Aiman Ali was 14 years old when she learned her father was dying of Cystic Fibrosis. She spent the next three years providing him with palliative care in the family’s Surrey, B.C., home before they moved back to Pakistan, which they felt offered a more supportive community.
“Most people, particularly students, don’t have a lot of experience with death, dying, loss and caregiving,” says Ali. “There are long-lasting impacts for those of us who are going through or have gone through this. These situations can be very lonely and it is important we feel supported.”
This is one reason why Ali and her Brock University classmate Isabelle Cruz, of Caledon, decided to start the Compassionate Brock initiative, which will host its first community engagement meeting Monday, Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. in Schmon Tower 105.
“The purpose of this meeting is to better understand the experiences of the Brock community and take steps towards improvement,” Ali says.
As fourth-year Public Health students, Ali and Cruz envision a Brock community where faculty, staff and students are comfortable talking about death and know how to support each other through caregiving and bereavement.
“I’ve seen what my friends have experienced when someone dies and have learned how hard it is for them to cope, being away from family and having to deal with papers and exams,” says Cruz. “It can be hard to know how to approach people who are experiencing grief and even harder to know how to support them.”
The Compassionate Brock initiative is a project of the Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement Program (I-EQUIP) and is co-supervised by Department of Health Sciences Associate Professor and I-EQUIP Co-Director, Madelyn Law.
Helping to guide the initiative is alumna Bonnie Tompkins (BPH ’15), Pallium Canada’s Compassionate Communities National Lead.
“While I was attending Brock, my husband was dying from cancer,” explains Tompkins. “I was the primary caregiver, experienced his death in my third year and was grieving myself all while in school. As a result, I really started to see the gap in our systems and started looking at other international systems that are further ahead.”
The Compassionate Brock initiative is based on the Compassionate City Charter, which is an international framework of 13 social changes that support communities to become more compassionate.
“My role at Pallium Canada is to support the mobilizing of compassionate community movements,” says Tompkins. “This is not just based in academia, but on every aspect of the community, and various touch points for support.”
Tompkins says these initiatives go beyond policy changes to consider what individuals can do.
“We would like to see more bereavement support groups and training on campuses, but support can come from many places,” she says. “We don’t have to professionalize everything. Support can be as simple as people feeling comfortable talking about death and knowing how to check in with each other and being there for those who may be struggling in private.”
What: Compassionate Brock
When: Monday, Jan. 29, 1 to 3 p.m.
Where: Brock University, Schmon Tower 105