When Betsy Davis invited 30 of her closest friends and family by email to a weekend party in July 2016 they mostly didn’t have an idea what she was planning until they finished reading the message. The party was held at a California home. She explained that the circumstances surrounding the party were unlike anything they would’ve attended before but they required emotional stamina, openness and centeredness. She had one firm rule which stated that nobody was to cry in her presence.
She was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS which is an incurable disease that affects the spinal cord, the brain and nerve cells. Betsy, a gifted artist, felt her body failing her, shutting down bit by bit and decided to have the party so everybody would have the opportunity to say goodbye in a joyous setting before becoming one of the first people from California to take their own life with the use of lethal drugs her doctor prescribed. While the party would result in some fun and fond memories it would conclude in her suicide. Betsy’s loved ones did not appreciate the idea much but she was determined to end her life on her own terms.
She explained to all the invitees what the schedule would be for the weekend up to the exact time that she would be rendered comatose. Even though going to the party was a hard decision for all of her friends and family they all were of the opinion that there was no way that they would have missed it. In the end more than 30 guests arrived at the beautiful mountainside California home from all over the country to spend the weekend. The entertainment included watching her favorite movies, eating pizza from her favorite restaurant, they drank and played instruments.
Those who knew the performance artist and painter say that she turned her death into a final performance. She felt energized by planning her final exit as she wanted it, under her control. She would be counted under the first Californians to die by ways of doctor-assisted suicide which is legal under a new law for terminally ill patients. Due to the fact that she suffered slurred speech due to the effects of the illness, her speech was translated by her caretakers to those present.
She needed to make sure to spend some quality time with each of her loved ones and was able to wheel herself all over the home to do just that. She invited all the guests to take a souvenir out of her belongings. Her sister sticky noted each item explaining why it was a worthy Betsy souvenir.
A cinematographer named Niels Alpert was at the party too and snapped a huge collection of pictures to capture the final moments with her precious people. He agreed with those in attendance that they would be there for her no matter what. Behind all the smiles, fun and laughter the dread of what was to come loomed.
When the weekend was through, the attendees gathered for the last photo and said goodbye before Betsy was wheeled outside to a canopy bed next to the hillside wearing the kimono she bought when she was diagnosed. She watched her final sunset at 6:45 and then took the cocktail of drugs her doctor prescribed for this purpose. With her at the time of death was her sister, massage therapist, doctor and caretaker. She died four hours later. A close friend noted that the way she decided to pass on was the most beautiful and peaceful death anyone could wish for and by insisting on staying in charge her death
too was turned into a work of art. This is one of the reasons people are equally intrigued by Betsy’s life as well as her death.
All images courtesy of Niels Alpert