Holding a piece of apricot firewood, Bobby Clement admires its beauty and envisions its potential. Having been in pastoral and music ministry for more than 35 years, Bobby was always busy, going, and doing. He became acquainted with HopeWest through visits with friends at the HopeWest Hospice Care Center. As a music volunteer, Bobby came to the Care Center weekly, singing and playing his guitar for patients and their families. He was always touched by the care of the hospice staff.
In 2017, after a year of testing, Bobby was diagnosed with Bulbar ALS affecting his tongue, facial muscles, neck, lungs and diaphragm. His first symptoms appeared as a hoarse voice and stumbling while walking. Because of the aggression of ALS, immediately after diagnosis he was referred to HopeWest and enrolled in hospice.
Bobby found himself spending more time in his recliner which lead to exploring woodturning tutorials on YouTube. His interest blossomed as he began purchasing equipment and tools. Soon, woodturning became more than a hobby: it was his antidote.
“Woodturning brought me determination and excitement,” Bobby said in a soft whisper.
Although Bulbar ALS is more aggressive than Limb ALS, Bobby demonstrates his “gift of mobility” and explains that most ALS victims can’t walk or stand as well as he does.
“Others in my ALS support group are encouraged by seeing what I’m able to do,” said Bobby. “My hope is to show others, particularly disabled people with terminal illnesses, that this isn’t the end of living. I’m not going to sit back and wait for the end to come, I’m going to get up and do something about it.”
At first his wife was worried that Bobby may injure himself while woodturning. His shaky body suddenly steadies as he works with the lathe and other tools. This allowed him to make more than 20 gifts for his friends and family this Christmas.
“We witness something greater than medicine,” said Carolyn Clement, Bobby’s wife.
“You’re unlike any ALS patient we have ever seen,” chimed in Cindy Webb, HopeWest Social Worker. Cindy knows that Bobby’s favorite type of wood is apricot. One of the CNAs on Bobby’s care team even brought him pieces of apricot from his firewood pile.
“My HopeWest care team is my cheer team,” said Bobby. “Not only do they help in keeping me comfortable as I deal with ALS, but they also encourage me in this new quest that gives me purpose and satisfaction.”
Nick-naming him “Bobby the Beaver,” the team witnesses the power this activity has over Bobby’s terminal illness as he benefits from the physical and emotional therapy of woodturning. But others look at Bobby quizzically when they learn he has a terminal illness.
“Someone dying in hospice, turning wood just doesn’t go together,” admits Bobby. “With ALS I know my days are numbered; but I have a confident faith in the Lord and I am determined to live an abundant life as long as I’m physically able.”