Grief and social change

“And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands.”

Dr. Martin Luther King – “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution” 

Contributed by Serena Lewis, RSW, MSW

Beyond hashtags, data and pleas for support, Dr. King’s words about “a great period of social change” reverberate for us, and compel a progressive response to the demands that multiple and intersecting needs place on us. We’ve done research, and we continue to listen to not only the heartbreaking stories, but even more so the unsustainable silence… the swallowed cries of mourners.

Mourners of unspeakable tragedies. 

As we edge closer to the now-monumental dates of April 18 and 19, I am personally aware that the histories of rural Nova Scotia communities, and many lives, will be forever changed. The collective grief and pain brought by the act of such violent disruption has, and will span families, communities, and all frontline workers who have worked tirelessly to face the gaping wounds left behind. 

I deeply acknowledge:

That Black Lives Matter.

That Indigenous communities have been struggling to protect their treaty rights, and the lives and livelihoods of their people.

That people of Asian descent – both newcomers and those who have been a vital part of Canadian communities for many generations – are targets of hatred and violence.

That gender-based violence threatens – and takes – too many lives, and creates ripples throughout our society that affect us all.

That rural communities are full of real people with crucial needs, hopeful dreams, and relationships that are deeply precious to them.

That every intersection of trauma and marginalization matters – as people live, and as people die. And that grief matters, as we process the collective, cumulating and silenced losses.

When death is sudden and unexpected, support systems are thrust into a grief trajectory in an abrupt way. Grief belongs, and exists everywhere, and yet we collectively back away when the loss is perceived as self-inflicted, violent or has a whiff of trauma attached. Dying is a social occurrence that happens in the family and community. Therefore, meeting bereaved families and communities from an evidence-, trauma- and grief-informed approach becomes a necessary path for healing.

Yet, while processing the most challenging ways that trauma intersects with death, we fumble through the ever pressing, misconstrued language of becoming resilient. While seeking the growth and positive glimmers, we diminish and avoid the deep levels of pain. Our lives have been deeply impacted by traumatic and violent deaths-but to Dr.King’s statement have we developed the “new attitudes, new mental responses, that the situation demands”?

Where does one – a person, family or community – go for support when grief is unspeakable? We have limited hospice care services for expected dying, and we have mental health services for when the grief manifests to diagnostic criteria, but where do we apply the social determinants of grief in a proactive approach that supports our well-being?

We expect families and communities to self-identify the path for their healing while thrust into this experience of grief, while suffering a gaping wound. I believe these losses demand a collective systemic shift that illuminates a path of intersection, compassion, skills and understanding. Our grief-stricken hearts require a leadership approach that meets the intersection of pain and isolation where it is. A path that is embedded with understanding and leadership from the cultural contexts of shared pain. We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma, in general, when not progressively and compassionately addressed can manifest as mental health issues and cumulate as intergenerational trauma.

We react from familiarity; we respond from critical self/system reflection. 

The deeper change comes from asking: when will we #MakeGriefAPriority, especially the grief of violent, tragic goodbyes?

Serena Lewis is a Registered Social Worker who lives in Colchester County, NS. She has worked in the field of grief with schools, hospice and palliative care, long term care, corrections, and alongside First Nations communities. Serena is committed to see recognition of grief as a proactive means to support mental wellbeing, and strives to support grief /death literacy through trauma-informed practice.

Apply for a 2021 conference bursary

The College is partnering with the CASW to offer a bursary to help members join the upcoming 2021 NSCSW virtual conference: Challenging our Social Justice Lens. These bursaries will help recipients cover the entire conference registration fee.

We value diversity and strive to create opportunities for Nova Scotians with intersectional identities who have historically faced barriers. Preference for bursary awards will also be given to applicants who identify as holding an identity that has historically faced barriers to accessing educational opportunities.

To be considered for a bursary, you must apply on the conference website before April 23, 2021.

If you’re selected to receive a conference bursary, a cheque will be mailed to your home address. Bursary recipients are expected to register for the conference and attend online.

Submit your nomination for NSCSW Council

Help shape the profession’s future in our province as part of the NSCSW Council

We’re accepting nominations for the following College Council positions:

  • Vice President
  • Secretary
  • Central Chapter Representative: 2 positions
    • Halifax County & West Hants
  • Northern Chapter Representative: 1 position
    • East Hants and Colchester, Cumberland & Pictou counties
  • Western Chapter Representative: 1 position
    • Yarmouth, Shelburne, Digby, Queens, Annapolis, Lunenburg & Kings counties

Roles and Responsibilities of the NSCSW Council

In addition to the responsibilities stated in the by-laws, Council members have the following major roles and responsibilities: 

  1. Understands and demonstrate a commitment to the organization’s vision, mission, values and programs,
  2. Has overall stewardship responsibilities for the College,
  3. Has charge of the affairs of the College,
  4. May make or change regulations under the Social Workers Act
  5. Proposes bylaws and amendments for voting by members,
  6. Regularly attends Council meetings and important related meetings,
  7. Commits to actively organizing events and meetings in their regions in partnership with NSCSW staff in order to effectively communicate NSCSW vision, mission and values and seeks feedback for members,
  8. Participates in a Committee of Council
  9. Volunteers for and willingly accepts assignments and completes them thoroughly and on time,
  10. Stays informed about committee matters, prepares themselves well for meetings, and reviews and comments on minutes and reports,
  11. Gets to know other council members and builds a collegial working relationship that contributes to consensus,
  12. Is an active participant in the committee’s annual evaluation and planning efforts.

Council Nomination Form

Submit your nomination below no later than Monday, April 19 at 4:30 PM ADT.

  • Which Council role is this nomination for?

  • Your biography should include your education, work history, past/current NSCSW involvement and describe how you would contribute to Council’s role as a professional association, and your main interests for your term in office.

  • Photo will be used for posting on the College website. Colour photos are preferred.

Propose a by-law change or resolution

Submit proposals by April 19, 2021

The NSCSW is calling on members to put forward resolutions and by-law changes for the 2021 Annual General Meeting. Please submit all proposals for change by April 19, 2021. 

The AGM & 2021 conference will be held virtually on May 14-15 via Eventbrite and Zoom. Event details and registration info are at

By-law changes

The Social Workers Act grants us the privilege of self-regulation; it allows us to create by-laws that govern the operations of the College and the actions of its members.

You can review our current by-laws online.

By-laws change over time to reflect changing needs and priorities of the membership. Any member may propose amendments to any of the by-laws of the College, with the exception of changes to the annual membership fees or other fees set out in Schedule “A.”

Any proposed changes in the by-laws are subject to the approval of two thirds of the members who are voting on the proposed amendment.

Propose a by-law change:


A resolution is a formal statement of a decision or expression of opinion put before or adopted by an assembly.

The subject matter of the resolution should:

  • Fall within the scope of the College’s mandate; and
  • Not be currently under considerations by Council

Drafting a resolution

A resolution is composed of:

  1. (Optional) Whereas Clauses
    • Describes the issue; leads logically to the “Resolved” clauses.
      Tip: You may prefer to provide background information and no “ Whereas” clauses.
  2. Resolved Clauses
    • Describes the action proposed or recommendation. There can be more than one “Resolved” clause, but they should be limited to items of significance.
  3. Background Information
    • Include a description of the issue; a statement outlining how the resolution would change the issue; the rationale for the proposed course of action.
    • Maximum one page for the background information.
    • Tip: Can be used to supplement the “Whereas” clause.

Presenting a resolution

The resolution contact person (or designate) presents the resolution at the AGM. After the resolution, has been presented, it becomes the property of the College. At that point, an amendment to your resolution may be put forward. The assembly votes on whether to adopt the amendment or not.

Propose a resolution:

Questions? Contact the College’s Registrar/Executive Director, Alec Stratford at or (902) 429-7799 x 224.

Connection Magazine: Winter 2021 issue

Social Work is Essential: Social Work Month Conversation (Western NS)

Social Work is Essential: Social Work Month Conversation (Eastern NS)

Social Work is Essential: Social Work Month Conversation (Northern NS)

Social Work is Essential: Social Work Month Conversation (Central NS)

Webinar: Examining protective factors for children’s welfare: the case of Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, and Immigrant and Refugee Children in the HRM