From 800 miles away, until the very end, Dan looked after his beloved Aunt B.
Aunt B was a salt of the earth Spokane woman. She lived a good life with grit, spunk, and determination; her best friend was her horse of 18 years, Oakey Boy. Aunt B grew older with support from her caring daughter, son, and nephew Dan. This past spring, after several rounds of cancer treatment, Aunt B was done with doctor visits. She understood that she was dying and wanted to be peacefully at home. She imagined dying with her beloved horse and family by her side. Aunt B considered other ways to die. For her and her family’s sake, she wanted an aid-in-dying prescription just in case she needed it. Like many of End of Life Washington’s clients, Aunt B was clear in her resolve to die as peacefully as possible.
I’ve always put my aunt on a pedestal. She’s been one of the people I’ve looked up to in my life, and losing her has been extremely difficult.
Fortunately, Aunt B had her daughter, her nephew, Dan, and an End of Life Washington team of staff and volunteers. End of Life Washington understands that everyone benefits when people provide care together, whether between friends, family, volunteers, healthcare providers, or caregivers.
Aunt B’s primary care doctor cited religious reasons for refusing to discuss this legal, medical choice with her. He would not even provide referrals. Her oncologist had not documented that she had asked for the medication, a critical first step. Aunt B’s family had to figure out how to fulfill her wish to die peacefully at home without her doctors’ help.
Dan called End of Life Washington. Kathleen, End of Life Washington’s Services Specialist, was the first person Dan spoke with.
If you ever call End of Life Washington about your or a loved one’s end-of-life choices, I hope Kathleen is the first person you reach. In the tenderest moments, Kathleen deftly balances depth of heart and presence, levity, and practical help with matters that can be daunting to even the most courageous among us. In over 1,600 phone calls a year, people who began conversations feeling overwhelmed and afraid leave the call feeling a greater sense of peace, confidence, and hope.
I was so pleased that he could find us because he was separated by distance. I kept telling him to take a breath and that we’ll get there.
Kathleen connected Dan to End of Life Washington’s Support Services team and a team of volunteer helpers. Even with the law in place for over 13 years, Aunt B and her family faced many barriers to accessing medical aid-in-dying, when emotions are tender and time is finite.
Because Aunt B’s doctors wouldn’t help her access aid-in-dying medication, End of Life Washington Volunteer Medical Advisor Dr. Bob Wood identified two physician volunteers needed by law to support Aunt B’s end-of-life wish. Aunt B’s new clinical team included Connie, a retired physician in the area, who helped in dual roles as the consulting physician, and as the Volunteer Client Advisor to guide Aunt B and her daughter through the aid-in-dying process.
The prescribing physician that Aunt B needed came from the opposite side of the state in Bellingham. Deborah is a longtime aid-in-dying volunteer physician who came to end-of-life work via her mother, who supported the right-to-die movement via the Hemlock Society in the 1980s. With the help of telemedicine video conferencing, Deborah met with Aunt B and her daughter on several occasions.
In describing the relief that End of Life Washington volunteers provide, Connie expressed it well:
Being there for dying people and their families, providing information and reassurance, brings about so much peace and relieves anxiety and fear. I feel that our presence makes a huge difference.
With her loved ones and a team of volunteers to help, Aunt B died peacefully without using the aid-in-dying medication. Immediately after her death, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and her horse started galloping out in the pasture, giving Dan and his cousin the confidence that all was well with Aunt B.
Want to read the next story in this series? Read about Kathleen, EOLWA’s 1st Responder, Carol – Supporting Clients Living in Spokane, and Deborah – A volunteer Physician Spreading Hope Across the State.
End of Life Washington is the only organization in the state that provides the education, support, and advocacy necessary to help Washington residents exercise their choice to die with dignity and autonomy. More than ever we need to protect access to, awareness of, and support for a full range of end-of-life choices. Together, and with your financial support, we will have the ability to continue to support clients like Aunt B and so many others like her to die as they choose.
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