Grieving in isolation: N.S. doing its best to come together after tragedy
TORONTO -- When tragedies strike small towns, residents gather to embrace and support each other, to share grief and memories of victims, and to find a way, collectively, to carry on.
And when a police officer is killed in action, there is a solemn memorial to pay tribute to their sacrifice.
In this time of a pandemic lockdown, none of that can happen for the families of victims or the closely-knit communities in Nova Scotia that have been devastated by one of Canada’s worst mass killings, in which at least 18 innocent people have lost their lives.
Health and political leaders are warning against public funerals or community candlelit vigils, along with private gatherings in homes to comfort the grieving families.
“We understand how incredibly painful it is for families who've lost loved ones in Nova Scotia this past day, to imagine that they're not going to be able to see them off together as a community,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday morning in what has become a daily address to Canadians during the pandemic.
“This is something that we are dealing with right now. That is heartbreak on top of other heartbreaks. And I know that everyone will be looking for ways to demonstrate their solidarity without putting further at risk communities, first responders, our health professionals and our seniors."
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health urged people to follow public health restrictions that are in place and to “mourn safely.”
The province has limited gatherings to no more than five people and to maintain physical distancing of more than two metres.
"COVID-19 is not going to pause because of our pain," said Dr. Robert Strang at a Monday COVID-19 update when he announced 46 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the total to 721.
Premier Stephen McNeil urged residents to remember the world is still fighting a deadly virus and to express their solidarity by tying the province’s blue, green and yellow tartan around trees, or to display it in windows or on balconies.
"It may not seem like enough, but for now it's a way for all of us to come together, without coming together," he said at the public health update.
As the personal stories of the “promise and hope” of the victims emerge, McNeil told CTV News Channel that shock is being replaced by deepening grief.
“One of the heartaches of COVID-19 is not being able to hold the hand of loved ones or to properly memorialize them.” That will make healing very difficult, he said.
“Whether you know a victim or not, your heart is broken.”
Social media is stepping into the void, including a Facebook page called Ultimate Online Nova Scotia Kitchen Party, where Canadians are sharing condolences and musical performances.
The RCMP in Nova Scotia urged people Monday to continue to abide by emergency lockdown regulations put in place. The RCMP lost a 23-year veteran, Const. Heidi Stevenson, in the devastating rampage.
“We're touched by the outpouring from Nova Scotians wanting to honour Cst. Stevenson and the member injured,” the RCMP tweeted.
“A condolence email has been set up and messages will be passed along to Cst. Stevenson's family: RCMP.Condolences-Condoleances.GRC@rcmp-grc.gc.ca.”
Colchester County, where the community of Portapique is located, is planning an online memorial for Friday.
Mayor Christine Blair says the community is “reeling” and “heartbroken” and that the COVID-19 situation “adds another layer of hurt.” While physical distancing remains critical, she says, it’s important that residents stay in touch through other means.
“They will do the best they can under the state of emergency,” she said on CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
Family therapist Michael Ungar of Halifax told CTV’s Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme Monday that the province is made up of the kind of people who deliver casseroles to people in hard times. And now an entire province needs to reach out to each other, but can only do that virtually.
“Everyone will know somebody. We are all just one degree of separation from this tragedy, I am absolutely sure about that.”
A collective memorial is the opportunity to come together and search for meaning in a horrible time, said Ungar.
“People will always find a way to share this experience and to be there for the people that are grieving,” Larry Harrison, a PC MLA in Nova Scotia said on CTV News Channel Monday.
The tragedy has struck him personally. Harrison grew up with the mother of Lisa McCully, an elementary teacher who was shot and killed by the suspect. A former clergy, Harrison conducted both the wedding and the memorial service for McCully’s brother.
Stacey Harrison, executive director of the Colchester East Hants Hospice Society, says her organization is focused on supporting the families of victims and providing resources to affected communities.
“Normal is no longer normal,” she said of the lockdown reality.
Her organization is asking people to gather virtually to share stories and photos of loved ones who have been lost.