Facilitators of the island’s “Let’s Talk About Living and Dying” group, who originally hosted the Death Café gatherings, will host a discussion with volunteers of the Seattle-based nonprofit End of Life Washington at a free event from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at The Land Trust Building.
Islanders Kathryn Crawford and Donna Klemka, client advisors for residents of Vashon seeking information about end of life care, will present, followed by an opportunity for those in attendance to ask questions and continue the conversation in a small group setting.
Crawford and Klemka, who have served as volunteers for more than two years, have a wide range of knowledge about death and dying, from how to talk to loved ones about death to writing advanced directives, including for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients — a gift to family and friends stating clear intentions around a dying person’s wishes, said Crawford.
Both can also provide expertise on other difficult topics such as voluntarily stopping eating and drinking. Their goal is to help both patients and families facing the end of life to learn more about the options available to find peace.
Part of the mission of End of Life Washington, in addition to promoting greater awareness, education and support around life-ending treatment and palliative care services, is to inform the public about how they can use the Death with Dignity Act, passed in 2008. The legislation allows for patients with six months or less to live to self-administer lethal doses of medication prescribed by a doctor. Eight other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, with two passing such legislation in the last two years, including Hawaii and Maine.
“We help clients who don’t know that hospice is a service that they can access or that there is palliative care available to them,” said Klemka, who along with Crawford is trained to assist with the act’s requirements and processes.
She added that End of Life Washington works to empower those who may feel as though they have no control to make the choices and decisions guiding their own care.
To Klemka, one of the most important roles of a volunteer is to earn the trust of those who need assistance and access to the support they need. For many, she said, that it can be a significant consolation.
“It’s palpable, the kind of relief that people show,” Klemka said.
Crawford, a public health nurse who believes in patient autonomy at the end of their lives, received treatment several years ago for a life-threatening illness. That led her to volunteer with End of Life Washington to help others explore their own options for when the time comes.
She said she hopes that those in attendance leave with a better understanding of the law and what it means for people as they approach the end of their lives. For participants, she said, that may mean gaining a new perspective about what Death With Dignity is.
“Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with the word ‘suicide,’” she said. “The people using Death With Dignity are people who will die soon and using the medication is more appropriately thought of as hastening the inevitable.”
Jane Neubauer, one of the organizers of the event, said that she was most looking forward to islanders’ expanding their knowledge of the Death with Dignity law and the practices involved.
“And the conversations after the guest speakers are always so rewarding,” she said.
‘Let’s Talk about Living and Dying’ meets quarterly and is a part of Vashon Conversations that focuses on supporting people to finish their Advance Care Directives. For more information, call Susan Pitiger at 206 818-4232, Jane Neubauer at 206 567-5404 or Kim Eckhardt at 206-678-2204. For more information about End of Life Washington or to meet with Klemka and Crawford, see endoflifewa.org or contact the office at 206-256-1636 or firstname.lastname@example.org.