A person leaves flowers at a make-shift memorial dedicated to Constable Heidi Stevenson at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Monday, April 20, 2020. Investigators say a killer’s use of a mock police cruiser and an RCMP uniform almost identical to the real thing helped him escape detection as he travelled between 16 crime scenes in a rampage that has left at least 19 dead in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

A person leaves flowers at a make-shift memorial dedicated to Constable Heidi Stevenson at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Monday, April 20, 2020. Investigators say a killer’s use of a mock police cruiser and an RCMP uniform almost identical to the real thing helped him escape detection as he travelled between 16 crime scenes in a rampage that has left at least 19 dead in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

Mourners struggle to grieve Nova Scotia mass-murder victims during pandemic

The death toll for the shootings has risen to 23

The death toll from a massacre that stretched across rural Nova Scotia last weekend rose to 23 Tuesday as families grappled with the heart-wrenching question of how to mourn during a pandemic that is forcing people to stay apart.

Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, whose sister Jolene Oliver, brother-in-law Aaron Tuck and niece Emily Tuck were among the dead, was struggling with how to plan funerals. The victims have loved ones in both Nova Scotia and Alberta, where the sisters grew up, and the pandemic makes travel difficult.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with this whole COVID thing. It’s just so, so much,” an emotional Oliver-McCurdie said from Red Deer Monday. “I know she’s got people who love her here and people who love her there.”

Justin Zahl in Halifax was still searching for answers about his parents’ fate days after seeing images of their Portapique, N.S., home’s burnt remains, all while separated from his younger brother who’s in Albuquerque, N.M. He has no relatives in the province, and the Canada-U.S. border closure is keeping the brothers apart.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get my sibling up here,” Zahl said in an interview.

Premier Stephen McNeil called the rampage that began Saturday night in the quiet community of Portapique and ended at a gas station in Enfield on Sunday “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”

READ MORE: Death toll in Nova Scotia shootings rises to 23

But officials reminded Nova Scotians that the community would have to mourn together from a distance to stop the coronavirus from spreading, as cases and deaths from the illness also climbed.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, acknowledged at his daily news COVID-19 news conference Monday that it would be “hard for people to hear” reminders about the need for physical distancing in the aftermath of the killings.

“COVID-19 is not going to pause because of our pain — we cannot let our guard down,” Strang said.

Simon Sherry, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said while social and ritualized aspects of grief are important, they represent only one part of coping with death and dying.

“At an individual level, people can still make meaning and reach acceptance, even amid a pandemic and the heavy weight of a mass shooting,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

On Monday night, people across Nova Scotia were asked to express their grief by stepping outside at 8:30 p.m. to light a candle or shine some kind of light.

Others have displayed solidarity by posting photos of sunsets across the province. Toronto-based singing group Choir! Choir! Choir! announced a Facebook live performance of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ scheduled for Thursday. A virtual vigil is planned for Friday evening, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would attend.

Sherry said that kind of new ritual can be an important gesture of solidarity.

“When your community, when your province is suffering through grief like this, it’s important to emphasize a connection to community …. It’s important to refocus on community.”

A memorial with flowers and tributes sprung up outside the RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth this week to honour Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed in the line of duty.

But Stevenson’s funeral will look different from those held for slain officers at other points in Canadian history — like the regimental funeral for Fredericton police constables Robb Costello and Sara Burns in August 2018 that was attended by hundreds of police officers and first responders from across the continent.

“It’s going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. I really don’t know where they’re even going to begin,” said Brian Sauve, president of the union representing RCMP officers.

He said such events are always uniquely tragic and challenging, but there are possibilities available during the pandemic, such as livestreaming and inviting guests to park along roadways.

“There are ways in today’s day and age to honour the fallen,” he said. “It’s just in a different format.”

READ MORE: A look at some of the lives lost in Nova Scotia mass shooting

Quentrel Provo, an anti-violence and gun control activist who founded Stop the Violence, Spread the Love in Halifax, led a virtual candlelight vigil Monday night, opening with a prayer, a moment of silence and a reading of victims’ names during a livestream on Facebook.

Provo said it was emotionally tough to lead the event, which he set up to offer some hope as Nova Scotians feel overwhelmed by the pandemic and the violence of the weekend.

“A lot of tears have been shed. I know myself, I’ve cried a lot in the last few days,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“If we’re hurting, it’s unimaginable the pain the families are going through right now, but we’re trying to come together and be strong and show them support during this time.”

Provo said he plans to pay tribute to the victims by lighting a candle each night for the next 20 days, and he said people should continue to support each other and the families into the future.

Sherry said people should be careful not to suppress their grief during the pandemic — and it’s important to recognize that people will deal with grief in their own way.

“There is no one, particular timeline or course that someone needs to follow as they move through grief, loss and trauma,” he said.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Mass shootingsNova ScotiaRCMP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has been named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy for the BC Liberals. (Black Press file photo)
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross named critic for Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Previously, Ross was the critic for LNG, Resource Opportunities, and Responsible Development

Red sky in morning: an early-morning sunrise on May 16, 2020, captured just north of Kitimat. (Eric Roy photo)
Clare’s Corner: Hello, darkness, my old friend

Why does the after-work darkness affect you so much more as an adult than as a child?

(Corrado Colombo photo)
Corrado Colombo, with his wife, Lucy. Colombo is from Italy, but met Kitimat born-and-raised Lucy on one of his annual fishing trips to Kitimat in the early 2000s.
In Our Valley: Corrado Colombo

Corrado Colombo never expected that an annual fishing trip to Kitimat would change his life

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Most Read