3 Young Vancouverites with Fresh Perspectives on Death and Grief

Why you'll want to talk to these three women about death. 

June 21, 2018

By Alica Forneret / Photo: Heather Pennell

The ways we plan for and grieve death are hot topics today, as more people bring to light the fact that we’re all a little too squeamish about something that touches every single one of us. And though the topics of death and grief are often shied away from, there is a lot to be said for the ways we can start embracing them.

If you allow yourself to peek over the fence of your comfort zone, you’ll find spaces that are exploring these topics: Kitsilano library Death Cafes, Gastown Death Over Dinner parties, and end-of-life conferences around the world. In an effort to bring those services and conversations to the mainstream, these three Vancouverites have dedicated their work to helping people navigate the universally shared experience of death with fresh perspectives and new ideas.

(Photo: Kara Werner.)

Christina Andreola, New Narrative 

When her uncle died, Christina Andreola was asked to plan his funeral. With ten years of event management under her belt, she soon realized that she was well-equipped to plan any kind of service — there was still background music to choose, food to arrange, and mementos to conceptualize, similar to any wedding or corporate event. So, she founded New Narrative, a memorial planning company that she hopes will normalize hiring creative event planners for funerals. “I think this industry has been dominated by a handful of large companies who offer their own standard services,” says Andreola. “We need more fresh faces who promote alternative options and are there for families who wish to go against the grain.”

And what is it that makes New Narrative different? An attention to and understanding of the circumstances that face families who are grieving. “Most often, one or two people in the family take on coordinating this task-heavy event at an emotionally difficult time. It’s hard work,” she says. “My goal for New Narrative events is to alleviate the event burden so families can spend less time on logistics and more time with each other.”

She offers all kinds of services, and approaches each event with an open mind. One memorial she planned, which was hosted at Science World (yes, you can have your memorial at Science World), featured “platters of food, speeches on the roof at sunset, and the best ’80s outfits you could imagine. A band close to the family played while guests enjoyed late-night pizza to celebrate this vibrant woman, just the way she requested.”

(Photo: Rachel Pick Photography)
(Photo: Heather Pennell.)

Joan Trinh Pham, Palliative Care Nurse and Educator 

After working in hospice and palliative care for over 10 years, Joan Trinh Pham has become particularly attune to the needs of people naturally approaching the end of their life. And in turn, she works to “help people live well and die awesome.” Her work includes educational courses on death and dying care, as well as a workbook titled Die Awesome, which includes guiding materials to help people have thoughtful, meaningful conversations about death and dying. Communication — the central theme of her work — helps empower, relieve anxiety, and better prepare families to speak openly about these subjects.

With her fresh, unique perspective, Pham sees great benefit to other young people entering the palliative care and hospice fields. “I believe that young people’s passionate voice and perspective fills an essential generation gap in the dialogue we have about caregiving, dying and grief,” she says. “Having more voices and perspectives at the table allows us to be more real and in being more real, we can address the needs that exist in our community in creative, innovative and effective ways that can lead to cultural shifts that inform the death industry.”

Pham wants to see a significant shift toward embracing and honouring death, and away from avoiding it. “Currently we are very focused on a very Western allopathic medical narrative of illness and death wherein death of the physical organism is the end,” she says. “I believe there is so much more richness that needs to be reintegrated into our experience, narratives and rituals.”

(Photo: Tianna Grey.)
(Photo: Anita Cheung.)

Rachel Ricketts, Grief Coach and Doula, Loss&Found

Born and raised in Vancouver, Rachel “RayRay” Ricketts built her company Loss&Found to help the wider community confront the life events that cause us grief. Her work spans from Spiritual Activism workshops that help individuals and companies address racism through community building, to grief coaching after a someone has experienced loss. “I am not a counsellor. I’m an intuitive grief coach, which is a different offering altogether,” says Ricketts. “I help people through trying times of all forms using spiritual tools.”

Loss&Found was founded after Ricketts’s mother died, and today, after navigating her own grief, she helps others process theirs. “Before my mom died I knew that I wanted to help people through their most dire time of need in some way, but after she died I experienced a dark night of the soul that left me depressed and isolated in a way I had never imagined possible. When I came out the other end, I knew it was my life’s work to help people dealing with their grief and support others so as to feel less alone.”

Ricketts’s work is unique in that it meets people wherever they are in their grief and she shapes her many offerings to meet their needs. In both her writing and speaking engagements, she doesn’t shy away from laughter, cursing, or unabashed frankness. And she coaches people through their grief with many practices including breathwork, reiki, meditation, yoga, and more. “I allow people to feel empowered in navigating challenging situations while learning tools that will aid them in moving through the ups and downs of life for years to come. I’m a big fan and believer in traditional therapy, and what I offer is a complementary approach.”

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