A year after losing her job, a 76-year-old woman has found a fresh outlook on life largely thanks to her son, who is helping his mother fulfill her bucket list, one adventure at a time.
Rebecca Danigelis was abruptly fired from her job in the housekeeping industry in September 2016. The job was a point of pride for Danigelis. As an immigrant who moved to the United States from England in the late 1960s, she felt being employed was inextricably tied to her self-worth. For Danigelis, losing the job that helped her raise her two sons—Sian-Pierre and Gabriel Regis—was nothing short of devastating.
“There were days after this first happened that I didn’t want to wake up,” Danigelis, who lives in Boston, tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t want to face the reality that I wasn’t going to wake up and go to work.”
When the day came, one of the first things she did was call her youngest son, leaving him a voicemail while he was overseas visiting Paris that simply said, “I just got fired. Just want you to know that. Call me. Bye.”
Listening to his mother’s message for the first time is a moment Sian-Pierre Regis says he will never forget.
“It was one of those life moments where I was fully faced with my mom’s mortality, and I thought things could get really bad,” Regis, 33, a journalist and filmmaker, tells PEOPLE. “Everything she worked for and everything she knew was taken away from her and she had no safety net. I knew at 75, she had little chance of getting a new job, and it was going to be an uphill battle.”
But, despite the dire situation, Regis saw an opportunity.
Just three months before she was fired, Regis began taking his mother out on monthly trips to do the things she had always wanted to do, but her 15-hour work days would never allow. Regis decided he would dedicate more time to helping her fulfill her goals, which would help to cheer her up, and further strengthen their bond.
A year later, Danigelis has done such exciting things as milking cows in Vermont, walking the route of the Boston Marathon, co-piloting a plane, and taking a hip-hop dance class taught by a Hamilton dancer.
“For years I’ve seen my boys do hip-hop, and I always wanted to have that feeling—that feeling of joy that comes into their faces when they’re bopping around!” Danigelis says. “What a great, great feeling it was, pure abandon.”
She has also conquered the “digital divide” by starting an Instagram account (@Rebrexit), where she documents her adventures for her almost 50,000 followers and dishes out advice for the many other people in similar situations.
“It makes me feel sad—when you take your job, you get the handbook, but there’s never a page that says that on your last day of work what will happen,” Danigelis explains. “I think the whole world needs to do more for seniors.”
Regis is filming their journey and is making it into a documentary called, Duty Free, due out at the end of 2018. The two still have some goals left to complete this year, including skydiving in Hawaii and having Danigelis write her own eulogy—something Regis admits will be hard for him, but Danigelis insists on doing, because it will help her feel in control of her own story.
Though Danigelis is still looking for a job, she is enjoying spending time with her son and the adventures they are sharing together.
“I feel like a kid again, he brought me back to life,” Danigelis says. “I’m living again. I feel younger and, actually, I look younger, too!”