Editor's note: Since this story was filed, another 17-year-old boy from the West Prince area died after his vehicle left the roadway early Sunday morning. The accident occurred on the Souwest Road in Huntley at about 3 a.m. Police have not released his name.
The tragic deaths of two teenagers from West Prince has rocked the community and left many grieving.
Ethan Reilly and Alex Hutchinson died after the small boat they were in capsized on Sept. 16.
A third teen, Max MacIsaac, swam to shore.
Alex and Ethan were missing in the water for days, and the community mounted an exhaustive search on the water and shorelines.
Ethan was recovered on Sept. 20 while Alex was brought home Thursday morning.
Family and classmates gathered to support each other every day the search was on.
Some met at the Elite Seed Farm, the initial base for the ground search.
The long road to the lab was often lined with cars – some with small groups of people inside, chatting or simply holding each other.
Some teens laid hockey sticks at the lobster trap tree in Tignish and stayed to console each other.
“It’s such a small community with so many deep connections between family members and hockey teams and school,” said Christina Gallant MacLean, a school psychologist with the Public Schools Branch.
“It’s so tragic. There’s so many adults that are hurting, too.”
There are extra staff at the region's schools available for students who need an ear.
MacLean said there will soon be some more comprehensive community supports like counselling for adults and group sessions.
The psychologist reminds everyone to be gentle with themselves and others.
“There may be some people that all they want to do is go help; and there might be other people who are kind of crippled with grief and might not be leaving their house,” said MacLean. “It’s important to respect the range of reactions that might be happening.”
Reactions to the boys’ deaths will be the most raw and intense in the next few weeks, but it’s important to remember the basics – food and rest.
“It’s all so new,” she said. “There might not be an appetite for some folks to eat, but it’s so key to find something you can handle consuming to take care of those basic health needs, physical needs, so that you can be as mentally strong as you can be. … Just to have some calories to be able to feed your brain to be able to make good decisions, as much as it’s possible in this difficult time.
“Sleep can be very hard to achieve right now, but to try to let your body have a chance to sleep, because lack of sleep really plays on our emotions, too, and can make things more difficult than they need to be."
MacLean also advises people to take breaks from the news and try to include some version of normal activities.
“Social media can kind of encourage rumination, or just replaying of events and what-ifs. It can be a bit of a cycle that can be less helpful,” she said. “Try to keep some helpful routines going (like) connecting with others, if you feel safe around them to express emotions. If you usually exercise, try to do a little bit of that. If you usually spend time with family, try to do a little bit of that. It helps our brains to be more calm if we’re doing some of what used to be normal.”
School psychologist Christina Gallant MacLean offered up a few tips for getting through grief:
- Take care of yourself by eating and sleeping as best you can.
- Be gentle with yourself with any reactions that may come and go over the next few weeks. “It’s OK to accept all the range of reactions right now, but if you really feel like it’s unbearable, reach out,” said MacLean.
- Try some basic breathing exercises. “Deep breathing can help slow down anxiety and can just help activate the more calming and logical parts of the brain,” she said.
- Read up on what helps.
MacLean provided some websites with helpful information on coping with loss:
Most people will emerge from this difficult time without the need for any extra support, having been able to rely on their usual networks, but some may have a hard time coming to terms with recent events.
“If they’re still really struggling to function beyond these first few weeks, we need to make sure they’re connected to a mental health specialist or doctor,” said MacLean, citing continued sleep disruption as a symptom that extra help may be needed.
“There’s no easy way around everything, but I think for parents, it’s important to be flexible (with) the range of reactions the kids might be exhibiting and it’s important to be open to their questions and respond in age-appropriate way.”
MacLean also said it’s OK for parents – and other grown-ups – to say, “I don’t know,” and to be together in the uncertainty.
Over time, it will become important to return to normal activities and routines.
“Returning to school will be important, just to slowly reintegrate routine, even though you might not feel like it,” said MacLean.
One way to find solace can be a special gesture, said MacLean.
“Some people find private or group ceremonies helpful for closure and for honouring memories of people.”
Alison Jenkins is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government, working in Prince County.
- VIDEO: Second P.E.I. teen missing from overturned boat recovered
- Community support 'overwhelming' for families of P.E.I. teens who lost their lives at sea
- Search continues for missing P.E.I. teens
- VIDEO: Search continues for teens Alex Hutchinson and Ethan Reilly in western P.E.I. waters
- UPDATE: Search suspended for two missing teen boys in western P.E.I.