Jennifer Vespaziani and her husband Matthew Grant have started a new end-of-life business called Hold Space. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Jennifer Vespaziani and her husband Matthew Grant have started a new end-of-life business called Hold Space. (Aaron Hinks photo)

White Rock couple launch virtual memorial service, end-of-life doula company

Alternative service offered for people approaching end of life

After going through the experience of losing her mother, a White Rock woman and her husband have started a business designed to offer an alternative solution to families that are coping with the process of death.

Four years ago, while Jennifer Vespaziani and her husband, Matthew Grant, were on vacation, her mother, who was fighting illness, was put on life support. The couple returned home, where they had to make the tough decision to remove that support.

“In that time, the nurses were great and beautiful, but there was no support around death,” Vespaziani said.

“What are the signs and symptoms while someone is passing? That can be very unnerving when you don’t have, let’s say, a death doula present to guide you through that, calm the emotions and make it more natural. After it was done, it was like there was no nurses around, and the body was there. My mom was going to be put somewhere and I felt like the law was not on my side – I couldn’t just take her home.”

Vespaziani enrolled in the end-of-life-doula program at Douglas College. After 20 years of working as a child and youth care counsellor, she made the decision to change careers to something she describes as “a calling.”

SEE ALSO: Professional death coaches: A new type of doula

Vespaziani, who, with Grant, recently launched ‘Hold Space,’ explained that an end-of-life doula is a non-medical, holistic companion and coach to both the person who is dying and their family.

“We could be hired by the family or by the person who has a terminal illness. What we do is we’re with them, for as long as they would like us to be. Ideally, we do things like advance-care planning and directives, so that they have all of their papers in order. We do life reflection, which leads us into legacy work,” Vespaziani said.

“Really, just guiding the family and taking care of them around things they don’t need to think about. They don’t need to think about, ‘How do I set this up?’ It’s just being with your loved one, and we just nurture the family after death.”

As for Grant’s involvement, he’s offering a virtual memorial, or virtual celebration-of-life, service to families.

Grant and Vespaziani see a future in virtual memorial services, beyond the COVID-19 pandemic when the world returns to normal.

Virtual services are done in collaboration with the families. The client designs how it’s operated, and it’s Grant’s job to facilitate the technical components and the service itself.

“I observed a ceremony here just before Christmas and there were over 100 people. There were people from all over the world, which is obviously something you can’t do if you were in-person. You can’t expect people to fly in from Israel for a few days for a funeral,” Grant said.

He said the virtual services are recorded and can be shared with other family members.

Vespaziani sees a future that includes a hybrid model of virtual and in-person memorial services, once COVID-19 restrictions lift.

“For home funerals, you can connect people all over the place to watch it. It’s definitely not going anywhere. I think people are pleasantly surprised with how much they can connect, especially through the chat part, it’s become more like a memorial book,” Vespaziani said.

Vespaziani and Grant can be contacted at hello@holdspace.ca

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