When Wishes Come True: Lifelong Pen Pals Meet

When Wishes Come True: Lifelong Pen Pals Meet

In a friendship spanning 60 years, there was only one thing left to do: meet face to face.

Caroline Flanigan of Racine, Wisconsin and Arthur Blake of Enniskillen, Ireland, began corresponding around age 11 after seeing a notice in a Weekly Reader. Despite their consistent communication, everything from political unrest in Ireland to health and financial woes kept them from traveling to meet one another until now.

“It was truly a trip of a lifetime for me,” Ms. Flanigan said.

Ms. Flanigan, 71, filled out an application with Wish of a Lifetime, a non-profit organization that grants wishes to people 65 and over, on a cold winter day after months of not believing she could possibly be chosen. Wish of a Lifetime partners with organizations, in this instance Homewatch CareGivers, to fund wishes for people in the United States. These wishes range from travel to see loved ones, meet an idol, play music and much more.

Friends Through and Through

By the time Ms. Flanigan and Mr. Blake meet this past spring, it felt like two old friends reconnecting—after all, they had years before added Skype calls to their regular letters. In addition, Ms. Flanigan wakes herself in the middle of the night once a week to “attend” church with Mr. Blake via a webcam in his historic church where he and other parishioners wave and smile at her.

“He’s one of the nicest, kindest people on this Earth,” she said. “And he is still one of my dearest friends.”

Both of them were widowed within months of one another 14 years ago, and over the years have shared their joys and sorrows.

Despite this degree of closeness, they were both mature enough to acknowledge that being together in person would be different for them. “I told him, ‘we’ve always been on our best behavior and now we get to see the real sides of each other,” she confessed. “I learned he is a perfectionist and he said that I was a very independent woman.”

Ms. Flanigan worked as a nurse for 40 years and has been a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews. Arthritis has limited some of her choices, as has a small pension she relies on.

“I told him I had to be independent!” she said with a laugh. “I also got to see how kind and compassionate he is—he has so many friends.”

The reunited pen pals spent her time in Ireland driving around to visit Mr. Blake’s extended family and friends, who all knew about their special relationship.

Encore, Encore!

After the three-week visit, Ms. Flanigan returned home gloriously exhausted with hopes to visit Ireland and Mr. Blake again.

“I had a friend who was going to go with me, but she had a surgery, so it would be fun to go back with her someday,” she said. “It was a delightful trip and Ireland was so beautiful.”

She encourages others to apply for a wish too. “I think when a lot of people get older they think, ‘I’m not going to meet my goals or dreams’,” she said. “I wish I would have had insight that this could happen for me.”

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