Companions for the Journey: Eric’s Story
LENOIR, NC (August 31, 2016)…On a spring day in April 2016, volunteers who cared for Eric Norwood met at Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care to remember a man with a remarkable smile and the journey they took with him. It was an informal celebration of an indomitable spirit and a bond that turned one-time strangers into caregivers and eventually friends.
Eric’s volunteers purchased a brick on the Path of Remembrance to place in the garden at Caldwell Hospice’s Kirkwood facility in Lenoir to honor Norwood and the lessons he taught them. They, along with staff who served him, met in April to dedicate the memorial brick.
Norwood had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. This progressive neurodegenerative disease brought him to Caldwell Hospice, first as a palliative care patient and later for hospice care. In March of 2013 Eric requested residential care at the Forlines Patient Care Unit in Hudson. It was there that an inseparable bond formed between Eric, his volunteers and the staff. He died Sept. 11, 2015.
“I believe God sent Eric to us and hand-picked us to care for Eric. We have a bond with each other,” said Volunteer Barbara Jones. “Eric taught me how to live and not take anything for granted. … All those months, he kept his smile and his faith. He would tell me not to feel sorry for him.”
When he was well, Norwood was a wildlife officer in Gaston County, but moved home to Caldwell County after he became ill. In the earlier stages of his illness, he resided with his cousin Rosalind “Rocky” Kincaid, herself a certified nursing assistant. As he continued to lose muscle control, Norwood made the decision to stay at the Forlines Patient Care Unit in Hudson, but his cousin continued to stand by him, visiting most days to keep him company and help with dinner.
As Norwood’s disease progressed, he became entirely dependent on others. Mealtime, in particular, became especially difficult. He needed complete assistance for every meal.
Determined to preserve the dignity of this proud and kind man, the Hospice staff recruited a brigade of volunteers who made a long-term commitment to hand-feed Norwood as long as it took.
A mealtime assistance schedule was developed to be sure help would be available three times a day, every day. As the disease continued to take its toll, each feeding took longer, but Norwood kept his smile and the volunteers kept their word to be there.
In the beginning, a meal took about an hour—eventually stretching to two and a half hours each. While some assistance was provided by staff, most were done by this group of volunteers who never wavered in their support of caring for Norwood. The volunteers gave approximately 5,000 hours to sitting by bedside helping with meals, watching movies and Carolina Tarheel basketball games—yet now, they agree, this act of kindness taught them more than they could ever give.
“We had nothing in common, but I am so thankful to have known him,” said Volunteer Patty Williamson. “I think about what would have happened to Eric if Caldwell Hospice wasn’t here.”
“It was inspiring to all of us,” said Brittany Bonn, volunteer coordinator who helped to schedule the volunteer team.
Joel Norwood, Eric’s cousin, could not attend the informal gathering to dedicate the brick in Eric’s honor, but he sent this message to volunteers. “I appreciate all you did for Eric. He loved you. Eric said, ‘I am so blessed to have them in my life.’”
“We’re all very different, but we all brought something different,” said Volunteer Randy Alley. “We all pitched in to do the brick…to think of Eric. He meant so much to all of us. This was a small way to remember him.”
Would you like to experience the benefits of volunteering? Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care invites adults who have time, energy and compassion to attend its next two-day volunteer training on Tuesday, October 4, and Thursday, October 6, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Meeting Room A at Caldwell Hospice’s McCreary Family Professional Center, 526 Pine Mountain Road, Hudson.
Attendance is required at each session and meals will be provided. For more information or to register for the October 2016 adult volunteer training opportunity, contact Volunteer Coordinator Brittany Bonn at 828.754.0101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All information and photographs courtesy of the Caldwell Hospice & Palliative Care.