Here's what the end of life is like for a woman who is approaching her final days on Earth.

When you reach the end of the line, life gets ... challenging. Here's what that looks like for one person and some of her family.

Here's what the end of life is like for a woman who is approaching her final days on Earth.
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Evelyn was the primary caregiver for her husband for the last 10 years of his life. As she could see her own last days approaching, she decided to let some folks at the Los Angeles Times document what it was like as her children and relatives and other caregivers helped her through it day by day.

Ultimately, it's those caregivers who can make such endings as gentle as they can be, with some dignity, too.

This is Evelyn in her younger days.

Images from "Lessons in Caregiving" by the Los Angeles Times.

And this is the same Evelyn as she prepares for her end of days.

It's not easy, hearing from your doctor that your time is coming and signing papers about what that means.

"I still feel like a young kid," she said. "I feel like jumping rope if I could, going roller skating. But I can't do it anymore."

Her zest for life can be seen in pictures like this:

But let's let Evelyn tell her own story.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't heartbreaking.

But it's also strangely calming, at least to me.

Having that dignity as you approach the end of life is something we all deserve. I realize that some of us won't have that luxury, and still others will simply disappear in the middle of the night — with just memories and photographs and children and other artifacts left behind to honor a lifetime.

I only hope I can approach my last days on earth with some dignity and a wee bit of joy, as Evelyn did.


Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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This article originally appeared on 06.16.15

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