Day 6

'It takes a long while to recover:' Montreal Massacre survivor on learning to live with tragedy

As Nova Scotia mourns the 22 victims killed in last weekend's deadly rampage, Nathalie Provost, who narrowly survived the 1989 attack at Montreal's École Polytechnique, shares her thoughts on living with trauma and the long road to recovery.

'Your inner world collapses when something like that happens,' says Nathalie Provost

Nathalie Provost was shot 4 times when a gunman attacked École Polytechnique in 1989. 27 people were shot and 14 women were killed in the anti-feminist attack. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Few Canadians can truly grasp the horrors that Nova Scotians touched by last week's deadly rampage are going through better than Nathalie Provost.

"It's a lifelong process, because it's so major," Provost, who survived the 1989 Montreal Massacre, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. 

"I hope that they will be able very soon to find some solace between themselves and with their own community, because it's a long, long way. ... Your inner world collapses when something like that happens."

Provost was shot four times on Dec. 6, 1989, when a gunman shot 27 people, killing 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique, before fatally shooting himself.

It was one of the deadliest mass killings in modern Canadian history. Last weekend, another horrific event was added to the list, after a gunman killed 22 people in multiple communities in Nova Scotia before being fatally shot by police.

'My recovery was full of silence'

Provost says her path to recovery feels clearer in hindsight.

Every year brought new lessons and steps in the process, even up to the massacre's 30th anniversary last year.

Recalling the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Provost says, it was difficult to find "psychological support" or any resources about post-traumatic stress disorder, which she notes have become more available now. 

Compounding that was the deluge of attention from the public and the media in the aftermath of the shooting.

"We have lots of attention, [but] I don't know if it is support," she said. "It was true for us. And it was still true, I think, for the Quebec mosque [shooting]."

Provost says she found a measure of comfort in retreating from the spotlight — a difficult task, as she described herself as an extrovert.

"My recovery was full of silence, was full of loneliness. And I needed that in order to find my own way through that."

"But we have to imagine the way to express our feelings, [and] the way to express our sorrow for those families ... who lost their loved ones."

Bollards at Place du 6-Décembre-1989 bear the initials of the 14 victims of the 1989 attack. Their full names are spelled out in the landscaping of the park. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

Provost's life, and the lives of her fellow survivors, were permanently changed after their shared trauma. But she says it's still possible to find hope and go on with your life, and is confident Nova Scotians will do the same in time.

"Our will to live, to be able to have an impact on those we love is very, very strong. And this is the basis on which we can build our own lives after a horrible event," she said.

"And I'm sure they will find this strange. And it's [a long process]. But they will. They have it in themselves. I'm sure of that."

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview produced by Annie Bender.

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