Heartache in Yarmouth
As a family grieves, a community also struggled with this tragic event
It’s always been a magical night. A family night. A community night.
A night where Christmas lights twinkle and holiday decorations shimmer. Where parade participants – bundled up for the weather, decked out for the season – wave and smile to the spectators lining the route.
Where those watching the parade – mostly children and families, equally dressed for the weather in hats, mittens, gloves and scarfs – smile and wave in return. You see people pointing at the colourful floats. “It’s so pretty!” they exclaim.
And when he appears – Santa! – squeals of excitement from kids replace the holiday music that’s been filling the air. It’s just a perfect family outing to ring in the season. And one that repeats itself in communities everywhere.
This is how Saturday’s annual Parade of Lights in Yarmouth was supposed to be.
And it’s how the parade started out.
But it’s not how it ended.
The Nov. 24 event that brings the community together in celebration instead has brought the community together in heartache and grief following the death of four-year-old MaCali Cormier.
The young girl – who like so many others had been enjoying the excitement of the event – fell under a moving float as the parade was making its way on its final stretch along Starrs Road close to 7 p.m. She died from her injuries, leaving a family devastated and an entire community grief-stricken and in disbelief that an event that is supposed to bring so much happiness ended instead in unimaginable sadness.
Many people – including parents and children – witnessed the tragedy as it unfolded. First responders and others immediately ran towards the chaotic scene to try to help, even before the emergency vehicles had arrived.
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
On social media there has been an outpouring of condolences for the family of the little girl, with people seeking ways to support them. A spokesperson for Huskilson’s Funeral Home said there will be no charge to the family for the funeral. For people wanting to make donations to the family, a trust fund for McCali’s brother and sister, Tessa and Matthew, has been set up at the funeral home.
Local resident Sarah Robicheau is another whose heart and thoughts have been extended to the family. Robicheau is part of a non-profit group called Anchor for Hope, which has been reaching out and coordinating with the community to make meals that can be delivered to the family in their time of grief. It’s something that’s been done in the past to help other local families who have suffered the loss of a child.
“I lost two daughters of my own. I had a still birth in 2012 and I had a child die from SIDS in 2014,” said Robicheau, explaining she and a friend, Jody Levac – who also lost a child to SIDS – created the non-profit group Anchor for Hope to provide support regarding child loss in the community. There are a lot of volunteers from Yarmouth Wesleyan Church that also help, in addition to their huge group of moms who help other families. But they’re also turning to the community.
“Grieving is consuming and exhausting. Making meals are last on the list if remembering to eat at all,” Robicheau had written on the group’s Facebook page. “This family is grieving the loss of a child while also caring for others.”
In an interview on Sunday, Robicheau said the response to the request has been wonderful. She said this was something that was done for her in her time of grief and it was very meaningful.
“It’s just something easy that we can do to take the burden off for the family,” she said. Meals will be delivered to Robicheau’s home, and in turn delivered to the family.
“I’m proud to be from here,” she said. “The community definitely pulls together, for sure.”
There are many areas where people are pulling together. The little girl was a pre-primary student, at Central School and so support was extended on that front.
The Tri-County Regional Centre for Education implemented its Crisis Management Plan whereby regional staff would be working with schools to assess the needs of the students and staff. Members of the crisis management team were in schools on Tuesday morning to provide support.
The RCMP, meanwhile, are encouraging first responders and others to seek help in coping with this community loss. Cpl. Dal Hutchinson says the little girl was running alongside the float when she fell underneath it. She was transported by EHS to the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, where a short time later she was pronounced deceased.
“I can’t even imagine how this has impacted the entire community. It’s so sad,” he said.
“As you can appreciate, as first responders we are expected to deal with tragedy on a regular basis. In this case, where it involves a child at a family event, the impact is significant on everyone,” he said.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of people seeking help to manage their emotions after having witnessed this horrific tragedy. People are in shock and feeling sadness for this little girl and her family. As time passes, these emotions can trigger other reactions, some of which require a person to seek help professionally … Now’s the time to support one another.”
This is the message Yarmouth firefighter Lynn Seeley is also been spreading.
“In times like these we must all keep an eye on each other and reach out to our brothers and sisters. There is no shame in seeking help in any situation. It doesn’t make you weak. We are here for each other,” he wrote in a Facebook posting on Saturday night. Speaking with the Tri-County Vanguard on Sunday, he said initially his post was meant for the first responders, but it is a message he hopes the entire community takes to heart.
Seeley said whether you are a member of the community or a trained first responder, there is no way to prepare for an incident such as this during what is supposed to be a festive event. He wasn’t at the parade but is thinking about his colleagues.
“There were a number of volunteers that were taking part in the parade that had attended the scene because they knew something had happened…We’re concerned for them,” he said.
Debriefing sessions were organized for first responders. And others, Seeley said, will need help as well.
“I have a step-granddaughter who was on the float behind and my daughter messaged me saying she witnessed what took place. Her life will be changed forever,” he said, saying hearing the news of what happened had moved him to tears.
It was also a very emotional scene at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital the night of the parade, said Fraser Mooney, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
“What happened was very incredibly upsetting for staff in the emergency department, as it was for our entire community,” he said.
“When something like this happens in the community, many of our staff are also affected on a very personal level. We know staff can be dealing with their own feelings of loss while providing health care and support services to those most directly affected.”
Mooney said their managers had been reaching out to individual staff members who were working Saturday night to see what support they can offer and there would also be debriefing sessions. He also said the mental health team will be supporting the hospital staff.
“At times like this, along with the formal support offered, we encourage staff to check in with each other to make sure their co-workers know there is help available if need be,” he said, adding the hospital’s mental health team is talking about how best to support the community.”
“In the meantime, we want people to know the Mental Health Crisis Telephone Line is available toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to support people who might be dealing with anxiety related to a traumatic event like this: 1-888-429-8167,” Mooney said.
WE ARE DEVASTATED
Another group for whom this has been a very upsetting and emotional time are the organizers of the annual Christmas parade. On Sunday Barb Firth, the parade coordinator, posted on social media, “The Parade Committee is devastated by the traumatic accident during the Christmas Parade of Lights. We, along with the community, mourn the family’s loss and are praying for everyone affected. The focus is on coming together as a community and helping this family through a very difficult time.”
Difficult, indeed. Rev. A.D. (Bill) Newell of Yarmouth – who over many years has helped people cope with tragedy – acknowledged that what happened Saturday evening was like a nightmare.
“It’s a tragic accident and the emphasis has got to be on the fact that it was an accident,” he said. “I think we’ve just got to be there for one another, to love one another, to listen to one another, to support one another, and we’re trying to do that.”
Rev. Newell noted that many people were affected, in one way or another, by what happened, including first responders. Formal debriefings were planned.
Among the churches where the tragedy was on people’s minds the morning after the parade was Yarmouth Wesleyan Church. Rev. AJ Plaizier, the church’s senior pastor, acknowledged there is not much anyone can say at such a tragic time.
“People are looking for words, but there aren’t any,” he said. “You don’t have to have words. You don’t have to have the right thing to say.”
As for his message to his congregation, he said, “I just gave them permission to grieve. If that means grieving in silence, if that means kind of shaking your fist at God, that’s fine. That’s appropriate. Just to create the space where people can have all the emotions that they need to have at this time.”
While he said he didn’t directly know the family affected by the tragedy, he said in a small community such as this, when one family grieves, the community grieves with them.
Ornaments made by children adorn the Christmas tree outside the Yarmouth town hall. There is a sadness in the community since last weekend’s tragedy that impacted and changed many lives.