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Support when you need it: dealing with death and loss


Adam Gosney

Loyalist College counsellor Adam Gosney says that experiencing death “can change your world view. It can change the way that you understand yourself and the way you live your life.” Photo by Callie Jackson, QNet News 

By Callie Jackson [1]

BELLEVILLE – Just as Kandace Beard-Merlin was beginning to prepare for her first year in college, she experienced the unexpected death of her cousin and best friend.

A car accident early in 2016 killed Beard-Merlin’s cousin. She was only 19.

Beard-Merlin fell into a severe depression, and it followed her as she started the Justice Studies [2] program at Loyalist College last September.

Even though the accident happened before she came to Loyalist, the effects of her cousin’s death are still with her today, she told QNet News.

“It didn’t even feel real when I was told (about the fatal accident). It was like everything just stood still for a long period of time. I can’t even describe the emotions I was going through; I still get upset about it.”

Beard-Merlin went through a severe depression.

“It was like nothing mattered anymore. I just wanted to stay in bed all the time.”

She and her cousin had been inseparable from a young age, she said.

“I remember being with her since we were toddlers. We did our first makeovers on each other, watched our first scary movies together. She really was one of my best friends.”

Adam Gosney, a counsellor at Loyalist, says experiencing death at the age when you’re just starting college can change your perspective on life.

“Over time, people generally start to recover from those initial symptoms. But death can change your world view. It can change the way that you understand yourself and the way you live your life.”

But experiencing the death of someone close can cause a person to feel lost regardless of their age, Gosney said.

“How do you fix death? You can’t. But the mind doesn’t remember that, so it tries to insert us into ‘What if?’: ‘If I had only talked to this person the last time they called me. If I had only recognized this was a problem when I last met with them.’

“We know intellectually that’s not accurate, but our mind searches for the ‘Well, you could have solved this.’ And it attempts to makes sense of that emotional chaos. So that’s something we can get stuck with, is self-blame.”

Death is, obviously, “an inevitability in our life,” Gosney said. “The tragedy is when it comes much sooner than we believed that it should to someone. That’s the difficult part.”

But death can also be an emotional growth experience, he said.

“All these emotional experiences are new – you don’t understand them or understand yourself, and you’re kind of having to rebuild your sense of how you understand yourself in light of this event occurring. So it can be good and bad at the same time. Bad, as inasmuch as it hurts to go through it, but good, because it’s an emotional growth process.”

Beard-Merlin’s cousin’s death was the first she had ever had to deal with in her life. She made it through with the support of her friends, she said.

“It was just nice to be around the people who understood what I was going through and helped me when I was upset.”

Gosney agreed that students experiencing such circumstances should be around the people they feel comfortable with.

“I find more often than not students will rally around one another and seek each other for support, because there’s some sense of comfort in the discomfort of the group.”

Going out and doing familiar things will help students who are feeling depressed, he said.

“Any activity that makes you feel like, ‘I belong here. I feel welcome. I’m cared for. I’m thought of. And I can be sad in the presence of these people without it being a problem.’ Chances are you won’t feel sad around them, but you need to feel permission to be, if you are.”

Seeing family during a time of loss is also a great outlet, Gosney said: “Go home if you can for a few days; hugs from mom and a home-cooked meal work wonders.”

If you feel that a loss has affected your daily life, your should see a counsellor, Gosney said.

“I would say that if the grief is causing a functional impairment, impairing their daily activities of daily living, then that’s when you want to come to start seeing a counsellor, and to talk about some healthy ways to start to process through that grief – and perhaps to uncover why it happens to be impacting someone in such a severe way. “

Using narcotics or alcohol is not the way to go when dealing with the loss of a loved one, he said.

“The worst thing to do is to drink and smoke, to try and compensate, because it won’t change anything. It actually amplifies the anxiety and depression, and is likely to make the problem much worse than if we just feel the pain, accept the pain and work through it without numbing from it.”

There is a 24/7 counselling hotline called Good 2 Talk [3] available to post-secondary students, he said. The number is 1-866-925-5454.

“Someone might not be able to get in to see a counsellor face to face – that might not work for them, or they’re just feeling it at 6 on a Sunday night and are just like, ‘What do I do?’ Well, they can call this line and talk to a professional.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, I don’t want to talk to someone over the phone – that’s weird.’ Give it a shot. You know, it’s not really weird when you just need someone to listen and you need some advice and perhaps redirect the way that you’re thinking.”