How 211 made a difference for my family

You never know when tragic events are going to change your life.

The Sunday before retuning to work from summer holidays, my husband and three children decided to go on a hike in Kananaskis Country. While hiking, we came upon a rock climbing accident, resulting in my husband and I being first responders. Once we realized there was nothing we could do to save the two young adults, my heart went out to their families and friends who would be devastated by this accident.

As the week continued, one of my 17-year-old son’s acquaintances was killed in a car accident. Two days later, one of his closest friends was killed in a separate car accident. Instead of these families sending their children off to university, family and friends were going to say their goodbyes at funerals.

Being a close group, my son’s friends and their families came together at our house shortly after hearing about the second tragic accident.

As the evening went on and into the next morning, more than 20 people filled the house – mostly teenagers – and we realized that some of them needed more than comfort.

I phoned the employee and family assistance program of my employer to inquire about access to emergency crisis counselling. They could not provide this for my family or friends. However, they did suggest I call 211 – Calgary’s Distress Centre.

I called 211. The responder at the Distress Centre first asked if everyone was safe, and ensured no one was suicidal. They then provided names and contact phone numbers for services that could potentially assist us in this situation.

Within two hours, three counsellors from the provincial government’s Family and Adolescent Services came to the house and provided individual and group crisis counselling.

Initially the kids were apprehensive about receiving crisis counselling. However, the counsellors engaged them and provided guidance, helping them understand the different ways people grieve, the different emotions they would experience and the different ways they could support each other.  The counsellors got everyone talking about their previous experiences with death. For the majority of these teenagers this was a new and tragic life event.

Later that evening, the teenagers acknowledged that the counsellors were beneficial. They were glad that we sought their services.

I would never have known who to phone if I had not been given the direction to call 211, which then provided me with community resources. I felt a sense of relief knowing that there were services out there to help us all deal with this crisis. Sometimes your children need more than a hug and a mother wiping away tears.

This is a week in my life that I will never forget. To this day it brings tears to my eyes thinking about what everybody has lost. I hold my children and husband close and appreciate them every day for what they bring to my life.

—Melinda Podolsky is a mom of three who has been married for 20 years. She is MDS Coordinator at Carewest. Over the years, Carewest staff have donated nearly $500 000 in support of United Way of Calgary & Area. United Way partners with the Distress Centre and City of Calgary to offer the 211 service.

(Photo from Flickr, by mossieu eric.)

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