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N.B. death doula helps families open up about end-of-life discussions

Click to play video: '‘Death doula’ helping N.B. families confront end-of-life fears'
‘Death doula’ helping N.B. families confront end-of-life fears
A New Brunswick woman is helping families confront death from a positive perspective. She's a "death doula"-- one of hundreds across Canada working to support people during their end of life. Her mission is to help people find comfort as they face their deepest fears. Shelley Steeves has that story. – Mar 8, 2023

A New Brunswick woman is helping families confront death from a more positive perspective.

Ashley Brzezicki of Moncton is what is known as a “death doula,” working to support people during their end of life. Her mission is to help people find comfort as they face their deepest fears.

“We really only get exposed to death in our culture when we are butting up right against it,” said Brzezicki who, after facing her own fears about mortality, studied to become a death doula during the pandemic.

“There has been a real spike in awareness around death doulas” across Canada, she said.

Brzezicki said she offers support to individuals and families who may be facing a serious illness or are wanting to talk about their own fears and questions around death.

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“You can’t force someone to be positive but you can be a companion and sometimes having a person who has done their own work around death and is much more comfortable with the subject matter can be the entry point to having some more tender conversations,” she said.

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Brzezicki said there are several hundred death doulas across Canada, not only offering emotional and grief support but also helping people access resources in support of end-of-life preparations.

Brzezicki has been working with Emma McMullin’s mother, who is living with early-onset Alzheimer’s. McMullin moved back to Moncton, N.B., from the U.S. to help care for her mother, currently in the hospital waiting to be placed in a special care home.

“For me, it’s been really nice to talk to someone outside of the family for these kind of end-of-life decisions,” said McMullin.

Sitting in front of her mother’s coffee table at her apartment in Moncton, the two openly talk about McMullin’s feelings about her mother’s eventual death, which could be years away, and more.

“I have a hard time accepting help and being vulnerable and especially around really intimate issues like seeing my mom pass,” said McMullin.

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They also discuss the resources that are available to help her and her mother in preparing for the journey.

“There are some really hard decisions and obviously talking to family, everyone is bringing a lot of emotional history to the table,” said McMullin.

She said the support has helped her move from a place of avoidance and fear to love and acceptance.

In some cultures, such as Mexico, death is a celebration of the inevitable journey, said Brzezicki, but we’re not quite there yet in Canada.

“The industrialization of everything came in, including medicine, and then all of a sudden death became a problem that professionals deal with,” she said.

She is now working toward getting death doulas certified as end-of-life support providers within the health-care system.

“It is tough to get adequate care right now in a way that makes the family feel comforted.”

She hopes to help more people embrace end of life as a more open and loving journey.

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