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My Mother’s Daughter

My mother was a community palliative care nurse for the Victorian Order of Nurses for 17 years. Death and dying was a common thread in our conversations and she was never shy about sharing how she was feeling after her patient visits or reading the obituaries, sometimes loudly claiming “oh good! [patient] finally died!” This was never said in a way that belittled the life of the person. It was always a reflection of her patients’ and their families’ long and difficult journey with illness. Sometimes it seemed that death provided the relief that she could not give them. My mother often worried about her patients, took calls on her days off, and cried after difficult visits with them and their families.  These memories are part of my journey as I become a death doula.


Photo from Wix.

We immigrated to Canada when I was 7 years old. My mother’s first job was a personal support worker in a long-term care home as she attempts to regain her nursing credentials that did not carry over from the Philippines. She tells me in passing that she’s feeling tired because she spent an hour after her shift speaking to a resident who seemed lonely. That was not a rare occurrence. My mother had endless patience for speaking to patients/residents who had little interaction with others. A saint, she was not, but close enough on some days.


I sit with my client who is years into an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis. His verbal communication is limited and though he still speaks, most of what he says are random words strung together.  He says something that clearly has a punchline and waits for my laughter. I laugh, because even if the lines are nonsensical, I certainly know a joke when I hear one. We spend hours together and I think about my mother’s lesson. That everyone deserves time.


I am 15 years old.  My mother is crying and I ask her why. She says she has a patient in so much pain that he has asked for her help to die. Medical assistance in dying (MAiD) is illegal at the time, and my mother is a devout Catholic. Both the legal system and her morals would never have allowed for it. I don’t think about any of that. I see my mother crying because she knows her patient is in so much pain and he is begging her for the only relief that she cannot provide.


I talk with another client about his plans for MAiD. He says that his biggest fear is confinement. That he will be imprisoned in his chair, his body, a home. We talk about it. With both the acknowledgement that it is a decision he must make, and that any feelings he has about it is valid. I ask my mother if she has considered MAiD now, should she be diagnosed with a life limiting illness, and shockingly she says yes. The lesson? The choice is important but the conversation is the key.


There are other flurries of memories. Random strangers in church, at restaurants, at grocery stores, coming up to my mother to give her a hug like she was family. I would find out as they caught up that this was the loved one of a past or current patient. I still call my mother often to ask for her advice. She has been retired for years now, and I still benefit from all her knowledge and experience as I move through my own practice. There is pride in continuing this work that my mother loved and doing it with the care and determination that she exhibited. Am I my mother’s daughter? Without a doubt.


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Kym Nacita is a queer immigrant care doula, raised in Ontario by way of the Philippines. She currently resides in K'jipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and works with clients who have chronic pain/illness and/or life-limiting illnesses. She believes that everyone, especially those who are most marginalized, deserves thoughtful and compassionate support.

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