April 9, 2020

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Counsellors help U of M process shock and grief

As the shock of the downed airliner sinks in a day later, mourning friends and loved ones in Winnipeg -- those with personal connections to the 176 killed, including at least eight Manitobans -- are getting support as they suffer.

Forough Khadem was killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran, Wednesday.

Forough Khadem was killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran, Wednesday.

Counsellors with the University of Manitoba met Thursday afternoon with students and staff at the Bannatyne Avenue campus who knew Forough Khadem, the outgoing 38-year-old immunologist and business development specialist, and are seeking help with their grief.

"This is more of a professional counselling program for people directly impacted," said U of M associate Prof. David Ness, director of the Student Counselling Centre who organized the support meeting, which he described as a "pretty structured process."

"Sadly, we've done them for decades," said Ness. "We talk about what happened, and what the facts are."

"In this situation, we have very few facts," Ness said Thursday, before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced evidence indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, and "it may well have been unintentional."

"The news will undoubtedly come as a further shock to the families who are already grieving," Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa, where he stressed the importance of there being a thorough investigation.

David Ness, associate professor and director of the Student Counselling Centre at the University of Manitoba.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

David Ness, associate professor and director of the Student Counselling Centre at the University of Manitoba.

For the mourners, the facts about what happened and why may never be known, and making peace with the unknown will be a challenge, said Ness.

"We want to support the impacted community as much as possible," he said. More sessions are in the works in the days ahead for the Fort Garry campus where two of the crash victims -- Amirhossein Ghasemi, 32, and Amirhossein Ghorbani, 21, -- were students.

Amirhossein Ghasemi.

Amirhossein Ghasemi.

Amirhossein Ghorbani.

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Amirhossein Ghorbani.

"We're working to see what's needed on our campuses," said Ness. "We want to tailor a response to the needs of the community."

With a student population close to 40,000, there are tragedies every year. Each one, and the people affected, are different, but the response is similar, he said.

A team of three or four counsellors meets with the group, trying to help people understand their own reactions to the traumatic event, and not be self critical of however they're handling it, Ness said.

"We use this one phrase -- 'you're a normal person having a normal reaction to an abnormal event'," the counsellor said.

"A plane crash is beyond what most people experience," and it's normal for people to react differently, said Ness.

"Right now, there's students and faculty not able to study and work, and there are some who need to do that -- they're not being insensitive, this is what they need to do," he said. "If people don't have a reaction, that's normal."

MEMORIALS SCHEDULED

On Friday, a memorial service for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS 752 is being held Friday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the University of Manitoba's Engineering and Information Technology Complex.

The service is for the university community "and not intended for the general public," a U of M spokesman said.

On Friday, a memorial service for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS 752 is being held Friday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the University of Manitoba's Engineering and Information Technology Complex.

The service is for the university community "and not intended for the general public," a U of M spokesman said.

On Sunday, the Iranian Community of Manitoba is paying tribute to its members who perished in Wednesday's plane crash.

Its celebration of their lives is taking place from 2 to 5 p.m. While the public is welcome, the organizers said they did not want to advertise it because the space may not be large enough for all those who want to attend.

"We will share stories together and honour the memories of lives lived to the fullest," the community said, listing the names of those being remembered:

Forough Khadem, 38

Mehdi Sadeghi, 44

Bahareh Haj Esfandiari, 41,

Anisa Sadeghi, 10

Amirhossein Ghasemi, 32

Amirhossein Ghorbani, 21

Farzahen Naderi, 38

Nhujan Sadr, 11

Dr. Farhad Niknam, 44

Niknam was a dentist in Ontario with a brother in Winnipeg, a family friend in Toronto said. He was not a dentist in Manitoba.

– Carol Sanders

The group sessions encourage people not to isolate themselves and to find a support network from their own communities. "Isolation in the long term doesn't usually work," he said.

Friends of people who are grieving can reach out, he said. "You can say 'Is there something I can do to help?'"

People who don't know those affected but want to help can keep their eyes open for different opportunities.

"Look for obits asking people to give to a cause, or you can show you care when you attend a vigil."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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