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Grieving the Tragic Mass Shootings in Nova Scotia

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

As the details of the events of the mass shootings and the tragic loss of lives are unfolding, Nova Scotians and the world are reeling in shock and grief.


Nova Scotia is a small province, and for most of us we are directly or indirectly connected to the victims and their families. In my case, Lisa McCully taught my son’s boss’ child, a Debert Elementary School student. All of us affected by the shootings are experiencing pain, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims, and to the families and friends of the alleged perpetrator. All those directly affected must be experiencing intense suffering. We currently do not know and indeed may never know the motives of the perpetrator, but I am certain he must have been in extreme emotional and psychological pain in order to have acted as he did.


Photo from CBC News, Debert Elementary School


Phases of Grief


Our initial response to these tragic events may be denial or shock. Next, intense emotions such as sadness and anger can arise, and other feelings such as fear, guilt and even numbness. We may try to make sense of the events, or to look for ways it could have been prevented. The Centre for Complicated Grief defines two phases of grief, Acute Grief and Integrated Grief. Acute Grief is the initial intense feelings we experience and our task in this stage is to find ways to do things to help deal with the loss. Eventually, we move on to Integrated Grief, where we integrate the loss into our day to day lives. We don’t forget the loss, it remains a part of our life, but it no longer dominates our life. We all grieve in our own way and how long the process takes is unique to each person. Some people may need additional professional support if over time they are not able to move into Integrated Grief.


Acts of Kindness


As we go through the process of acute grief collectively and attempt to deal with the loss, we are challenged by the restrictions of physical distancing due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Yet we are finding creative ways to grieve. I am touched by the kindness and support I have seen demonstrated by Nova Scotians, whether it is by offering flowers, hearts and caring words at shrines, offering donations of money, or setting up vigils online or in your neighbourhood. We are strong and resilient, and with time we will move on to integrating this horrific event and its losses into our lives. My hope is that we do so while not losing our kindness and humanity.



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