“All they really needed,” one volunteer said of a client’s family, “was an outsider’s ear and a little time.” The volunteer had come, after making an appointment on the phone, to talk over end-of- life choices. The client was close to death from cancer and wanted to know about using Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD). One of her adult children, though, was encouraging her mother to begin another round of a new chemotherapy drug.
“And there I was,” the volunteer said. “Not a doctor, not a therapist, just a volunteer with no skin in this game. So I told them I could only answer questions about end-of-life choices but I’d be happy to listen. Then I sat down in a corner across the room.” For about an hour the mother and daughter talked; the mother saying she was tired of the pain and struggle, the daughter saying she “wasn’t ready” to lose her.
“Occasionally they would look at me,” the volunteer said; “asking about pain, or legal options, or time spans. At long last, the daughter gave her mom a hug and said, ‘I’ll support you, if this is what you want.’ It was a beautiful moment.”
A cloud lifted
Another client told his volunteer, early on, that he was worried about his 65-year-old son. The son had been with his mother when she died, and a younger brother when he died. The son was emotionally fragile and his father thought that experiencing one more family death would be devastatingly difficult.
Over the next several weeks, the volunteer visited with the son repeatedly at his father’s bedside and over coffee at a nearby bistro. After lengthy discussions about MAiD and how it works, the son became comfortable with the idea of saying goodbye to his father well before the latter took life-ending medications. “It was like a cloud lifted for both of them,” the volunteer said; “when it was silently agreed that I would be with the client if requested and the son would not attend his dad’s death. At the end of each visit both father and son would say goodbye with a lot of love and a little finality.”
Being a good listener
The neighbor of another volunteer, hearing she worked with end-of-life issues, asked her to help her daughter talk about them. Within a week, both mother and daughter had their long-postponed advance directives done.
Such experiences are common: times of tenderness for clients and volunteers alike. Clients and families get the care and relief they sought, while volunteers always learn a little more themselves – how to be a listener as well as a doer.
Ways we are able to help
One multifaceted happy outcome was experienced by founding board member and almost daily volunteer Lynne Calkins. Calkins took a call from David Timoner and directed him toward a hospice and eventual peaceful MAiD death for his dad Eli. “I remember talking with David about his concern that younger sister Rachel, a rabbi, might be against MAiD. In the end, of course, she was not. She totally came around in support of the family, and the End of Life Option Act. She continues to support MAiD and seeks to educate the Reform Jewish community.”
Eli Timoner’s story became an acclaimed documentary, Last Flight Home, written and directed by his daughter Ondi – one of the happiest bonuses EOLCCA has had in recent years.
These stories – of ways we are able to help, and to expand the benefits of end-of-life choice – are the extra joys that keep every EOLCCA volunteer’s spirits soaring.
A lifelong newspaper and magazine writer, EOLCCA Board Member Fran Moreland Johns has published fiction, nonfiction, and several books. Her focus on end-of-life issues includes many volunteer years, numerous articles and one book, Dying Unafraid. She holds a BA in Art from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and currently blogs at Medium.com and franjohns.net. Her short story collection, Marshallville Stories, was released in April 2022.
EOLCCA supports a strong team of experienced volunteers throughout the state, ready to help anyone, anywhere in California free of charge with information and support regarding all end-of-life planning and choices, including aid in dying through the California End of Life Option Act. You can find comprehensive information on our user-friendly website. To support our work, or request an educational presentation, please visit ways to help. Thank you.