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Guiding Renfrew County residents through grief


When Julie’s daughter began struggling with her mental health in 2011, Julie says she didn’t understand—as a parent, she felt very alone.

But in a time of confusion and crisis, she says she came across a newspaper ad that connected her to a helpful service: the Robbie Dean Family Counselling Centre (RDFCC).  

Little did Julie know this would be the beginning of her deep relationship with the centre. It became a haven that initially helped her with her daughter, a place where she was then able to support her peers, and in 2018, a safe place where she returned to for support when her eldest son died by suicide.

“When your child is in a crisis, you are in a crisis. Your whole family is in a crisis.”

Aiming to provide a safe place where people can access programs that will support their journey to wellness, the RDFCC provides free mental health support to residents of Renfrew County.

With help from United Way East Ontario, the Centre ensures clients have access to the services they need and deserve, says its executive director, Monique Yashinskie. United Way and its donors helped in adding a specialized grief and loss program at the RDFCC.

“United Way has helped and continues to help the Robbie Dean Centre be a place where individuals and families are given the tools to manage their mental health and maybe even begin to see hope where they could no longer see it,” she says.

Connecting is the first step

After first connecting with the centre following her daughter’s declining mental health, Julie says she started to understand what she and her daughter were going through. Alongside Monique, Julie co-facilitated a peer support group for other parents with children struggling with a mental illness.

“The Centre has allowed me to grow with them,” Julie says. “They’ve allowed me to be heard. They’ve made sense of things that didn’t make sense to me.”

Initially, Julie says she travelled to Ottawa to connect with the Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO), a family support organization not offered in Renfrew County at that time. Because of this, she and Monique completed PLEO training and then brought the service to the RDFCC, which she facilitated up until the winter of 2018.

A family in crisis

Though Julie says her daughter’s mental health improved, she says she started to become concerned about her oldest son.

“His behavior was starting to become unusual and bizarre. I knew that suicide was perhaps going to happen. A few of his close friends felt that, as well,” she says. “I had reached out to a counsellor prior to his death to help me understand, how to react and what language to use to try to save him.”

In April 2018, Julie’s son died by suicide.

“I felt very confused and devastated, so I came back to the Robbie Dean Centre,” she says, adding that her husband accompanied her.

A photo of Julie looking off-camera

At the time of her son’s death, Julie says there were no groups in Renfrew County for grieving parents who have lost a child from suicide. Within a week, a grief group was organized at the RDFCC. “The [RDFCC’s] biggest support is their openness to fill in another hole or gaps that are not yet filled,” she says. “We didn’t have resources here for parents before the Robbie Dean Centre.”

To illustrate the power of the services she accessed, Julie describes a large river separating someone’s mental health and recovery.

“Mental health is on one side of [the river] and then there is a calmness and a new normal on the other side,” she says. “The Robbie Dean Centre just keeps throwing in more pebbles to help us get across that river.”

In September 2019, Julie says she is going to co-facilitate a grief group which will be held every two weeks for a total of 12 sessions.

Moving forward together

“This centre means everything. It means not being alone. It means helping me understand things that I didn’t understand before,” she says, adding that the centre offers a nonjudgmental safe space where everyone can share their feelings. “There’s a lot of power in groups.”

Julie’s father also found the services at RDFCC helpful, she says. He was first on the scene of finding his friend’s daughter who had died by suicide, according to Julie.

“When that happened, my dad was also very confused and unable to process it,” she explains. “I remember telling him before I brought him home that evening, ‘dad, we are going to the Robbie Dean Centre. You cannot process this by yourself.’”

Looking to the future, Julie says she hopes that proper medication paired with better and faster diagnostic tools along with counselling services will help decrease deaths by suicide. It’s important to be aware of the programs that are available, she adds, and to know that it is okay to ask for help.

By receiving support from a community affected by similar experiences, Julie says it makes all the difference in the road to healing and understanding.

“It is a place to come and realize that it’s not just my family, it’s not just me, there’s many of us,” she says. “We are stronger in groups. We are stronger together.”




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