Nova Scotia

'A huge impact': Emily Tuck's school offering remote grief counselling

Teachers and staff of a Truro, N.S., high school are trying to find ways to help their students cope with the loss of their classmate while they can’t physically be there for each other.

Emily Tuck, 17, was a grade 12 student at Cobequid Educational Centre

Emily Tuck (left to right), Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck are shown in a family handout photo. The family from Portapique, N.S. were among the victims of the mass killing in Nova Scotia this past weekend. (Tammy Oliver-McCurdie/The Canadian Press) (Tammy Oliver-McCurdie/The Canadian Press)

She was a teenager just months away from graduating high school. Now, Emily Tuck's friends and teachers are trying to find a way to cope with her death at a time when they can't physically be there for each other. 

Tuck, 17, was the youngest victim of the Nova Scotia killings. The Grade 12 student went to Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro, N.S.

"They're hurting," said Gary Adams, regional executive director for the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, said of her classmates.

"They're obviously trying to bring sense to something that – in many ways – would be described as absolutely senseless. And I'm sure there will be a time of struggle in figuring this out and trying to move forward."

The loss of a colleague

Adams found out early Sunday morning that a teacher in the district might have been a victim of the massacre.

Lisa McCully's name was one of the first to be made public. McCully was a teacher at Debert Elementary School.

"Even in those early hours, while we didn't quite know the scope of what was happening, there were a number of staff behind the scenes mobilizing," Adams said of the school district's crisis response team.

It wasn't until later that he learned about Tuck.

"For many, it's just been a huge impact. So, I'm very concerned about the wellbeing not just of our students, but for our staff and our community members."

Gary Adams says he's worried not just about the well-being of the students, but the staff who are shaken by the killings. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

The loss is compounded by the fact that physical distancing rules mean they can't gather together, said Adams.

The centre for education is working with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and mental health and addictions experts to make sure students are offered the same support remotely as if they could be together in the school.

They're making individual phone calls, and plan to have group sessions over video chat.

"They're having those difficult conversations. They're sharing stories. They're shedding tears together. They're allowing people to say what they need to say and express their feelings."

A tribute to Tuck

While the staff are helping the kids get through this, they're also grieving. Adams says virtually everyone has a connection to one of the 22 victims.

"I can't speak enough for how proud we are of our teams and at the same time making sure that they are supported."

Adams is encouraging any parents who are concerned about how their child is coping to reach out to the schools, who can link them to the appropriate experts if necessary.

He says it goes without saying that they'll pay tribute to Tuck as soon as they can be together again.

"I know that there's even early thought and conversation about how to establish a scholarship or bursary to honour her. Those things, in the right time, will be a focus."

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.