Erin Relyea, MSW, RSW

Erin Relyea, MSW, RSW
Social Worker, Family Services Toronto

Erin is a Registered Social Worker specializing in gerontology. She has worked as a social worker and counsellor with Family Service Toronto’s Seniors and Caregivers Support Services team for the last two years. Erin has been a peer support counsellor and group facilitator with the Distress Centres of Greater Toronto’s Survivor Support Program for the past six years. Most recently, she created and piloted a new ecotherapy group that focused on mindfulness and grief based activities and discussions in Toronto’s High Park forest for survivors of suicide loss.

It may seem on the surface that there is nothing in common between suicide and an illness like dementia. Dig deeper and you discover stories of loss. Though we are conditioned to seek rational explanations for the losses in our lives we often end up on a profound emotional journey exploring questions of meaning, relationships and identity. It becomes an emotional, cognitive and narrative process of meaning making, relationship deconstruction and identity re-construction.

So we seek answers. It’s arguable that our wrestling with questions around loss are the most challenging, most persistent dilemma we face in our lives. As a culture we more likely avoid those questions because of the profound emotional toll. Instead, we should explore loss, meaning, relationships and identity as they will tell us a lot more about our inner being.

Losses, sudden or chronic, traumatic or enduring are both characterized by questions of meaning, relationships, identity, storytelling and profound emotion. Grief for a survivor of suicide has a sudden onset, whereas grief for a caregiver supporting a person living with dementia is ongoing. Yet, they can both cause a person to reflect on their identities in relation to another person, who may not be around to answer those critical questions.

How do you reconcile with grief when it may come at some personal cost or even fault? Let us throw in the mix, the role of intergenerational genetic trauma – a person who has been a caregiver to a family member with dementia, and now lives at significant risk of developing that condition in their 40s – 50s. How do you live your life with a ticking time bomb over your head?

Participants will come away with:

  • Differentiating grief and trauma from suicide loss and dementia from other types of losses
  • Meaning making in the process of coping
  • The role of mindfulness and self-compassion
  • Specific tools for coping
  • Recommendations for programs and research