New Brunswick

'You can't delay grief': Families call on province to add burials to reasons for compassionate visits

New Brunswick is allowing people to visit their sick and dying parents, but people who missed the chance to say goodbye say the compassion stops at them.

New Brunswick is allowing people to come into the province to provide palliative care for family

Chantal Lebel says attending her father's burial is 'essential' for closure and grief, and it should qualify under compassionate travel exemptions. (Submitted by Chantal Lebel)

New Brunswick is allowing people to visit their sick and dying parents, but people who missed the chance to say goodbye to loved ones wonder why the compassion stops at them.

Chantal Lebel says she's missing her father's burial in Grand Falls this weekend because the province will not allow her to cross the border, even though she'd secured a place to self-isolate and was planning to go back to Ottawa immediately afterwards.

"To be denied part of the grieving process, as a daughter, when you're 900 kilometres from all of your family is very difficult," she said.

"There's no compassion."

Barry McCullough has had to postpone his mother's burial because he was turned away when he attempted to enter New Brunswick to attend the ceremony. (Submitted by Barry McCullough)

Barry McCullough was turned away when he tried to attend his mother's burial last week, and has had to postpone it indefinitely as he's an only child.

The Quebec resident said it's not fair that his case is not included under compassionate grounds.

"It's incredibly important. Especially given that we weren't able to be there for the visitation and we weren't there at the time of death," he said.

"It's one final moment with your parent."

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday because of the six new cases in Campbellton, the province could be reviewing the present compassionate clause. (Government of New Brunswick)

He said he doesn't understand the thought process behind allowing people to see their parents while they're dying, but not to grieve them after they're dead.

"I kind of feel like they're taking the approach of 'well, it doesn't really matter because your parents are already dead,'" he said. "Which I think is incredibly cold."

Updated rules

In the past three weeks the province has worked to clarify the rules surrounding who's allowed into the province and under what circumstances. The province has previously banned all "non-essential" travel, with exemptions outlined under the emergency declaration, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The declaration was updated recently to allow "travel into New Brunswick to provide care for a palliative patient or for similar exceptional humanitarian or compassionate purposes, with or without an exemption from the requirement of self-isolation."

Provincial spokesperson Shawn Berry said this includes:

  • In-home end of life visitation.
  • End of life visitation in a hospital.
  • End of life visitation in a nursing home or hospice (with written confirmation from the facility that you will be allowed entry).
  • To provide care for a person in need of in-home support.
  • To receive in-home care.
  • To provide or receive child care services that are not available by other means. 

He said people can start the application process by calling the Canadian Red Cross, selecting "affected by disaster" then "New Brunswick" and then "compassionate travel to New Brunswick", he said.

Chantal Lebel, second from right, and her two siblings are mourning the death of her father, but she can't attend his burial because of New Brunswick's COVID-19 interprovincial travel restrictions. (Submitted by Chantal Lebel)

The rules were also clarified to allow students coming back to university.

Berry said between May 11 to May 22 at noon, 135 compassionate travel applications were reviewed by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Of them, 84 requests were approved, 39 were refused and 12 required more information before a decision could be made, he said.

At Wednesday's press conference, chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said, in light of a new travel-related cluster of six COVID-19 cases appearing in the Campbellton region, "we're probably also going to be looking at that [compassionate clause] again," she said.

Difficulty getting answers

Lebel said she spent almost a week trying to get answers about whether she's allowed in or not, and the best answer she got was to try her luck and see if a border agent will let her through.

"I'm waiting for back surgery so that wasn't like a clear enough answer for me and I just didn't want to take that chance."

She didn't take the chance, but McCullough did. He was told the same thing. He made sure he had a place to self isolate and enough supplies to last the 14 days. He waited two and half hours at the border with his wife and three-year-old son before they were turned away.

"When we got home … I think we were all emotionally drained when we got there. Just exhausted physically and mentally, exhausted from everything."

Lebel said she got her final "no" from Chuck Chiasson, Liberal MLA for Victoria La Vallée, who she contacted for help.

"Chantal, I feel just awful to have to deliver this news. Our request was turned down," he wrote to her in an email on May 14.

Lebel said attending the burial is crucial for her to get closure and process the grief of losing her father 

"I know that there are other families that are going to be going through the same thing," she said. 

"What if none of their children live in the province? Will they have no one at their funeral or their burial?"

Chantal Lebel says she was very close to her father, who died in New Brunswick at the end of February. She will not be able to attend his burial because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. (Submitted by Chantal Lebel)

Lebel said her father, Roger, left her his guitar, and she's learning to play it so one day she can play a song at his grave. 

"It may be too late for me to be there," Lebel said. "But I think that this is something that the government has to consider, because you may be able to delay events like a wedding, but you can't delay funeral and burial indefinitely. 

"And you can't delay grief."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

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