Mike Pitre just wants to see his dad before his dad doesn’t know who he is.
“I want to go and hug him and spend time with him, and I want to hug him — in a period where he still realizes that he’s hugging his son,” said the New Brunswick native who now lives in Gatineau, Que.
His 78-year-old father, Leonda Pitre, lives in Campbellton, N.B., and was diagnosed with vascular dementia about a year ago.
Leonda’s condition has been deteriorating. Some days, he doesn’t recognize his wife, Lucienne. Other days, he gets up to leave for a job he retired from many years ago.
He usually knows his son during their phone calls and recognizes his photo, but Pitre worries about how much longer that will last. He’d like to visit his father one last time before dementia robs them of a chance for a final goodbye.
“I would desperately like to go visit him sometime in the next few weeks before it is too late, and he does not recognize me anymore.”
Pitre filed a request with the government to visit New Brunswick through proper channels put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, but his application was denied.
If his father’s death was imminent, he would be allowed to visit.
I can drive from Gatineau in nine hours to Pointe-à-la-Croix, but I can’t drive the last five minutes to get to my parents’ house.– Mike Pitre
According to the province’s website, “The Canadian Red Cross has been authorized to approve travel into New Brunswick for end-of-life visits with an immediate family member.”
Those granted permits must still comply with self-isolation guidelines, but if they “need to attend a funeral, burial or end-of-life visit in a hospital, hospice or nursing home prior to completing 14 days of self-isolation, [they] must first test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth day of self-isolation.”
After a negative result, “you may only leave your place of self-isolation as required for an end-of-life visit or to attend a funeral or burial service in compliance with public health guidelines. If you need to visit your family member in home for end-of-life visit prior to completing 14 days of self-isolation, strict protocols for these visits will be provided to you by Red Cross staff.”
Sad and angry
“Apparently the new normal allows me to visit my father on his death bed or in a coffin but not while there is a spark of life still left in him,” Pitre wrote on Facebook.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, he said he’s sad, frustrated and angry.
“I can drive from Gatineau in nine hours to Pointe-à-la-Croix, but I can’t drive the last five minutes to get to my parents’ house. I don’t understand the logic. It just floors me,” he said.
Pointe-à-la-Croix is in eastern Quebec on the Restigouche River, across from Campbellton.
On Thursday, during the New Brunswick government’s live-streamed COVID-19 update, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard was asked about whether there’s any way for Pitre to visit his father.
“As of today, I’m not thinking that there’s a path, a clear path, here,” she said.
Shephard encouraged him to follow the process that’s in place and submit an application, “and I’m sure that as soon as we can make a positive answer, we will.”
She said it’s “heartbreaking,” but the rules are in place to protect the public.