Grief, Trauma & Tragedy as a First Responder Family

first responder first responder family first responders grief line of duty death mental health occupational stress operational stress trauma


“They were police officers and teachers, small business owners and nurses, denturists and prison guards. They were mothers and fathers, couples with long marriages and newlyweds — and teenagers too. Together, they are the victims of the worst mass shooting in Canadian history” (National Post).  

As a mother, and a First Responder Spouse, also having worked as a civilian in police organizations, having been born and raised on the east coast of Canada, and having previously lost an RCMP uncle in the line of duty,  I felt gut punched as I watched the news this week.  Our First Responder family stood in  shock as the details and the magnitude of this tragedy unfolded. Like you, we have been trying to make sense of it.

 Many of the lives lost are first responders, along with other good people  serving in their small rural community of Portapique, Nova Scotia- law enforcement, healthcare workers, paramedics, corrections, 911 dispatchers,  firefighters and teachers. 

Here’s the deal, when things like this happen, it affects us all and each of us will feel it differently.   Whether it’s shock, disbelief, fear, denial, anger, or sadness, there is no one right way to feel right now. Checking in with yourself and those around you, is essential.

A mass shooting impacts the immediate survivors,  survivor’s guilt may occur. It will affect those who love, know and live near or were directly connected with those whose lives were tragically taken, for years to come. 

It will also affect those on the peripheral, near or far who can identify with this  experience. Maybe you connect with this mass casualty incident because of  a similar life experience, lifestyle, profession or role to those whose lives were lost.  As a mother, father, sister, brother, nurse, teacher, health care, first responder family, Canadian, east coaster, etc.. even globally, we can feel connected and impacted. 

When a loss occurs with trauma, it is a complicated, deep grief to process. Grieving is a process whereby as we grieve the relationship and experiences we had with that relationship,  it causes us to look at all of our relationships in our life and re-evaluate the purpose and meaning of life. A situation where someone purposely intended to cause harm and hurt others, is called bereavement trauma, and can reshape our worldview and our feelings of safety.

First Responders and First Responder Families, whether serving or watching it play out in the media, may experience secondary grief. Any unprocessed grief can be triggered and resurfaced by these events.  Complicating the loss we are already feeling, is having it occur during a global pandemic. The impact of social isolation now can complicate the grief experience even more.

As a First Responder Family, we can place ourselves in their First Responder Families shoes, empathize with and internalize the grief they hold. First Responder Families, you might feel more vulnerable with this mass casualty incident reminding you of the dangers of the job. No matter how close or far across this continent you live or if you personally know those who died, you as a First Responder Family are likely affected, as we are connected. First Responder Families are a tightly connected community and closely identify with one another as we understand the similar lifestyle of this career choice. 

It’s because of our connection that we will heal together, by coming together, sharing stories, hugging, crying on each other’s shoulders, sharing food, playing music and being in community together. Now we will do these things while at a social distance, the best we can and we will rise to the challenge to care for each other.

So as we stand together and join in solidarity, let’s breathe love, prayers and do what we can to support from where we are. During this time of  physically distancing, we can still show up by holding space through a face to face zoom call, or a voice connect over the phone, to check in on each other. 

The most important person you need to hold through this is you. You can't show up and hold anyone else until you first hold yourself. So first check in with you.  

  • Where are you feeling it in your body?  Listen to your body and feel what is rising up in you. Welcome it, name it, accept it and validate it, sit with it, breathe into it. 
  • Create time on your calendar for you, to soothe your body, mind and spirit in the days ahead. 
  • Write an anger letter, a worry letter, a forgiveness letter, a love letter, journal, create art, play music, run, walk it out.  
  • Speak words of love to yourself such as “It makes sense I feel like this, I can ride this wave of feeling, I am safe”.
  • Practice grounding exercises. Consider downloading our 5 tools, it has grounding and coping tools inside to place on your fridge as a reminder. 
  • Create sacred space to focus your thoughts, whether it’s to pray, meditate, quietly reflect, listen to music or read words of comfort. 

John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst, developed a theory about human nature, we are wired to connect emotionally with others, especially in times of grief, trauma and tragedy. Stay connected to your community for connection and support. We are stronger together.  

We have the following resources available to support you as a First Responder Family:

    • Consider trying our Meditation Free download for you. It is a favourite amongst my First Responder Family clients. I hope it might be a helpful resource for your First Responder Family



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