Angela Gevaudan, whose husband was one of the RCMP officers killed in the Moncton shootings in 2014, is shown in a handout photo with her emotional support animal Quinton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Angela Gevaudan MANDATORY CREDIT

Angela Gevaudan, whose husband was one of the RCMP officers killed in the Moncton shootings in 2014, is shown in a handout photo with her emotional support animal Quinton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Angela Gevaudan MANDATORY CREDIT

Grief persists for spouses of first responders, soldiers killed in line of duty

Grief for many spouses is not a linear process

Angela Gevaudan recalls the first year after her RCMP-officer husband was killed on duty as a whirlwind of responsibility and emotion that offered her little time to process her grief and loss.

Const. Fabrice Gevaudan was one of three Mounties shot and killed during a gunman’s rampage in Moncton, N.B., in June 2014. In the aftermath, investigations and reviews were launched, memorial services were held and life-size statues commissioned.

Angela was there for all of it, representing her late husband and their family, even as she worked to keep paying the bills while trying to support the couple’s daughter in her own grief.

“So it was early on that I went into survival mode,” she says. “And it took a long time for me to really allow myself to fully experience this as a personal loss, as the loss of a spouse.”

More than six years later, Gevaudan is still working through her grief. Which is why she and a handful of other women who have lost spouses in uniform are coming together at a Toronto-area hotel to talk about their shared experiences and try to heal.

“This will finally be an opportunity for me and for the other participants to really focus on ourselves, and to have a space that is safe to do so.”

The gathering is the first iteration of a support program created by Wounded Warriors Canada, an organization that provides mental-health services to first responders and veterans, to help Canadians whose spouses have been killed in the line of duty or by suicide.

Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell says the program combines peer support with professionally trained therapists, a version of which has been used to help veterans deal with psychological trauma.

“I’ve heard from spouses who have lost their spouse as a result of their service to Canada for a long time now saying: ‘I’ve tried this, I went here, I’ve looked there, there’s nothing culturally appropriate for what I’ve been going through,’” Maxwell says.

There is a common misconception that grief is linear, says Gevaudan, but “it’s not like there’s a starting point and a finish line and you just keep working towards it and done.” There is also the ever-present risk of new trauma as events such as other police shootings hit close to home.

Gevaudan says she was particularly affected by last year’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia in which a gunman killed 22 people, including RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson.

“We can all be impacted by trauma, but some of us are injured, so … we’re more susceptible to further injuries,” she says. “It’s part of it that makes it more difficult to rebuild your life and feel some sense of normalcy.”

Maxwell says that has also been a common experience for spouses of fallen first responders and veterans, who are often left to pick up the pieces on their own after the initial waves of public attention and outpouring of sympathies and support have subsided.

“The common refrain is: ‘People keep telling me it’s going to get better, but I feel the opposite,’” Maxwell says. “And they often feel unsupported in terms of the tools that they would need to process and manage all these things.”

The RCMP says bereavement counselling is available to the families of officers who have died while on duty or through suicide. That includes therapy and case management until family members have “the tools needed to deal with the grief on a go-forward basis.”

Yet while she has been able to access some mental-health support since her husband was killed, Gevaudan says it hasn’t always been easy. She says there was a period when promised support from the government was cut off for more than a year before it was eventually restored.

That left a mark, including persistent fears that her support could be cut off again.

“One of the things they say is that we’re not to worry ourselves with expectations, and that they’ll always be here to support us,” she says. “But that’s so far from what it has been like for us.”

Many of her late husband’s colleagues and other members of the community have also tried to provide what assistance they can, for which Gevaudan says she is extremely grateful.

Yet she says most people can’t understand or relate to the unique experience that comes with having lost her husband in the line of duty, and that she is looking forward to meeting other women who understand her pain and talking to them with the help of trained therapists.

Not only is the combination of peer support and therapists in one forum one of the unique aspects of the Wounded Warriors program, Gevaudan suggests the presence of those mental-health workers will be critical.

“Every chance that you have to sort through anything, whether it’s a memory or a physical item or any of it, it just brings up other things and that allows you to process something else,” she says.

“And it takes you down a path that you don’t know where you’re going to end up. So it’s really important to have the support of the psychologist or mental-health professionals, of your peers, of people who get it, in order to be able to do this kind of grief work.”

While the session starting in Toronto next weekend is the first for Wounded Warriors, Maxwell says there are plans to hold others in British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and other parts of the country. That will be easier once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“We know that these spouses are out there, often feeling very alone and unsupported from a mental-health perspective,” Maxwell says. “And if we can begin to address that, then we’ll have accomplished our aim here.”

READ MORE: In a pandemic, those on the front lines face unique mental health challenges

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

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

Just Posted

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Drivers who try to bulldoze through others

Inevitably I will end up with nothing but grille showing in my rearview mirror

X
Think on These Things: Truth is given to be shared

“Everyone is invited. Poor or wealthy. All need to recognize the authority of true goodness.”

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

A mushroom grower plans to plan new mushrooms in fallen trees in the Kaslo Community Forest. File photo
Kaslo mushroom farmer given green light for unique project

Robin Mercy will plant mushrooms in the Kaslo Community Forest

Alison Watson spotted this mama bear and her cub up an oak tree in Warfield last fall. Photo: Alison Watson
Secure your trash; Bears are awaking in Greater Trail and they’re hungry

Trash is the most reported attractant involved in human-bear conflicts

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read