This November we lost an important member of our community and a dear friend, Shilanne Stedmances. The ripples of this tragedy have reached many people on our island and further to the North Shore and to her friends and family in New Zealand. Hardest hit are her family and friends but also the young people in our community. Shilanne’s passing marks the third such tragedy for our community in the past year and a half.
On November 7 the land search for Shilanne came to an end. I was present when many of her friends learned the tragic news. I witnessed a hopelessness and fear in them that was palpable. This was just too much to bear and something needed to be done for this group of young people who have already suffered so much loss.
With the generous help of so many businesses, organizations and individuals in this community, we were able to organize a retreat, a place to pause, grieve and connect for those most affected.
On November 19, 22 invitations were sent out to young adults ranging from 19 to 26, inviting them to join a two-day grief and wellness retreat at Xenia Centre on Bowen Island. The retreat was fully actualized by donations of funds, food, space and time. One hundred per cent.
Nine young adults attended the retreat on November 27 and 28, along with Shilanne‘s mother, Joanne Raymont, and Xenia founder, Angelyn Toth. The program provided the group with yoga, meditation, talking circles, music, art and delicious food. There was crying and there was laughter. There was connecting and reconnecting. It was good.
How were we able to make this retreat happen? Through the kindness, generosity, openness and availability of those in our community. Specifically:
The Caring Circle, who provided encouragement, education and funding.
Xenia Centre, who provided the space and time, along with the wisdom and expertise of Angelyn Toth and Saria.
The Village Baker, the Bowen Island Pub and Tuscany restaurant, who provided us with comforting and delicious nourishment throughout the retreat
Individuals who helped out in the kitchen: Hayley Bradley, Jane Miller, and Sharon Sluggett, who ended up bringing much more to the retreat by way of listening and sharing their wisdom and experiences with participants.
Lisa Wrinch of the Bowen Island Community Foundation, who gave direction and encouragement for the vision.
Capilano Rock and Gem in North Vancouver, who supplied us with an artistic outlet.
Joanne Raymont, who shared her experiences, her memories and her love.
Sara Bryant (counselor, yoga instructor, and mother extraordinaire), who didn’t know Shilanne before the tragedy but devoted all her expertise, time, support, energy and presence to co-organizing and co-facilitating. She knows Shilanne now.
James Barker (youth worker, songwriter, musician and extraordinary human being) who devoted his music, heart and soul to helping and co-facilitating this retreat.
Dr. Yvonne McSkimming (caring community philanthropist) who was able to help us nourish our bodies and minds.
Finally, I’d like to thank the nine participants for showing up. It took a lot of courage and effort just to be there. All arrived at the retreat with an open mind, an open and heavy heart, and listening ears. They held a space for one another to mourn and remember. They listened and learned they were not alone in their difficult journeys, not only with their common thread of mourning but the struggles of life in general.
The early 20s are inherently a challenging stage of life but in our modern world it has become even harder. The cost of living independently is unrealistic, the supports of childhood seemingly slipping away, neuro-diversity not yet fully understood or accommodated in our society, unhealthy temptations looming everywhere for temporary relief and social media, the greatest “Frenemy” of all.
Through this journey I’ve come to understand that these young adults are actually still children in many ways. The early 20s essentially continue to be years of growth and development and an extension of the teen years in our modern world. This cohort needs our support, as do their parents.
Since I moved to this island 15 years ago, seven people in their early 20s in our community have passed away. Perhaps this is a microcosm of the rest of the world, but it seems to me like it’s time for action.
The retreat was a mammoth success. Thank you to all those who stepped up.
If you are or know someone who is aged 15 to 29 years old and looking for access to counselling services, please contact Colleen O’Neil at the Caring Circle, or any member of the Youth at Risk Committee (Neil Boyd, John Stiver, and Lorinda Strang) to apply for this funding.
Donations to the Youth at Risk fund can be made through the Bowen Island Community Foundation.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or addiction issues, help can be found. The Provincial Crisis Centre of BC’s 24/7 helpline is at 1-800-784-2433; with online youth chat and crisis chat available. A BC youth distress line is 604-872-3311. Howe Sound’s 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention line is at 1-866-661-3311.
Editor’s note about “Reconnecting in the wake of tragedy”: Shilanne Stedmances disappeared Nov. 4. Evidence suggests that she fell into the ocean but the case is officially still a missing persons case. However, as the worst is assumed, Shilanne’s family and friends are mourning her disappearance and assumed death.