Struggling through grief during pandemic isolation

By Helen Murphy    
April 22 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – Across the province and coast to coast, Canadians are struggling to come to terms with the horror that unfolded in rural Nova Scotia this past weekend and grieve during a time of physical isolation.

The numbers are hard to comprehend: at least 23 deceased, with 16 crime scenes stretching over about 90 kms from Portapique to Wentworth to Enfield. Among them, RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the RCMP and married mother of two. Another officer, 11-year veteran Const. Chad Morrison, who previously served at the Sherbrooke RCMP Detachment, was able to return home from hospital Monday after being injured.

“Earlier this afternoon, I met with Heidi's family and there are no words to describe their pain,” Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer, Lee Bergerman said in a statement Sunday. “Two children have lost their mother and a husband his wife. Parents lost their daughter and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague.”

“The RCMP is a very close-knit group of people,” Susan O’Handley told The Journal Tuesday. O’Handley recently retired after more than 34 years as an RCMP employee in Canso, primarily as detachment assistant. “There’s not too many members you don’t know or haven’t met in H-Division (N.S.’s division),” she said in speaking on the impact the tragedy is having on the RCMP family.

“The members are trained, they run toward that danger. They do their job and they do it very well,” she said. O’Handley was also a critical incident scribe in the RCMP, which brought her to some major crime scenes in N.S.

“It hits so close to home because it could be anyone going out on any call,” she said. “That’s what’s so hard and scary for everybody. It’s one of your own. It’s like a family member.

“They signed up to do good for people. They didn’t sign up to be hated, injured or killed.”

Among the many victims were also frontline healthcare workers, a teacher, correctional officers and a retired firefighter.

As COVID-19 restrictions continue, Nova Scotians and Canadians are finding ways to remember, console and come together online. Virtual vigils have begun and more are planned, including a national online vigil Friday evening.

While Nova Scotians grieve, questions are also being raised about how the public was notified that an active shooter was being pursued by police over a 12-hour period. The provincial alert system that puts out an alarm and message on cell phones, television and radio was not used. Instead, RCMP used Twitter to update the public on what was happening. More on this decision and other aspects of the response are expected in the coming days.