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

The poster of the Unbound Film Festival. Photo: Vanessa Lozecznik
Diversity, mental health and addiction the focus of new Kootenay film program and festival

8 participants will receive free hands-on lessons on filmmaking from various experts in the industry to help produce a film that contributes to discussions surrounding mental health, diversity and addiction

Photo: pixabay.com
Creston’s Lectric Avenue Electronics warns of online scammers after spike in hacks

In the past week, 10 to 12 customers have called in or stopped by the store requiring assistance after their gadgets were corrupted and bank accounts compromised

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

Most Read