Editor’s note, 10:45 a.m., Feb. 28, 2020: Diane Sanders passed away last night, her son Robert Darrow told us this morning. Our condolences to her family.
Tuesday was one of the very best days of Diane Sanders’ long life.
It was also one of her last.
Diane, who is dying of liver disease, enjoyed catching trout off the deck of her daughter’s Southwest Washington home that afternoon and eating them that night for dinner with her family.
Son Robert Darrow said it fulfilled one of her last wishes – to go fishing again with her children – and it was aided by WDFW crews who not only brought 11 nice rainbows but also rods, bait and a fishing vest for her to use.
The agency’s Stacie Kelsey, who helped deliver the fish and gear, called it both “the best day of my career” and “the saddest day of my career” in a touching story she shared.
Robert said that his family is originally from California and they used to fish all over the state.
He reeled off the names of lakes that he, his mom and sisters Pamela Schram and Evelyn Boomis chased catfish and trout at over the years.
“My mom’s heart for her kids was for us to have fun as we were growing up, taking us camping and fishing, as well as teaching us how to cook and do the simple things in life, like cleaning house, yard mowing, picking up trash, participating in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for me and my sisters,” Robert said.
He described Diane, now 71, as a “down-to-earth woman” who went to cosmetology school when she was young and later became a security guard, which was her favorite job.
“Mom always liked to make homemade cakes and costumes for birthdays and Halloween, as well as decorate beautiful Christmas trees,” Robert added. “She always had a good knack for decorating and making special occasions simply special.”
In 2016, with Diane battling her illness in Palm Desert, Robert said he and Pamela moved her up to Pamela’s home in La Center, outside Vancouver, to care for her.
That was hard given his sister’s work schedule and issues he was dealing with, so their mom was moved to an adult living facility, but she recently came back to Pamela’s house.
“Her health lately has gone downhill,” said Robert. “My sister, who is a nurse, took a leave of absence to be with her and I’m here in support of Mom.”
With Diane constrained to a wheelchair, they had to get creative in fulfilling her angling wish.
“She is too sick to be loaded into a car to travel to a lake to fish, so I got on the phone, made some calls and came across the number for (WDFW’s) Ridgefield regional office,” Robert says.
There he spoke with biologist Josh Holowatz, and after explaining that his mother was nearing the end, Josh got the ball rolling, with regional Fish Program manager Bryce Glaser key to quickly getting the request approved.
In telling the story of the day, Stacie said she was called to the office by boss Matt Gardner, the district fisheries biologist, who explained the situation to her.
“I was like, ‘Heck yes, let’s go,’” was her immediate reaction.
So after gathering four rods, some tackle and a fishing vest for Diane to “wear for her great fishing adventure,” Stacie said that she and Matt swung by the Vancouver Hatchery.
There, specialists Brian Harvard and Adam Sullivan helped them fill two big coolers with water and a third with water and several trout.
The next stop was the local Sportsman’s Warehouse where they picked up some PowerBait, ’crawlers and salmon eggs, Stacie detailed, then they headed over to Pamela’s house.
There, Robert had moved a large stock tank to just below the deck to hold the water and the fish.
Stacie described the rainbows they released into it as “active and hungry,” and ready to “provide an amazing afternoon for the family!”
Before she and Matt left, they were invited inside to meet Diane, who was lying on her hospital bed. Stacie explained her job with the Inland Fish Program.
“I held her hands and talked about how we delivered fish to various lakes and about the fish we had brought her. She had such a sparkle in her eyes and happiness in her voice,” Stacie wrote.
“She said today was her second favorite day ever. The first was the birth of her children,” Stacie added.
Robert confirmed that, and also said that he was surprised that Tuesday ranked even higher with his mom than her wedding day.
After chatting some more, the WDFW staffers left.
“Those are very, very liked people in our family,” Robert said. “Not just because of what they did, but the respect they had for my mother. Especially Stacie in explaining how fish go into the lakes. My mom was just like a little girl ready to go on a fishing trip.”
It was time for Diane to fulfill her wish.
“We wheeled Mom out onto the front porch and let her fish for trout,” Robert recalled.
Between Diane and a friend of Pamela’s they caught four of the 11 and baked them for dinner with asparagus.
The experience also provided food for thought for Stacie.
“Matt and I got into my truck and kind of looked at each other,” she wrote online. “It really started to hit home about what we initially saw as delivering fish to help a family, but it was obviously way more than that. I’m so wound up with a million emotions. So very happy to have been part of such an important event. And so incredibly sad because she looked and sounded like [my] Gram. And what would tomorrow bring?”
Sometimes it’s not so much about what tomorrow bears but what today offers.
Simple things like a few stocker trout, some dough bait and a vest with lots of pockets helped make a special occasion even more special.
WDFW will grant hunters with terminal illnesses a special permit to get out one last time, under select circumstances.
As for last angling opportunities for the dying, Chris Donley at the agency’s Spokane office said he knows of other “extra mile” instances, but termed them rare and deserving of recognition.
Eastside fisheries biologist Randall Osborne says he’s received requests from hospices to take out patients before the season opens, so he’ll sign them up as “volunteers” to help sample lakes he manages.
He and several fellow bios said they hadn’t heard of a specific situation like Diane’s, “But it doesn’t surprise me,” Randall added. “We have a lot of kind and dedicated staff here.”
That was echoed by Robert as he supported his mother in her last days.
“It was wonderful, far more than what the family ever expected,” he said. “Thanks to Jesus and WDFW and the whole state of Washington, but especially the people at the Ridgefield facility.”
Editor’s note: The initial version of this blog misspelled Randall Osborne’s last name with a u. Our apologies.