Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians across the country and around the world are all feeling the effects of the tragic loss of twenty-two lives in the recent shooting in Central Nova Scotia.

For the thousands of Maritimers living in Alberta, it can be painful to be so far from home. Especially watching and waiting to see how this loss of life connects directly or indirectly to people they know or places they might have taken for granted as safe. Already, due to COVID-19, people around the world are feeling disconnected from the places and people that bring them comfort, and this tragedy might feel especially difficult to bear.

Grief for these events, however, is not limited to those with a personal connection to Nova Scotia. Many of you reading this may not know anyone involved, but the grief you feel is quite real and very normal.

That you can get a slice of Pictou County Combination Pizza in NE Calgary, is an indication of the deep connections between our province and Nova Scotia. Right now, you’ll find tributes to Nova Scotia and flags flying around Alberta. These are expressions of collective grief, the voices of a community that wants to wrap its arms around families, friends and neighbours touched by this tragedy.

How do we Grieve Well?

The restrictions for COVID-19 present some unique challenges for grieving. Even so, it is possible to look after ourselves and others and make space for grief. The American Psychological Association (APA) has some helpful advice on coping with the aftermath of mass shootings. Below are some suggestions of how they might look during social and physical distancing:

Talk and Share

The APA emphasizes the importance of talking about it and sharing the feelings that are present. This can happen with the people in our household, but also group chats or over the phone or video. It might also mean participating in community shows of support for the people affected, such as an online vigil or message board.

Manage Your Media Diet

It is common to become immersed in grim and sad news. COVID-19 may have already presented the same challenge before the events in Nova Scotia occurred, which makes it all the more important to balance what we’re taking in. Find sources of good news and hopeful stories of humanity or being in this together. Most major news outlets are regularly posting good news stories. Mr. Rogers’ famous quote about coping in scary times is a good example of finding that balance: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Be a Helper

helping others or doing something productive can support a sense of meaning and purpose in difficult times. Our current physical distancing measures may require some creativity about how that looks, but there are always opportunities to help. You might contribute to a fundraiser, send messages of support, or even help out in our home communities by donating goods or time to support our neighbours. Contributing to social and community needs can contribute to a sense of meaning. Even treating someone you live with, a pet, or yourself extra kindly and tenderly can be a form of helping.

Take Care of Your Health and Well-being:

find ways to stay active and maintain a regular sleep schedule. When you can, get some sunshine on a walk, in the backyard, or on the balcony. Even eating a healthy diet with a variety of foods can all support coping with grief. Comfort food is okay too.

Ask for Help

If you are finding it difficult to cope with how you are feeling at any time, you can reach out to friends, loved ones, or professional support services. Our Rapid Access Counselling program is delivered online over video conference, with appointments available often within a day or two. It is okay to need extra support.

All of us will grieve at points in our lives, and for each of us, it will be a little different. Whether you’ve been impacted directly by tragedy, or if you find yourself grieving for the people and families around you, take time to let yourself feel your feelings. Use some of the ideas above, if you find them helpful, to take care of yourself as you work your way through your grief, and reach out for support when you need it.

Julie Stewart, MSW, RSW, Rapid Access Counsellor and Coordinator