunning themselves on the beach at seven or eight months pregnant. Unfortunately they also shared the experience of nursing sick husbands, as well.
The two women were originally separated when their husbands, who were both police officers in New York, retired. Nickotopulous moved to Florida and Casanova moved to Joplin, Miss. Later, Casanova's husband’s illness kept them apart. Now, after all these years, they are set to be reunited for 10 days.
“I’m looking forward to just talking,” she said. “She has a daughter down there and I haven’t seen her since I saw Olive. I’m excited just to see her and just to hang out.”