New B.C.-based society supports families walking through medically assisted death with a loved one

“We’re people you can be vulnerable with, where it’s safe to ask anything” — Bridge 4 You founder Signy Novak

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After her father chose medical assistance in dying, Signy Novak and her sister had questions.

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“I felt like the clock was ticking and my father would soon be leaving me,” she said.

In that uncertain and nervous time, she remembers her sister wondering if there was someone they could call who had walked through MAID with a loved one.

“It would have been really helpful to talk to someone who understood,” she said.

Novak’s father, a doctor and winemaker who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, died on July 25, 2018. His final words were to his doctor: “Keep doing the great work you are doing with MAID.”

Novak said it was the most courageous thing she had ever witnessed.

“Now that I’ve seen it firsthand, I feel like we’re very privileged here in Canada to have access to MAID,” she said.

Looking for a way to honour her father, Novak recalled her sister’s words.

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Two months ago, she began Bridge 4 You, a peer-driven non-profit society that offers support to people going through the MAID process with a loved one.

With a roster of 12 volunteers from across Canada who have lived experience with MAID, the B.C.-based society connects people with someone willing to listen to their concerns.

“We’re people you can be vulnerable with, where it’s safe to ask anything,” she said.

Volunteers include people who have been through the process with a parent, spouse or child. People seeking support get in touch and are connected with a volunteer who will listen to them.

“We hear from people who are family and friends of someone who has chosen to have MAID. Maybe they’re struggling to get their head around it, or maybe like me, they feel the clock ticking down and they’re scrambling,” said Novak.

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Some people have months to understand and come to terms with the process, while others must deal with it very quickly.

“I’ve been asked what it will be like, what kind of things they should prepare for, what they should talk about,” she said.

“We’re a listening ear. I think someone who has been there before can be very powerful.”

Bridge 4 You has partnered with an Ontario-based group called Bridge C-14 that supports people whose loved one is going through MAID. The group has been referring people looking for support before MAID to Bridge 4 You.

As the number of people across Canada seeking peer support grows, so is the need for volunteers, said Novak. Volunteers meet with people by phone, email, text or Zoom — whatever is most comfortable.

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“We’re looking for people who feel passionately about this issue, who want to give back,” she said. “Lived experience is required. It’s our whole mission.”

Novak said Bridge 4 You is just getting started. While it accepts donations to help with its work, it does not have charitable status.

“This is a new law and it’s still fresh and raw and people are still trying to understand it,” she said. “We’re going slowly and responding to the need that is out there.”

gluymes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

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