- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) - A 98-year-old McMinnville woman in hospice care had her birthday wish fulfilled Sunday: a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown McMinnville surrounded by a handful of caregivers who have long since become friends.

Gladys Hebenstreit, who has been in hospice care since May, rode the horse-drawn carriage accompanied by her hospice nurse, social worker, chaplain, and handful of other women who provide around-the-clock care for Hebenstreit in her McMinnville home.

“I think this was her way of saying thank you to the people who are there for her day in and day out,” said Leslie Crowder, a nurse who provides twice-weekly care for Hebenstreit.

“It’s just her way of wanting a final celebration for her birthday. And coupling that with the people who have grown to love her, and who care for her.”

The ride was a surprise for Hebenstreit, who thought she was only going to a birthday lunch when the carriage pulled up outside her home. It came thanks to the planning of her caregivers and the Dream Foundation, a California-based organization that grants wishes for adults suffering life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Hebenstreit, who has struggled with congestive heart failure, was placed in hospice care last May.

“I was sick a long, long time,” she said. “I came out of the hospital in really bad shape. About a month or so ago I asked to live for this day. I said, ‘If I ever get better I’m going to hire a horse and ride down the street,’” she said. “That’s where it started.”

Hebenstreit, who was wearing a red crown and beads - gifts from the hospice staff - had little trouble pulling herself up onto the carriage.

“I could do this all day,” she said.

“She’s homebound for the most part,” said Crowder, who accompanied Hebenstreit on the ride. “She just is used to looking at her backyard.”

“When we turned to come down Main Street - that’s what she calls 3rd Street - she kind of perked up,” Crowder said. “That’s when she asked, ‘And here’s where I wave?’”

Hebenstreit took several short trips through downtown in the carriage, each one accompanied by various friends and neighbors who have become like family.

“This end-of-life journey for her has been about coming together,” said Lora Johnson, a hospice chaplain who has been working closely with Hebenstreit. “Coming together with her hospice team and her clinicians, who have now become friends; and her caregivers, who have now become family.

“It’s about coming to a place where she’s going to meet Leo, her husband, again. She’s been in a period of waiting and anticipating and mourning. And she has invited us into that time with her.”

Hebenstreit’s husband, Leo Hebenstreit, died a year and a half ago. They were married 37 years.

Hebenstreit said she first rode a horse-drawn carriage when she was 4 years old.

“She started life in a horse-drawn carriage. And she said that she would end life in a horse-drawn carriage,” Johnson said.

“Now at the end of life, to be in one again, she’s coming full circle.”

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Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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