BONIFAY — Terminal illness has a way of bringing one’s most precious desires to the forefront.

BONIFAY — Terminal illness has a way of bringing one’s most precious desires to the forefront.

Social worker Jimmy King said some of his hospice patients yearn for nice meals or to reconnect with estranged children when they’re facing the end of life. A few weeks ago, King received a rather unusual request from one of his patients.

“During an initial visit, I always ask what three things they would really want,” said King. “We got on the subject of his sheep, and we try to grant each patient their wish.”

Hospice patient Carlton Lewis didn’t have three wishes. He only had one — to have his sheep cared for in a way he is unable to since the effects of leukemia had diminished the farmer’s ability to care for his sheep, goats and three dogs that live on his farm near Bethlehem.

Lewis was diagnosed two years ago. Over the past few months, the 75-year-old finally had to move in with his niece, Dale Watford, to help manage his activities of daily living.

“My uncle Carlton was like my dad,” said Watford.

Watfordsaid she would do anything to keep the uncle she’d always been close to out of a nursing home in his final days. She said it had been challenging at times to care for Lewis, even with help from friends and family who sit with her uncle when she needs to shop or run errands.

A friend finally suggested she call Covenant Hospice to help meet his needs.

“They have been excellent,” said Watford.

Watfordand Lewis were introduced to what Covenant Hospice offers in the form of a comprehensive care plan to patients and their caretakers. Hospice patients are cared for physically and emotionally, while caretakers are offered respite and other support.

“It’s about making the patient more comfortable and doing what it is that they want,” said King.

To grant Lewis’s wish and bring him peace of mind about his animals, King passed along the special request to volunteer services manager Donna Meldon.

Meldon got the idea to call Niki Crawson, Holmes County 4-H Agent at the University of Florida IFAS Extension, to see if the organization could assist with shearing over a dozen sheep.

The job was right up 4-H’s alley, but Crawson was selective about which members were asked to form the task force that would shear Lewis’s sheep.

“I chose ones I could turn by back on with scissors,” Crawson laughed. “We’ve never sheared sheep before, so our volunteers researched it.”

Crawson said the club had about 10 days of lead time to figure out how approach the sheep. Without many sheep farmers in the local area to tap for knowledge, 4-H volunteers did their research before they arrived at Lewis’s farm June 23. The group didn’t want to waste time getting to work on the shearing with summer heat in play.

Junior 4-H members trimmed each sheep’s wooly coat with scissors before adult volunteers took to the actual shearing with an old set of clippers found in the barn.

Lewis was born and raised as one of eight siblings right near the land he owns today. Lewis enjoyed a long life on his country farm with his animals long after a doctor told him he had leukemia.  

“He opted not to get treatment. That was his decision,” said Watford. “On his good days, I bring him over here and he walks around and looks at his sheep and his dogs and then we go home. They mean everything to him.”

Lewis’s father had always kept sheep on the property, so Lewis was committed to doing the same.

Watfordis grateful to Covenant Hospice volunteers Jason French, Camedyn Bruner, Vivian McDonald and Jessica Griffin for their help with caring for her uncle’s sheep and the rest of the 4-H members who will continue to care for the sheep as long as necessary.

Shearing the sheep was a learning experience for 4-H members, and they handled the sheep with confidence.

Crawson said the sheep project is an example of the service learning Holmes County 4-H will be able to deliver more of in the future after a barn located near the 4-H office that was donated by the county is refurbished to be utilized for all forms of livestock and shooting sports programs.

“This is good practice for them,” she said.  

Kelly Prikken, 14, 4-H member for five years, said handling the sheep was a little different than the cows and horses she’s accustomed to working with.

“I’ve learned how to not cut sheep on their skin or they’ll try to run over you,” said Prikken. “Shaving them is pretty fun.”

The group ended up shearing about eight of Lewis’s sheep that day and set a date to come back and finish the rest. The group worked hard in the June heat to carry out Lewis’s wish, making sure his sheep were more comfortable.

“It feels good to help someone out,” said Prikken.

Both 4-H and Covenant Hospice volunteers left with a sense of satisfaction for a job well done for Lewis.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Meldon.


     Want to know more?

4-H in Holmes County was founded through the University of Florida/IFAS Extension. It has 175 members to date made up of dedicated adult and youth volunteers that serve youth in the areas of shooting sports, livestock, cooking, sewing, teen leadership and the young Cloverbuds, ages 5 to 8. 4-H serves the community through service learning projects to teach youth how to give back to their community and its members in order to become successful young adults.  Every project, event and activity 4-H does involves some form of educational component and the learning of essential life skills. 4-H is free to join and is open to any youth in Holmes County, ages 5 to18. The club’s motto is “To make the best better,” which it does through experiential learning processes involving the four H’s: Head, Heart, Hands and Health. Enrollment is open year round. The new 4-H year starts Sept. 1 when the main 4-H clubs start meeting.