Veteran in Hospice Care Finds Comfort in Unexpected Connection

Hospice care for veterans

Pictured above: Gwendolyn's daughter with the quilt presented to her by the Oglala tribe at her birth.

Hospice care involves a team of professionals providing care and comfort to patients and their families. Gwendolyn Norton is the volunteer coordinator with the EveryStep Hospice team in Mount Pleasant. An unexpected, meaningful connection recently brought comfort to both Gwendolyn and the patient she was serving.

“Once I looked at the quilt, I knew that it was meant to be. I knew I was meant to meet this patient and his family. I knew I was right where I needed to be."

In her role as volunteer coordinator, Gwendolyn helps plan and carry out “pinning” ceremonies which provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. “Very detailed organization is needed for the pinnings,” says Gwendolyn. “Each military branch has its own small details from the different songs to colors and symbols. These details are important to the veteran, and they are important to me.”

Gwendolyn says the overwhelming emotion during a pinning ceremony is pride. “Veterans hold their heads higher, the people in the room are quiet and listening to every word you read. Tears come and go throughout the readings and songs.”

Learn More About EveryStep's Special Services for Veterans

One moment of special meaning occurred at a pinning ceremony in August.

Gwendolyn and volunteer veteran, Army Specialist Jordan Norton, arrived to greet the veteran in hospice care. Jordan and the patient traded war stories before the patient, a Native American, asked if Gwendolyn was as well. “I asked the patient what his tribe was and in his quiet voice he said ‘Oglala’.”


Surprised and delighted, Gwendolyn shared that she, too, was from the Oglala tribe in Pine Ridge, SD.

“He was brought to tears with this information. We talked about Rosebud, the pow wows and the beauty in the land of our ancestors.”

Many veteran pinning ceremonies arranged by EveryStep Hospice include the presentation of a special quilt, created by volunteers. When Gwendolyn opened the large quilt made for this ceremony, she noticed the patient again was tearful.

“Once I looked at the quilt, I knew that it was meant to be. I knew I was meant to meet this patient and his family. I knew I was right where I needed to be,” Gwendolyn remembers. “I was holding a large star quilt, our tradition’s most prized possession. We are given a star quilt at the start of a journey like birth and death. He had tears in his eyes and said ‘You gave me a star quilt! Oh, thank you!’

“I did not know at the beginning of my day that I would get to be the person to give a fellow tribe member and brother a gift of a final journey, a star quilt,” says Gwendolyn.

EveryStep is a nonprofit health care organization and a Level 4 partner in the nationally recognized We Honor Veterans initiative. Through its hospice program, EveryStep offers several specialized services for veterans. EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program is a special service pairing veterans who are volunteers with hospice patients who have served our country. A specialized Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer can provide companionship while talking, reading and sitting with patients. Veterans bring a unique skill set to help patients find peace at the end of life.

Learn about Volunteer Opportunities in Your Area

If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.

If you are a veteran interested in volunteering your time to visit hospice patients, learn more or complete a volunteer application.