Category Archives: Articles


On Saturday morning (25 July 2009) Clyde River’s Interagency Critical Incident and Trauma Response Team formally met for the first time at the Ilisaqsivik Family Resource Centre.  Members of this team respond to critical incidents such as people lost on the land, suicide attempts or completions, fires, vehicle accidents, murders, drowning, and other sudden deaths.

This meeting was arranged following a workshop sponsored by Ilisaqsivik Family Resource Center.  The Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and Trauma Response workshop supported Clyde River counsellors, elders and community members to further develop their skills in facilitating Critical Incident Stress Debriefings and explored a variety of strategies of effectively responding to traumatic events. Terry Garchinski of Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc. facilitated the workshop along with local elders, who helped to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.  12 people participated in the workshop including elders, youth, and Ilisaqsivik counsellors.

During the workshop, participants identified the need to develop a contact list of organizations, names of contact people and telephone numbers so everybody would know who to call in an event of an emergency.  The following organizations were identified as important: The Health Centre, RCMP, Fire Fighters, Rangers, Search & Rescue, School, Hamlet Office, Anglican Church, Illisaqsivik Family Resource Center, Elder’s Committee, Community Counsellors and the Coroner’s Office.

Workshop participants also identified a need for representatives from each organization to meet regularly, network, and talk about who they are, what they do and how they could better work together.  This was the reason for calling the first team meeting.

Joanna Qillaq was appointed as the team’s Co-ordinator.  Joanna is a Counsellor at Ilisaqsivik and serves on Search and Rescue. Joanna is also fluent in both Inuktitut and English.

The team also took the opportunity to welcome the new RCMP officer, Craig Kielbiski to the community.  Craig arrived in Clyde River just 4 days before the meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for September.


Life Lessons Come Full Circle By Kathy Ponath, Naicam News

Volume 18 No.10 Friday, March 10, 2006

Terry Garchinski has made helping people come to terms with grief and loss his life work. Just as he and his own family were coming to terms with a very profound loss, he returned to his alma mater, Naicam School, to share with its students about his work and the lessons he has learned.

On March 1st, Terry spent a morning giving two presentations to Grades 7 to 9 and Grades 10 to 12, based on his book, I Believe. He shared with the students that he was home in Naicam because his mother was in the process of dying. After a very long and courageous battle with cancer, Stella Garchinski passed away within days of Terry’s presentation at the school.

Terry spoke warmly and informally to the groups of students, disarming them with his direct approach to a subject that most find difficult to talk about.  But he said, all of us, if we are human beings who have made attachments, have had to deal with loss at one time or another in our lives, and will deal with loss and pain again. It is what we choose to do with those experiences that will make the difference in our lives and in the lives of others.

His own, very present, situation was used as an example.  His mother had been dealing with a devastating illness for 19 years and her choices in the face of the losses the illness brought was to live her life fully. It was an experience that taught him and other members of his family to value every moment.

Terry and his wife Elaine Woodward co-own Life Works Counselling Services, with offices in Yellowknife, N.W.T. and Millarville, Alta.  Terry is a Therapeutic Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator who has been called to give workshops all over Canada, especially in the north. He and members of the Life Works team have been brought in to help communities deal with tragedies such as death due to accidents, violence and suicide.  He has also worked with people struggling to recover from family violence or alcohol and drug abuse.  However he stresses that what he does is help people to find healing from within.

He told the students, “You are the only person who can deal with your own hurt and pain.”

Terry has traveled an interesting road to his current expression of his life work. He values the roots his family, his faith and the community of his youth have given him.  He says it gave him a sense of belonging and appreciation for the safety of community.

One of his foundational experiences happened when he was a little boy playing at the town’s ball diamonds. Curiosity led to a dangerous and violent encounter with the pitching machine, which resulted in a brain injury and partial paralysis. Terry recovered but still walks with a limp as a result of the accident.  He told the students, “One thing I was told over and over again after the accident was, “You are lucky to be alive.” “And. . . I believed it.” He went on, “But you know if I’m lucky to be alive… so are you.”

That appreciation for life and all its attending joys and sorrows was expanded throughout several other life experiences.  After attaining a degree in Philosophy, Terry was drawn to teach English at an orphanage in South America. This would be an adventure by most standards without considering that he decided to hitchhike to get there. His parents later told him that when he left Naicam, they were afraid that it would be the last time they would see him.

Their fears were not groundless it was a dangerous time to travel through Central and South America, a time of revolution and lawlessness.  At one point Terry was robbed and left with $5.00 to his name.  He says that this experience, essentially an experience of being powerless, opened his eyes to the fact that for most people in the world, life was not what he had experienced in Naicam.

After teaching English in Peru for a couple of years, he decided to see for himself why so many people were homeless in the big cities of North America and what it was like to live on the street.

He told this part of his story to the students with the help of a quena, a Peruvian recorder-like instrument. This simple musical instrument became the source of his livelihood and a source of envy of other street people. He was able to buy food each day with the money he made busking, a luxury not every street person could afford. He played a couple of simple tunes for the students and explained that his experiences on the street in cities like Washington, New York and Miami gave him a greater understanding of what the world was like outside of his experience as a white, middle class male from a relatively privileged background.

After 18 months living on the street, he returned to Saskatchewan and became a live-in helper for a man suffering from cerebral palsy, while taking a degree in social work. His work in therapeutic counselling led him to Northern Canada and to his present day work.

He wrote I Believe as a tool to use in his work. It looks and reads like a children’s book but is actually a parable for adults. He invited a person from each audience to come forward and read the book aloud to their peers and he further invited students to respond to the symbolism in the book and what it meant to them.

The symbolism of the book and a message that resonates throughout the therapeutic; work Terry does is that we are all connected through human experience and that pain and loss are essential parts of that experience. Those difficult experiences can present blockages in our pathway or journey through life that keep us from experiencing a full life.

However if we choose to persist, to have faith and look to our life map or set of beliefs for direction, we will come into that fullness. He said  that he was able to take risks because of his faith and his belief that he had a “map” inside that would guide him if he took time to find out where it directed him. He encouraged the students to look for that inner direction, unique to each person.

Terry also took extra pleasure in pointing out that the models for some of the characters in the book were members of his own family – his son Thomas, his dad Frank and his grandfather. The heritage reflected in the artwork is also reflected in the message that the human connections we have in life can cause us grief and pain when they are lost, but they are also a source of healing and re-connection that can bring us full circle to a place of wholeness. This is a lesson Terry continues to learn, even as he teaches it to others.


Hands in Prayer: Help Us To Heal, Sahtu Region, 2006

Hands in Prayer: Help Us To Heal, Sahtu Region, 2006

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.”


By Terry Garchinski, B.A., R.S.W.

Terry  is the Co-owner and Therapeutic Counsellor for Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc., in Millarville, Alberta.

Emotions are like sign posts along the road of life: they let me know where I am at, what to expect ahead, how to get to where I want to go and even where I have been.

How dangerous and confusing it would be to travel down the highway to High River and not read the road signs. During road construction, a bridge may be out requiring me to take a detour. If I don’t follow the signs, I might drive into Sheep River!

What a risk it would be not to slow down and be vigilant  when I see signs of moose droppings on the highway to Bragg Creek. I could end up with a moose on my lap and a  major bill to replace the window on my truck.

As obvious as these examples may be, many of us take similar risks by not paying attention to our emotions. This happens when I tell myself  that my emotions are not important or pretend that they do not exist. I believe it is especially dangerous if I bury my emotions and not let them out by expressing them.

Boys and men, girls and woman cry if they want to remain emotionally healthy and balanced.   Those of us who want to remain emotionally healthy and balanced also laugh, get angry, express fear, frustration, loneliness, and joy. It is important to let my emotions out by naming them and expressing them.

If I don’t let my emotions out, they can build up over time and  become unmanageable.

I like to compare emotional management to household garbage management. If I don’t take out my household garbage every day, it will eventually build up and take up space in my home and start to stink. I may even have to cook my pancakes outside of my kitchen because it is too messy with garbage.

The same can be true with my emotions. If I don’t express my emotions, they can start taking up a lot of space inside of me and start to push me outside my own self. When this happens, I may find myself uncomfortable or unsafe being alone. I may seek comfort and escape in the use of drugs or alcohol. I may tune out by watching TV for hours on end. I may find myself attempting to control others and feeling totally out of control myself. Gambling may become more important than feeding my family. I may lose interest in my relationships. I may be constantly irritable and angry.   I may find myself doing things that are against my own values. I may sense that there is something missing in my life. I may feel that my life has no purpose or direction.

Healthy emotional management can be especially difficult for boys and men who have not been taught basic emotional literacy. Because boys tend to develop slower verbally than girls, boys tend to express their emotions with their bodies through physical  movement such as constant activity, rough housing, and sports. This emotional expression is not generally validated or approved of during school class time, around the dinner table or at bed time. Boys learn early that it is not OK to express themselves emotionally. Many are even teased, laughed at, punished or medicated for expressing themselves emotionally through their body movements. All of us need to be emotionally validated and to learn a variety of ways of expressing ourselves emotionally.

When children are stifled emotionally at an early age, they do not learn how to read their own or other people’s emotions, how to acknowledge them, how to name them, how to express them or how to respond to them in appropriate, healthy way. They do not ask themselves, “what are my emotions telling me right now?”  Their emotional vocabulary is limited to “happy, sad or mad” or “I don’t know how I am feeling.”

When emotions build up over time they can explode in an angry violent outburst or they can implode in a severe depression. Before either of these things occur, I can choose to take preventative action by developing a healthy emotional management plan. The following are some things a plan can include:

  • eat well, sleep well and partake in daily physical activities
  • talk about how I am feeling to a healthy, non judgmental friend or partner
  • play or listen to music
  • choose healthy sex in a committed relationship
  • write a daily journal
  • meditate and pray
  • cry, laugh and get excited
  • go on the land:  hunting, fishing, camping, golfing
  • be creative:  write poetry, paint, garden, fix an old vehicle
  • ask myself, “what are my emotions telling me right now?”

Emotions are like sign posts along the road of life: they help me to safely reach my life’s destinations.


By Terry Garchinski, B.A., R.S.W.

Terry  is the Owner and Therapeutic Counsellor for Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc. in Millarville, Alberta.

Understanding boundaries is one of the most useful concepts for people who want to make positive changes in their own lives and to have healthy relationships with others.

A few years ago, when I was hitchhiking alone down a country highway just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, two German Shepherds and a Doberman Pincher helped me to understand boundaries. I was walking backwards on the side of the highway with my thumb out watching vehicles go by. When no more vehicles were coming, I turned around and to my shock the three dogs were sitting at the edge of their master’s driveway no more than 50 metres away from me. The dogs seemed to be licking their lips as they smiled at me.

My immediate reaction was to cover my throat and crotch with my hands. I rationalized that I would give the dogs two bites each before I tried fighting back or running away. Already being so close to the dogs, I thought that if I turned and walked back in the direction from which I came, they would know how terrified I really was and they would attack. My only option was to cross to the other side of the highway and walk by them no more than 8 metres away. I did not look at the dogs directly. With my head down, I occasionally glanced at them from the corner of my eye.

They were well trained dogs: they practiced boundary maintenance behaviour. They operated on the premise, “If you threaten our space or cross our boundary uninvited we will defend our territory. But if you respect our boundaries we will let you go on your way.”

By me respecting their boundary, they allowed me to freely walk past them. When I was a certain distance away, they walked back to the farmhouse. I no longer was a concern to them.

In the same way, individuals, couples, families and even workplaces need to practice respectful boundary maintenance behaviour if they want to continue on their healthy life’s journey.

In healthy workplaces, employees are guided by job descriptions, written policies and procedures, defined goals and expectations, defined roles and responsibilities and contractual agreements. Each of these help to define the boundaries.

Individuals must ask themselves the following questions to clearly define their own boundaries:  What is my stuff and what is not my stuff? What is in my authority, power and control, what is not? What am I responsible and accountable for and what am I not? The answers to these questions define the boundaries.

In healthy relationships, boundaries also need to be clearly defined and negotiated in agreements because there is overlap. For example, a married couple both have roles and  responsibilities for chores around the house, for childcare and for contributing to the sexual and financial well being of the relationship. The exact division of responsibility and authority depends on the couple’s agreements. These agreements need to be revisited from time to time as people or their situation change. The terms of the agreement need to be communicated and explicitly defined or else assumptions are made, boundaries are unintentionally crossed and people feel hurt.


Terry Garchinski, B.A., R.S.W., is a therapeutic counsellor and workshop facilitator with Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc.

Family violence and abuse begins with not dealing with our own hurtful thoughts and feelings.

If we don’t take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings, then it is a short but pain-filled step to blame others: “You made me feel this way!  It is your fault!  You are to blame for my hurt and pain!”

If we use this unhealthy pattern to avoid our own hurt, then we are setting ourselves up, and those closest to us, to experience even more hurt.  This crazy-making merry-go-round is like a hurricane increasing in intensity, just waiting to hit something and release its pent-up, destructive force.  From this comes the choice, “I hurt, so now, I am going to hurt you!”

In an attempt to get control of ourselves, we act out by trying to control others – usually those closest to us.

We may explode outwards through anger, yelling, swearing, pushing, punching, judgements, manipulating, sexual assault, spiritual abuse, or put downs:  “You are not worthy of my love.  You are nothing.”

Or, we implode inwards through depression, isolation, high-risk behaviour, cutting ourselves, hitting walls, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide attempts, compulsively playing BINGO, not valuing ourselves as precious human beings, or put downs.  “I am not worthy of being loved.  I am nothing.”

As human beings, we need to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe from hurt.  But the need to control others is nothing more than an outer false sense of safety, which disregards our own responsibility and authority to first create inner safety, make responsible choices and take appropriate action.

As adults, regardless of how we were hurt or who hurt us, we are each responsible for our own healing, safety, and choices.  When we are hurt, or when we are reminded of the hurt from our childhood, it is more helpful to respond to that hurt in responsible ways and with good words.

Here are some of suggestions of some good words that we might say to ourselves or to an abusive family member: “I am worthy.  I don’t deserve to be hurt.  I love you but not your behaviour.  I love you but not your drinking.  I will support your good choices but not your bad choices.  I will not carry your pain any longer.  I forgive you.   If you hit me again, I will charge you.  Hitting is not love.  Your hurtful words are not funny.  When you put me down, you are being disrespectful to yourself and to me.  You are responsible for your behaviour and choices and I am responsible for mine.”

When a family member continues to refuse to take responsibility for his or her violent behaviour, sometimes, the most loving word we can say to that person is “Good-bye.”


by HC Miller, Alberta Native News, November 2004

Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc. offers a variety of different workshops to help their Aboriginal clients deal with many of life’s problems, and one common reason for those difficulties keeps surfacing. “The residential school experience is the dysfunction in which many families live today,” explains Elaine Woodward, Executive Director. “In the services that we provide a lot of our counselling is around the trauma of the residential school abuse, and that carries right into family violence issues,” she says. “Often entire communities have concerns around abuse, so we’re not just working with individuals or even families.”

With offices in Yellowknife and Millarville, which is a 25-minute drive southwest of Calgary, counsellors travel to clients on a regular basis. “They may be in a community once every four or five weeks, especially in the northern settlements which are more remote, with counsellors flying in. Or they may be able to attend more often,” she adds. “It all depends on availability of our trainers and counsellors. We already have bookings extending well into the winter.”

Counsellors work with individuals and families to heal the abuse, within their community, once their leaders have engaged the services of Life Works. “Part of the healing process is bringing us in, and then doing as much as they can on their own as well,” she says. “Everyone wants this common goal of healthy lifestyles for healthy families, and together they are working to achieve it.” The answers to the problems lie within the people themselves, and Life Works facilitates the process, she adds. “They know what they want but don’t always know how to bring themselves to the solution, so we help with getting the answers out into the open so they can work on them. We use different techniques and approaches in order to find those answers.  We often find people saying they have carried grief or unhappiness throughout their entire lives, maybe forty years or more, and finally, they are releasing it and beginning to heal.”

Traditional healers and Elders are a welcome addition to the training team as well.  “They do traditional ceremonies and travel willingly to communities,” says Woodward.

Woodward is a Métis, originally from Anzac, Alberta.  “I lived in the Northwest Territories for over 30 years, and my husband and I established our business there in 1994 before expanding southward.”

No matter where they conduct workshops, they find the same problems are often at the root of the dysfunction, but the willingness and ability to heal themselves are also common to all participants, she says.

Life Works has numerous other workshops which they deliver as well, including: workplace services, stress management, healing with music, dealing with grief and loss, strategic planning, suicide prevention and teambuilding.  Well known names amongst Life Works facilitators include George Tuccaro, Lea Bill, Rita Chretien and Terry Garchinski.  Most counsellors and facilitators are of Aboriginal descent and the business is Aboriginal-majority owned. All are highly qualified.

“We hope eventually to provide a full range of services through northern and western Canada,” adds Woodward.

With November being the month that Albertans focus on the issues surrounding family violence, she urges everyone who needs help to reach out and begin the path to healing. “No matter where you are coming from, you can reach a respectful and happy lifestyle, full of dignity and love, and fulfilling relationships,” she says. “But you have to take the first step yourself.”

Circle Strong Song

Circle Strong is a song that Terry Garchinski wrote with youth at Northern Addictions Youth Inhalant Program in September 1995.  Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.


© Terry Garchinski 1995

Looking in your big brown eyes

Can’t hide the tears or the lies

So much pain it’s been there too long

And now you are here and you’re so strong

I take your hand and walk with you tonight

We’ve walked in darkness but now we’re in the light

I feel your pain I’ve walked this road before

Let’s raise our voices and walk through that door.


Let’s keep the circle strong:  I’ll be me and you be you

Together we’ll sing: “We will all be true.”

Let’s keep the circle strong:  I’ll be me and you be you

Together we’ll sing: “Keep the circle strong.”

Looking at the eagle in the sky

Signs of hope, the elders cry

Words of wisdom, the healing has begun

And now it’s time to come together as one.  (chorus)

And now you are gone I hold you in my heart

One thousand miles we journeyed from the start

I’ll pray for you, please pray for me

You’re a beautiful butterfly born to be free.  (chorus)


Terry recorded Circle Strong on his CD Healing Ground.

For more information or to order this CD, contact:


The Healing Circle Prayer

The following prayer was written by the youth and staff at Northern Addiction Services Inhalant Abuse Treatment Program.  March 1996.  It was written in a healing circle which was facilitated by Terry Garchinski.


Please God,

Help my family, friends and the treatment clients,

Help us to go through rough times,

–to be strong and healthy,

–to keep the circle strong,

–to follow direction and keep us away from harm,

–to make good choices,

–to heal our illness,

–to grow,

–to be true,

–to forgive.

Help people who are in jail or prison.

Help people who are suicidal.

Help free our spirit.

Heal me from the hurt of my anger,

Clean me from all unrighteousness,

Keep me safe while in treatment.

Give us the strength and power,

Keep evil spirits away from us,

Forgive those who are not well,

Deliver us from chemicals.

Create in us a new clean heart and renew our spirit.

Please God give us encouragement to take it one day at a time.

God, let us be with you and please stay with us.

Bless us.

Take care of us.

Thank you for your love and for giving us life.


Keep the Circle Strong!


By:  Terry Garchinski, Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc.

Submitted to the Yellowknifer, Northern News Services Ltd., July 2, 2004, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

When someone dies, we are left reaching out and that person is not there to reach back. Instead of shaking that person’s hand or hugging that person, there is no one there. There is no hand to shake. There is no body to hug. We are separated, disconnected, detached, apart. We are left hanging. We are left in emptiness. We are left with thoughts, feelings and experiences that hang in the air like broken telephone lines. Where once we were connected, now the connections are broken. We are alone.

The loss can be overwhelming. We can go into shock. Our thoughts can be confused and our emotions can be extreme or we could feel nothing at all.

In the short term, we might respond by being alone, pushing everyone else away, being angry with God, being angry at the world or particular people or situations, seeing the world as a scary, hurtful place. We might be very afraid of someone else close to us or ourselves dying. We might respond by drinking until we are drunk or pass out or black out. We might use drugs to push the hurt and pain down deep inside of us. We might gamble or do some other activity to distract us. We might blame, judge or fault others or ourselves.

But if we continue to do any of these things as a way of coping over a longer period of time, we are killing ourselves. We are dying inside. We are killing our bodies, our hearts, our minds and our spirits. This is not grieving in a healthy way. This is running away from our own responsibilities to ourselves, our families and our community.

To grieve in a healthy way is to face death and to sort out our own loose ends.

To grieve in a healthy way is to make sense of the death.  To the best our ability create the story of life and death, describe what happened, how did the person die? What was going on before, during and after the person’s death?

To grieve in a healthy way is to sort out our thoughts. What was my first thought when I learned that the person had died? What did I think about the circumstances of the death? What do I think about the inevitability of my own death or the death of those I love the most?

To grieve in a healthy way is to sort out our feelings. What did I first feel when I learned that the person had died?  What did I feel the next day? What did I feel when I saw the body?  What did I feel at the funeral? What is my anger telling me? What is my fear telling me? What is my sadness telling me? What else am I feeling? How do I respond to these feelings?

To grieve in a healthy way is to reconnect with oneself, to reconnect with the person who had died on a spiritual level through ceremonies, memories, songs and stories  about the person. To grieve in a healthy way is to reconnect with the land. There is a bigger picture. There is a higher power. To regain balance in our life again we need to connect with the Creator: the One who gives, maintains and takes away all life.

Healthy grieving happens over time. We make choices and we follow through with action. Ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her own grieving but we don’t have to do it alone. It is more effective to grieve with others: within the  relationships of friends; family and our community.

The choices and actions that can aid us to grieve in a healthy way are unique to each person. Because our relationship with the deceased person is unique, therefore,  our grief will also be unique. We need to grieve in our own way – in a way that is beneficial for us to accept the reality of the changes that death brings. A way to help us to move to the new reality: life without the deceased person. These are some things that may be helpful:

  • Participate in a wake and a funeral;
  • Pray (in your own way with sage, sweat grass or a Rosary);
  • Cry;
  • Talk to an elder, counsellor, spiritual leader;
  • Participate in ceremonies (Feed the Fire Ceremony);
  • Sit with a medicine person;
  • Go out on the land (hunting caribou,  fishing, having a picnic);
  • Tell stories to friends and family about the person who died;
  • Participate in a Sweat;
  • Visit the grave site and talk to the person who has died;
  • Set a plate for the deceased person on special occasions (birthdays, Christmas, Easter, anniversaries);
  • Participate in a feast;
  • Write in a journal;
  • Write a letter to the deceased person, say all the things you want to say, and then send it to the person by burning it in a fire.

Grieving well is to experience and make sense of these broken connections, and to reconnect the loose ends that the death has left with us.

If we grieve well, we can better appreciate our own life and the lives of all living things. Grieving well invites us to walk with respect, honour and love. Grieving well invites us not to put our own hurt and pain on ourselves or on other people, but to use it as an opportunity to live more deeply with greater awareness. To grieve well is to live well.