Manitoba

Winnipeg death doula provides care for the 2SLGBTQ community, chosen family at end of life

A Winnipeg death doula is working to ensure people in the 2SLGBTQ community have care and support at the end of their lives, services that are increasingly sought after across Canada, says an organization that advocates for improved quality of dying.
A woman with grey hear wearing a white shirt and a jean jacket poses in front of some bushes.
Rayne Foy-Vachon is a death doula in Winnipeg. She helps people in the 2SLGBTQ community face death with dignity. (Submitted by Rayne Foy-Vachon)

A Winnipeg death doula is working to ensure people in the 2SLGBTQ community have care and support at the end of their lives, services that are increasingly sought after across Canada, says an organization that advocates for improved quality of dying.

Rayne Foy-Vachon trained as an end-of-life doula during the pandemic to ensure people approaching death can avoid discrimination because there's a gap in queer-specific services, she said, and not every person has a supportive family member that will be with them at the end.

"There's no queer hospices, there's no queer hospice programs within the hospitals and there is no queer retirement homes or long-term care facilities in this province at all that are addressing the needs of the 2SLGBTQ+ community," Foy-Vachon said in an interview on Thursday.

When people in the 2SLGBTQ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community do access health-care services, they can experience homophobia and transphobia, and it makes them reluctant to seek out additional help, she said.

In addition to helping address a person's anxiety around death, Foy-Vachon helps advocate for people, whether with health-care providers or their own family members.

LISTEN | How Rayne Foy-Vachon supports people who are dying:

Rayne Foy-Vachon talks with Faith Fundal about why she chose to leave her health-care job to become a death doula.

There are also challenges after death navigating how a 2SLGBTQ person might want to be remembered. 

Foy-Vachon helps ensure that her clients aren't called the wrong name or referred to using the wrong pronouns in an obituary, on a gravestone or in a funeral service. 

The person's chosen family or partner might not have legal rights because they're not married or legally considered family. 

Even on death's door, there can be stigma.

Foy-Vachon worked with people with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and saw first-hand how people were treated as second-class citizens.

"In the hospital, they had a special ward for people who were HIV positive and dying of AIDS, and they were being treated like people who had leprosy. It was it was mind-boggling, actually, but so upsetting," she said.

Partners and family members couldn't visit them as they died.

"Yes, things have gotten better, but I still see the struggle within the queer community, within the health-care system. And you'd think from 30 years ago, you think that we'd see a larger change, and I don't feel like we have."

Groups filling gaps

More and more people are seeking specialized support through different barriers they may face at the end of their lives, including members of the 2SLGBTQ community, says the head of Dignity in Dying Canada.

CEO Helen Long said the organization has heard anecdotally about how queer-friendly supports are challenging to find across Canada, especially in rural and northern communities.

"I think it's really important that people are able to work with individuals who understand their diversities, their perspectives, their identity. All of that is critical to ensuring that an end-of-life experience is a quality one," Long said in an interview on Thursday.

"And that's not just the person who's dying. I think it goes beyond that into their chosen family, their friends, their support networks, their spouses. There's room, I think, for all of us to work toward improving the overall end-of-life experience."

More and more people are seeking support from those who specialize in meeting the needs of different demographic groups, including 2SLGBTQ people, says Dignity in Dying Canada. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Groups across Canada are working to fill gaps, including the Canadian Virtual Hospice, which has a number of online resources for people who are 2SLGBTQ about navigating death and dying, as well as for planning ahead to ensure needs are met.

Foy-Vachon is also trying to help create that change on a person-to-person level.

"I'm just trying to be there for the folks that really need me the most, because, honestly, nobody deserves to die alone, and for people in the queer community, that's been happening for decades."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

With files from Issa Kixen

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