Supporting people at the end of their life is sacred work, according to licensed physician from the Methow Valley, Betsy Weiss. From Wenatchee to Curlew, as a volunteer with End of Life Washington, she has supported people as they make decisions about the way they want to leave this world and are considering using Washington’s Death with Dignity law.
Being of service to those making their end-of-life choices is nothing new to Betsy. Her inspiration to serve others at the end of their days was passed down from her parents.
“My mother was very clear about what was important to her about how she lived her life, as well as what she hoped for herself in her death. It was a conversation that came easily for her. She believed we all should be able to hasten our death if the burden of dying became too great,” Betsy says. “Having more control over one’s decisions at the end of one’s life leads to more peace at the time of death.”
Weiss notes that illness, more specifically serious illness, can make life feel out of control. “Knowing they can choose the time and circumstances of their death, if suffering from loss of autonomy or ability to engage in life becomes too great, can provide a great deal of comfort. Empowerment brings peace of mind.”
End-of-life work and being with people as they die “is a privilege and an honor,” Betsy says. “When I’m with families, I’m witness to their grief, but I’m also witness to the peace that comes with having shared that moment of quiet separation from the person they love.”
You don’t need to be a doctor like Betsy, a counselor, or a nurse to be able to serve as a volunteer in this field.
To serve as an End of Life Washington volunteer, you must be able to talk openly about death; a tough task in today’s culture. Humility, self-awareness, teamwork, and the ability to listen, all come in really handy, as well.
“The biggest thing is to leave the chaos of life behind, so you can truly be present when you’re talking with someone facing death,” she says, adding that “taking a moment to slow down and focus on the person you are there to serve before entering the room is helpful.”
To serve as an End of Life Washington volunteer in Eastern Washington, you need to travel long distances, sometimes. The End of Life Washington volunteers east of the Cascades can be counted with very few fingers of one hand.
“We definitely need more people to respond to the requests and calls we get,” Betsy says. “Volunteers come from all types of experiences and backgrounds,” Betsy added, “and that is part of the strength of the volunteers and the work they do. A wonderful thing about being a volunteer is that we are able to share our experience with one another; learn from one another. Another great gift of the work is that it takes you out of yourself. This is not about our choices and what we want; it’s about supporting somebody in what they want.”
To read the previous article, “Increasing Access to Aid in Dying,” click here.