Volunteer Spotlight: Pam Wald

February 6, 2014

Pam Wald didn’t know much about aid in dying until her husband, Ben, suffering from lung and bone cancer, requested it.

“He was in excruciating pain, down to 118 pounds. He just said, ‘I’m not getting better, Pam.’ I thought, ‘Okay, well maybe tomorrow.’ I was holding out hope for some miracle. Of course, that wasn’t to be. He said to me, ‘You know, I really want to choose the way I end my life, and I want to explore Oregon’s Death With Dignity.’ That was really hard, but I knew it was something I needed to listen to. Hospice gave us a phone number for Compassion & Choices. So that’s where we began; the hardest call I’ve ever made.”

Compassion & Choices volunteers Ani Sinclair and Jane Riggs arrived to help the Walds. “They were my guardian angels,” says Pam. “I was in crises, in a zone just trying to help my husband. Compassion & Choices became my safety net. They could answer my questions; they could look up the forms. The most important thing they said to me was, ‘Pam, we’re going to be with you for whatever you need. Your job is to take care of your husband.’ It was kind of like drowning in the ocean, and they became the life boat. So with that I relaxed enough that I was able to be with Ben.”

After guiding the Walds through the sometimes complicated process, Ani and Jane referred them to Dr. David Grube, who wrote Ben’s prescription. “Once Ben got permission to be able to have this choice, even though he was in a lot of pain and things hadn’t changed physically, mentally the last four days he was so relaxed and almost joyful. His eyes were really clear and sparkly like they were when we first got together. It was just incredible,” Pam says.

Ben gave himself the medication on the evening of May 4, 2012, and died two hours later. He was 75.

The experience inspired Pam to aid Compassion & Choices’ outreach efforts in the Corvallis, Oregon, area. Her story ran in area papers last month, and she joined Dr. Grube for a recent presentation about Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act and plans to continue with similar advocacy efforts. “It’s part of my healing,” she explains, and a way to help others understand and access their options more easily.

“My vision was we’d both grow very elderly and one day just not get up the next morning. I always thought we would die of natural causes like that. So we never had the conversation. That’s what we’re hoping to encourage with this public presentation: the idea of beginning a dialogue. It’s not just death with dignity; people have many choices. Some people would choose not to do this. Or they get the medication, never use it, but just know they have it if they need it. That’s a choice. Palliative care, being at home, having hospice involved; there are a lot of different choices. I think because my husband was given a choice, and I as his wife was able to help him carry out that choice, that helped me with my grief. I miss him dearly, but I have that gift that I gave him that I supported his choice.

“The important thing is listening – doctors listening to their patients, family members listening to their loved ones and seeing what they can do to help them. Ben’s death was such a wonderful thing the way it happened, even with all the glitches we had. It was the way it should be.”

Compassion & Choices
Media Contacts

Sean Crowley
Media Relations Director
[email protected]

Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
[email protected]
(323) 819 0310

Compassion & Choices
8156 S Wadsworth Blvd #E-162
Littleton, CO 80128

Mail contributions directly to:
Compassion & Choices Gift Processing Center
PO Box 485
Etna, NH 03750