March 8, 2017 10:30PM
By Nancy Burns-Fusaro
WESTERLY — When Jonathon Reed Wish decided to take a gap year from college and travel around New Zealand, Australia, Austria and England, his mom was so proud of him she sent his photo to The Sun.
“Jon plans to backpack and work here and there along the way ... kind of where the wind will blow him,” said the late Francesca Gencarelli Wish back in 2011. “We are so proud and happy for him ... and living quite vicariously through him!”
That was six years ago, before his mom received a diagnosis of cancer, the disease that would eventually take her life.
Today, Jonathon, 25, is planning another big trip. He’s taking his sister, Ann, along with him, and he’s also raising money for the organization that provided comfort and compassion to the family during his mother’s final days.
In June, Ann and Jonathon plan to bicycle across the United States and raise money along the way for Hope Hospice & Palliative Care of Rhode Island.
The sister-brother team has already raised close to $8,000 on their Go Fund Me page and they’ve created more than a dozen hashtags — from #cycleformeem to #crosscountryjonny to #hopehospiceofRI — so fans can follow and connect.
They hope to leave from Misquamicut in the beginning of June and pedal their way west to the city of Astoria on the Oregon coast.
“My main intention is to raise awareness about cancer” and raise money for the hospice, said Jonathon, who builds and sells bikes at Mystic Cycle Center.
Hope Hospice & Palliative Care Rhode Island, formerly known as Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island, is the second-oldest hospice in the nation and the largest hospice agency in the state.
“I wasn’t too familiar with the organization,” said Wish, a 2010 Westerly High School graduate. But from his family’s first meeting with hospice professionals, he said he’s been in awe of the services provided to families in transition.
“They’re amazing,” he said. “My mother’s oncologist referred to them as ‘angels sent from heaven,’ and I couldn’t agree more.”
Deanna Upchurch, a grief support and volunteer programs manager for the Providence-based Hope Hospice, called the Wishes’ bike trip “incredible ... really incredible.”
“First and foremost, we support this journey,” said Upchurch who has been a grief counselor for 18 years.
“We are all so inspired and happy to be connected,” she said, applauding the siblings for being “able to take grief and loss and turn it into something positive.”
And as pleased and grateful as the organization is to receive donations from Wish supporters, Upchurch added, it’s far more important to observe how creatively and beautifully the Wishes are working through grief.
Wish’s friend and roomate Kevin Walsh, who is also Ann’s partner, plans to bike the first leg of the journey in what he calls “the send-off ride.”
“I am absolutely inspired by Jon’s drive,” said Walsh, who manages his parents’ shop, Ma & Pa’s Country Store, in Hope Valley. “As much as we all talk about the logistics and the planning, he’s spearheaded the trip ... it all stemmed from his passion. I haven’t seen such genuine drive in anyone ever. I’m blown away.”
Wish, who lived in Portland, Ore., for several years before returning home to Westerly, said, “I’ve always had a taste for adventure. My mom was always so supportive of my traveling ... and I thought I may as well ride now. I think it will make it easier to push through the hard days with mom and all the people who are supporting us as the tail wind.”
“And my mom wouldn’t want Jon to go on his own,” said Ann, a registered nurse at L+M Hospital in New London.
Although not as experienced a biker as her brother or her beau, and a little fearful of the unknown, Ann said she’s looking forward to the three-month journey across the country.
“I think it will be cathartic,” she said. “It will be good to reminisce and talk about mom as we ride.”
Their mother, who died last October, was the fourth child of Francis “Genc” and Jane Bradshaw Gencarelli. She grew up in Westerly, graduated from Westerly High School and the University of Rhode Island, was a member of the choir at Christ Church, sang with the Chorus of Westerly for many years, and was known for her beautiful smile and zest for life. She loved being a wife and mother, adored taking care of her children and created a loving and magical childhood for them.
Her husband, Seth, and her three children were at her side when she died.
“Grief isn’t a neat package tied with a bow,” said Ann, rather a process that can take time and different turns. “It’s like riding wild waves.”
“Which we’ll be doing together,” she added. “And which I think is healthy.”
“I am so thankful for all the support that everyone has shown me thus far with donations and moral support,” said Jonathon. “I’m so grateful for everything that everyone has done for me.”
“Words can’t express how proud I am of both of them,” said Ann and Jon’s brother, Bradshaw Francis Wish of Chicago. “It’s such a wonderful homage to my mother.”
“My brother and sister are selfless people,” he said. “And they are raising money for such a good cause. Hope Hospice did such a wonderful job caring for my mom and we all want others to feel the same.”
Bradshaw Wish, a 2007 Westerly High School graduate, offered a further sentiment: the idea that there was “a glimmer of hope” in the fact that so many people have already made donations and have been so supportive.
“We need to focus on the good people these days,” he said. “We need to know that there are good people in the world.”