COCHRANE— After the tragic death of a Calgary Police Service officer on New Year's Eve, Wayfinders Wellness Retreat is creating a space to mourn and heal.
The death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett has been hard for members of Wayfinders, said Det. Paul Wagman. He added those who have been affected by the tragedy are not doing well.
“There probably has never been a more stressful time for responders, for police in this circumstance, and responders,” Wagman said. “There’s never been a time where we have had COVID and have something so tragic and have not been able to come together.”
Wayfinders Wellness reached out to Calgary Police Service members and hosted a small gathering on Sunday (Jan. 3) where they were able to spend the night sharing stories and having the opportunity to grieve.
“It just proves that we need a place after these traumas happen,” Wagman said. “It comes back to why we started to do this— We created what is lacking from a responder, military and family perspective.”
Adapting to the adversity created by the challenging times, Wayfinders Wellness Retreat is working to ensure responders have the support they need. The retreat is located at the historic WineGlass Ranch and serves as a neutral place to gather that provides the opportunity to ride out feelings without judgment.
Harnett's tragic death illustrates the need to have a safe space to talk about tragic, challenging and traumatic events experienced by first responders.
It was a powerful experience sharing stories about the slain officer, Wagman said, and some participants chose to spend the night at the ranch sharing memories into the early morning. More importantly, they shared real feelings that can aid in beginning the healing process.
The event reaffirmed the steps Wayfinders is taking to connect with first responders and military members.
It has been overwhelming to see how badly needed the space for post-trauma debriefs and having a place for those affected to go and settle, he said.
Wagman knows firsthand the effects of a massive traumatic event and the lingering shock and stress it can leave in its wake. Wagman was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after attending a mass murder in Calgary in 2008.
“You need to have a space to go with the people you’ve experienced this with and process it and grieve and acknowledge the pain so it doesn’t turn into an occupational stress industry or PTSD,” Wagman said. “We know that from experience.”
Wagman said he was grateful to see the memorial to Harnett and the support from the community. He explained that it touches the hearts of those who are mourning, but there is still a restricted ability to heal given the limited opportunities to meet face-to-face with peers, psychologists and councillors.
Wayfinders is working to remove the stigma associated with asking for help after experiencing a trauma, while actively connecting those that reach out with critical resources.
“You must grieve, you must acknowledge your pain, and we’re being persistent with that,” Wagman said.
Wayfinders recently launched fireside chats to ensure people have a place to connect and heal. Participants are allowed to operate and function with limited group gatherings centred on peer-to-peer support.
“We have that resiliency [to heal],” Wagman said. “We created a non-profit to show how to overcome some of these mental health problems … The modalities are the same.”