Hospice Patient’s Final Wish Takes Her Soaring ‘Like an Eagle’

20120622-mhs0153On a warm summer evening, with a sky as blue and clear as it comes, Carol Cray set off in a hot-air balloon to fulfill a longtime dream.

“I’ve always wanted to glide and soar like an eagle,” she said as she watched the colorful balloon inflate on its takeoff spot — an empty plat of grass near the Wal-Mart in Lincoln.

A doting grandmother to three girls ages 6 to 18, Carol spent much of 2012 pursuing and fulfilling dreams and wishes she had for her life. After more than two years battling various cancers, her doctor placed her in the care of Memorial Home Services Hospice, where a team of nurses, social workers and aides worked together to ensure her comfort during her final days.

Carol’s daughter, Angie Kruse, made it her duty to help fulfill her mother’s final wishes and had made all but one come true: a hot-air balloon ride, which Carol and her husband, Pat, had talked about for years. For six months, her daughter searched until Carol’s hospice social worker, Laurie Dobrinich, suggested the family apply to Memorial Medical Center Foundation’s new Sharing Wishes Fund, which grants wishes of hospice patients in central Illinois. Carol’s was the fourth wish granted by the fund, which was established in March 2012.

Because of the progression of her illness, Carol’s wish was granted quickly. She and her family met Ed Dowling, a balloon pilot, and his team for her ride. Accompanying her in the balloon was her granddaughter, Natalie, whom Carol had helped raise.

As Carol and Natalie soared away toward the countryside, Carol flapped her wings like the eagle she wanted to be. Angie, who promised her mother she wouldn’t cry in front of her, broke down in tears as she watched her daughter and mother float higher and higher.

Carol’s family followed Dowling’s “chase” team, occasionally stopping to watch the balloon float by and take photos. After an hour in the air, the trio landed smoothly. Carol pumped her arms in the air, with two thumbs up, as she exited. Once the balloon had been packed away in a trailer, the team surrounded her to toast their successful trip.

Carol fulfilled her dream to soar 'like an eagle'

Carol fulfilled her dream to soar ‘like an eagle’

Two months after her balloon ride, Carol passed away at her home.

“We are eternally grateful for this,” Pat said. “She had a great time and was so glad she could do it. We are beyond grateful.”

Since its establishment, the Sharing Wishes Fund has made a significant impact in the lives of many hospice patients and families in central Illinois.