By: The Participants of the Youth Healing From Loss and Grief Workshop
Fort Good Hope (7-10 November 2006)
Compiled by Terry Garchinski of Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc.
This past summer in Fort Good Hope, nine people died in two separate accidents. Three people died in a boating accident (22 July 2006) while six people died in a plane accident (16 August 2006).
In response to these tragedies, Melinda Laboucan, the Youth Worker for the K’asho Got’ine Dene Band invited Terry Garchinski and Jacqui Bent of Life Works Counselling Services to facilitate a four-day Loss and Grief Workshop for the youth (ages 12-25) of Fort Good Hope. The workshop was held from 7-10 November 2006. Eighteen youth participated in the workshop. Melinda Laboucan, Sr. Pauline Girodat, Sr. Joan Liss and Dana Eisinger also participated and acted as adult supports for the youth.
Given such sudden and tragic deaths, it was remarkable to see how well the youth are grieving and coping with the loss of their family members and friends. As part of their healing, these young people wanted to share what has and is helping them deal with their losses. This is a collective summary of what they said as individuals. Even though the following was spoken by many voices, it is written in the first person. These are their words summarized and spoken as one person who is consciously choosing to grieve and to heal:
“What has helped me is to receive the support of my parents, grandparents, big brother, older sister and friends: to know that I am not alone, even when I am feeling sad and lonely. It also helped when neighbours and community members came to my house to visit and showed me their love and support by offering food, sympathy cards and money for food, medicine and travel.”
“I didn’t die when the boat and the plane went down. The people I loved died. I am still alive and I am glad to be alive even as I sort through this pain. It is helpful to carry on with regular life. Doing homework helps me. It also helps to pat my dog, hang out with friends, watch TV, clean up around the house, eat, sleep, sit on the pot, listen to music, hug mom and play catch with dad.”
“Getting out on the land has also helped. I like to go hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, driving my quad and boating. When I am picking berries, cleaning a fish or skinning a caribou, I am keeping busy in a good way but I also have time to think about stuff. I think it is OK to go back to the moment when I first heard about the accident. It gives me a chance to think about what happened, and sort through my thoughts and feelings. Even though this is hard to do, I feel better afterwards. It sure is a lot better than ignoring it. When I ignore it I get angry. I would rather be happy than sad and angry all the time.”
“Sometimes it helps when I scream really loudly.”
“It is helpful to get myself hyper and physically active. Playing sports helps me to move the energy that seems to be stuck in my body. I play hockey, snowboard, slide down the hill, snowball fight, play games outside and figure skate.
“Some other people may disagree with me but sometimes it helps me to drink alcohol and smoke up. I know that this is only a short-term help and I know it can lead to a lot more problems. I have seen how it has hurt other members of my community. But this is what I have done when I have been partying with my friends. I know other people have chosen not to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana or cigarettes at all. Everyone is responsible for the choices they make. I am responsible for mine.
“I like playing hand games, drum dancing, singing, baking, sewing, beading, writing poetry and shopping. I also like to play the guitar, watch movies, draw and paint. I stopped doing these things for a while but stopping was not helpful. I don’t have to punish myself because of the accidents. It was not my fault. There was nothing I could have done to prevent them from dying.
“It has been helpful to remember the good times and the bad times. I go through the photo album. I have written letters to those who have died and fed the letters to the fire.
“Crying helps. So does laughing. I would rather laugh but sometimes I need to cry. It does not help to keep it in. I need to listen to my body and to my heart. If I don’t let it out, I get angry and depressed.
“It helps to take care of my body: to have a cup of water, to take a shower, to wash my face, brush my teeth, cut my hair and nails. I like to feel pretty. It helps me to recognize that I am beautiful, valuable and worthy of being alive.
“The funerals helped. I knew I was not alone in my grief. Everybody was hurting and we shared that hurt together. People came from every community in the Sahtu. There were a lot of elders who came just to be with us.
“It helps to pray. I go to the graveyard and I say the things I need to say. I also meditate.
“It helps to talk about the accidents and the deaths. I use the phone or go on the internet. It helps to see a counsellor and to go to a healing workshop. This workshop made me think of the other losses I experienced from suicides, murder, diseases, and the snowmobile accident. If I don’t talk about them, they all pile up and get mixed up and overwhelming. It makes me want to run away. I am choosing to live even after the ones I love died, so I talk, even though it is hard. I choose to put time aside to do this.
“It is about balance. Almost anything I do can help me. But if I am doing it to avoid dealing with the pain inside, then it is really hurting me. It is good to keep busy but I also have to take time to heal. Reading books helps. Working on the computer helps. I got a job. Sometimes it is good just to get away, travel to another place like Yellowknife or Edmonton or go to a concert. Or just drive around.
“It is helpful to connect with people: to see an old friend, to meet new people, to participate in a sharing circle or just hang around my girlfriend. But sometimes, I just want to be alone.
“Patience, trust, and being truthful also help.
“I know that everybody has their own time and way to heal from such losses. I know that nobody can heal me. I have to choose to heal, accept people’s support and take responsibility for my own healing. In the end, what I am really doing is just letting out all my pain. And I can do this in so many ways. It even helps me when I sit by the river, get a breath of fresh air and watch the sunset.
“At other times, I really don’t know what to do or say or feel or how I can heal. I just wish they didn’t die.”