On 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.
“Isn’t it pretty?” she said to her 6-year-old granddaughter, Kati.
“Soon, we’ll be floating in the clouds.”
A doting grandmother to three girls ages 6 to 18, Carol, 56 of Girard,
spent much of 2012 pursuing and fulfilling dreams and wishes she
had for her life. After more than two years battling various cancers
— first breast cancer, than colon cancer, and finally lung cancer that
metastasized to her brain and bones — 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 of Curran, 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 Angie 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
“Laurie came into my room and said, ‘Is there anything you want?’”
Carol said. “And my first thought was, well, Disney World! But then
I’d want my grandchildren to be with me, so I told Laurie a balloon
ride would be beyond my wildest dreams. It’s nice to have something
to look forward to when you’re told your time is limited.”
Because of the progression of her illness, Carol’s wish was granted
quickly. On June 22, she and her family met Ed Dowling, a balloon
pilot from Lincoln, and his team for her ride. Accompanying her
in the balloon was her granddaughter, Natalie, whom Carol had
As Carol and Natalie soared away toward the Logan County
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 husband, Angie and granddaughters Kati and Ashli followed
Dowling’s “chase” team along area back roads, occasionally stopping
to watch the balloon float by and take photos. After an hour in the
air, the trio landed smoothly on a country road that paved a path
between bean fields. 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.
On Aug. 25, 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.”