When Barbara Engdahl read about Compassion & Choices in a magazine five years ago, she immediately called to volunteer. Her career as a social worker helping patients and their families deal with injury, illness, disability and death – and her own mother’s death when she was 11 years old – have given Barbara the wisdom and acceptance to support others at life’s end.
“I am so grateful to be able to do this work. It gives such meaning to my life,” Barbara, a native Californian, explains. “Our clients are amazing people. Very independent and determined to be in charge until the end, because they have been in charge most of their lives. They’re an inspiration to me. I would like to meet my death as bravely as I have seen our clients do.”
She initially came on board as part of the End-of-Life Consultation team, but as the organization’s needs have increased, so has her involvement. “Even though we have a lot of volunteers in California, there aren’t always people available for everything that needs doing,” Barbara says. “So I have also been attending senior fairs and staffing events for Compassion & Choices, and giving talks to various groups.”
Also on the rise, she notices, is support for the death-with-dignity movement in California. “The amount of positive comments and positive response to our talks and our booths is really noticeable. It’s very gratifying. It seems to be an idea whose time has come.”
Barbara, now retired, believes strongly in people’s right to determine how they die and considers this work a special calling. “Helping people with information and support is just a continuation of my professional career,” she says. “When I see the gratitude on clients’ faces when they can talk with someone about their deaths and the choices they want to make, to have companionship and support in that arena, I feel very privileged to be there for them. I am so proud to work with an organization whose goals and philosophy are so congruent with mine.”