Who We Are: Andrea Fenwick

Death Doula, Social Worker, and Hospice Volunteer

My desire to support people in end-of-life choices and to work in this field originates from the experience of my mother’s death to ovarian cancer when I was 15 and she was just 39. This experience was shrouded in isolation with no one speaking about the “elephant in the room” nor connecting with one another about navigating this eight-month journey. Instead, as a family, we proceeded as if nothing sacred or life-altering was transpiring. Without support, there was so much missed opportunity for connecting and making this a meaningful experience for each of us. And yet, years later, I realized just how much my mom accomplished in her remaining months before death. I only regret that we did not have the words to share and comfort one another through this experience.

When my grandmother was dying, 10 years after my mother’s death, she had the support of a hospice team. This opened up for me what living into your dying means and how different a dying experience could be. After being exposed to hospice care, I knew that I wanted to be involved in end of life care. I became a hospice volunteer, something I’ve continued now with Whatcom Hospice, and eventually worked for San Diego Hospice as a bilingual medical social worker.

I became aware of VSED after my husband’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s 5 years ago. Living with a progressive neurological disorder left us with a lot of uncertainty.  Our exploration of how to live well with Parkinson’s and the realization that his condition could become unbearable, led us to look at end of life options for a person with a disease that is not considered terminal. We were inspired when we attended a presentation by Phyllis Shacter, who described her husband’s VSED journey. 

I continued to be involved in the end-of-life field, and still felt that I wanted to go deeper.  When I heard an interview of a wise and charismatic woman, Alua Arthur, speaking about her experience, I knew I wanted to participate in her “Going with Grace” Death Doula Program. I love her inquiry, “What must I do to be at peace with myself so that I may live presently and die gracefully?” Her 12-week intensive death doula training, which I completed in 2019, was largely a self-reflective course on your own mortality. I continue to learn and grow in this field.

I have the privilege of being a Volunteer Client Advisor with End of Life Washington supporting individuals and their loved ones in exploring end of life options and navigating the death with dignity law.

As a death doula, I have been blessed to be mentored by Nancy Simmers on three different VSED experiences, that were unique to each individual’s journey and life. Together, we have formed a death doula collective with other death doulas, end-of-life caregivers, and alternative practitioners. It is a true honor to companion someone in their last days and I continue to be in awe and continue to grow and learn from each incredible soul and their loved ones. I was invited early in 2020 to join the small group of women who founded what has come to be VSED Resources Northwest. Despite the pandemic, we are making VSED known in our community as a legal, viable, and often needed end-of-life choice, in honor of the memory of the courageous individuals and families we have worked with and witnessed.