Community mourns death of Mahone Bay couple in highway crash

by Michael Lee

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Dr. David Abriel, a palliative care physician living in Mahone Bay, pictured last summer when he spoke to LighthouseNOW about the federal government&#8217;s assisted dying legislation.</p>

A husband and wife from Mahone Bay are being remembered as a loving couple who cared as much about others as they did for each other.

Dr. David Abriel, 63, and his wife Heather Abriel, 64, died on February 2 after their vehicle collided with a truck on Highway 103 near Ingramport some time before 9 a.m.

Dr. Abriel, a palliative care physician who worked in Lunenburg, Bridgewater and Liverpool, towered over most, standing at well over 6 feet tall. He was known for his sense of humour, hearty laugh and for playing Father Christmas in Mahone Bay during the winter festival of the same name.

Heather, a teacher, is described as a loving mother and friend who always cared for her family.

"They were a very warm, generous couple who were devoted to each other," said friend and bandmate Jon Allen.

In 1990, the Abriels and their friends formed the band Midlife Crisis. They played their first gig at the Mug & Anchor Pub during the Mahone Bay Wooden Boat Festival, where they remained regular performers for 27 years.

They performed twice for Dr. Abriel's 25th and 35th medical school reunions at Algonquin Resort in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, and in 2012 released their third album "As Lovers Do."

Dr. David Moore, a dentist in Lunenburg and a member of Midlife Crisis, said he first met the Abriels at a party in the mid-1980s.

He said they remained best friends ever since, and their time in the band was full of jokes and teasing one another, whether it was for a mistake someone made on stage or Dr. Abriel's singing voice.

Talented musicians in their own right, Dr. Abriel played a number of instruments including the mandolin and bagpipes while Heather was gifted on the harp.

The two often played Scottish and Irish songs and performed at weddings and funeral receptions, including for Moore's own mother 15 years ago.

The band played less often when Dr. Abriel's health worsened last year and he was put on dialysis for a kidney disease.

Moore described the relationship between the couple as "joined at the hip," as he recalled how Heather would help her husband on house calls or the fact they shared a love of music outside of the band.

A picture posted on Heather's Facebook page on January 25 shows the couple celebrating Robbie Burns Day, enjoying haggis and a bottle of 12-year-old Glenlivet.

"Not that many couples spend as much time together as they did," said Moore.

Bandmate John Hughes said the Abriels were dedicated and loyal friends to him and his family for over 30 years and demonstrated a strong commitment to the community. "We will miss them very much," Hughes said.

"Dave's skilled leadership as a physician and Heather's support leaves a deep, far-reaching void in Nova Scotia. Dave and Heather's legacy of generosity, spirit and contributions to each other, family, extended family and the wider community will live on."

Dr. Abriel spoke to LighthouseNOW last summer about assisted dying legislation, and his concerns that the federal government's interpretation of Bill C-14 could place too many restrictions on those who wanted to die.

He also shared his thoughts on palliative care with Lighthouse Publishing in 2008 for our "About" series, a collection of interviews with community members.

On the evening of the accident, a moment of silence was held during a town council meeting in Lunenburg.

Mayor Rachel Bailey told LighthouseNOW the Abriels were extremely valued members of the community and said it was a sad day for Lunenburg County and beyond.

"I certainly didn't know the Abriels well, but I knew them by reputation, and I knew what they brought to the community, and they were tremendous citizens," she said.

"Dr. Abriel was a valued member of the medical team here in the area, served as head of the palliative care service, and was a very compassionate and much-loved doctor. I know Heather primarily as a musician and someone who brought a lot of joy to people ... They will be greatly missed."

The RCMP said a preliminary investigation determined the two vehicles involved in the collision were travelling in opposite directions on Highway 103.

The driver of the second vehicle, a 32-year-old male, was taken to hospital in Halifax. His status is unknown at this time.

The collision remains under investigation.

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