Norwood celebrates the life of a “bubbly” lady

11 February 2019

When Woodcock Dell resident Susan sadly passed away in January, the home’s staff arranged a poignant service to celebrate her life and the role Norwood played in it. Here we describe the impact she had on those who knew her best.

In the eulogy given at 72-year-old Susan’s cremation on 22 January, prepared by Susan’s key worker, Sharon Hawkins, and other staff at Woodcock Dell, the officiating Rabbi said: “As we all know, there were things that Susan couldn’t do. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t do many things other people take for granted every day.

“When some people looked at Susan, that’s what they saw – the things she couldn’t do. But that’s not what we saw, and that’s not who she was. Susan could smile, she could laugh, she could show her love without saying a word. She could express her love with a look, with a smile, with a pinch! She could communicate her needs with sounds or a wave of her hand because she knew her friends would come and help her. There were so many more things she could do and she did!”

Sharon, who was Susan’s key worker for 18 years, enjoyed a very special relationship with her. In the eulogy to Susan, the Rabbi said: “Maybe bonded by their love of chocolate, or by their love of musicals, it was a relationship that is rarely seen and was noticeable to all. To care for someone so completely, and to do it for so long, takes a dedication and depth of love that is hard to comprehend for those who haven’t done it. Sharon did!”

Watching Sharon and Susan together at Woodcock Dell’s Chanukah party, just over a month before Susan passed away, it would have been clear to anyone just how close the two of them were.

Vicky Weir, a Norwood Operations Manager for London, confirmed this. “Sharon’s dedication to Susan went way beyond her professional role. She would phone or pop in to see how Susan was on her days off. She would bring in balloons and chocolates and a new sparkly top when it was Susan’s birthday. And when Susan was admitted to hospital on several occasions, Sharon would wait with her all night.”

Despite Susan being non-verbal, Sharon found a way to communicate with her in what she describes as “Susan’s own language”. “We had this personal connection, which meant I could read her gestures, sounds and expressions and knew what she wanted or needed,” she says.

When Susan lost the ability to chew and doctors recommended that she be fitted with a feeding tube, it was Sharon who fought for her right to try a different approach. “I was worried that she would pull the tube out and open the way for infections,” she says. This meant that at every meal time, Sharon would puree and process Susan’s food until it was precisely the right consistency to feed her. Despite the high degree of dedication required for this task, for Sharon it was all part and parcel of “doing everything properly” for someone she regarded as her own family.

Sharon revealed that her fellow co-workers would tease her about how much she spoiled Susan. She says: “They always joked that Susan had the poshest bedroom because I tried to keep it like Buckingham Palace.”

Yet it’s apparent that Susan had a special place in everyone’s heart at Woodcock Dell, judging by the horde of Norwood staff, volunteers, residents and their families who came to pay their last respects. The eulogy reinforced the affection that others felt for her – “Susan was loved by virtually all who knew her; her family, the many people who cared for her over the past 23 years at Woodcock Dell and those who cared for her before that” – but none more so than Sharon. “I loved her to the moon and back, and no one could ever replace her. She will always be in my heart like one of my family.”