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I lost one or more loved ones in the earthquake in Haiti

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The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 was a dramatic and unusual event because it was sudden and unforeseen, and because of the extent of the casualties and losses it caused among the Haitian population. A disaster of such severity disrupts the daily lives of those affected, on physical, financial, material, psychological and social plans. But beyond the uncertainty and the losses that may arise, this situation calls on individuals, families, the entire Haitian community, and society at large to adapt and recover.

You have lost one or more persons in the wake of the disaster. What can you do to get through this ordeal?

What is grieving in the wake of a disaster?

The loss of loved ones in a disaster is sudden and brutal, which can affect the intensity and duration of the grieving process. In addition, grief may be associated with other losses and worries caused by the disaster.

The grieving process varies from person to person and is influenced by culture and social beliefs. One cannot specify or predict the time needed to overcome bereavement. However, certain factors may ease the process of grieving.

What might I experience when I lose a loved one?

  • A refusal to believe that the person has really perished.
  • Very intense emotional pain that may seems overwhelming.
  • Feeling of anger, mood swings.
  • Feeling of loneliness, emptiness, injustice, powerlessness, sadness, pain, despair.
  • Confusion, memory difficulties.
  • Stress, anxiety, difficulty in sleeping and eating.
  • Numbness, the feeling that I'm functioning "on automatic pilot."
  • Agitation, tightness in the chest.
  • A reorganization of the daily routine.
  • The discovery of new strengths.
  • New closeness with those around me.
  • Creation of new relationships, for example with people who have gone through similar situations.
  • Etc.

What are the stages of grieving process?

There are several stages in grieving. A person will not necessarily experience all stages, and may not experience them in the order shown. Stages can overlap. People can also revert to a prior stage.

Illustration des 4 étapes du deuil

Shock and denial stage

This stage may last minutes, days, or weeks. The person has difficulty accepting reality or denies it, and may feel numb - incapable of reacting.

Protest stage

This stage may last weeks or months. The person may experience anger, incomprehension, a feeling of injustice, a more or less important feeling of guilt, and may look for someone to blame and for a meaning of the loss. The person begins to acknowledge that the loss is permanent.

Disorganization stage

This stage may last weeks or months. The person may feel great sadness, anxiety and powerlessness. The person may also become withdrawn, losing interest in usual activities.

Reorganization and adaptation stage

This stage may last few months or few years. The grief becomes less invasive and the ability to feel pleasure gradually returns. The person feels a renewal of interest and can start to make new plans. The person adapts to the new situation.

Certain circumstances may make the grieving process more difficult, for example:

  • the death was violent
  • there is uncertainty about the circumstances of the death
  • the body cannot be retrieved and viewed
  • grieving rituals in line with one's beliefs cannot be carried out
  • several loved ones are lost at the same time or within a short space of time

In these circumstances, you must be vigilant to your reactions, and ask for help whenever needed.

What are my strengths and my resources? What can I do?

You are the person best placed to know your own strengths, resources, and needs.

Here are some questions that might help you pinpoint them:

  • If I have experienced bereavement before, how did I overcome the loss? What proved helpful to me at that time? What can I put into practice in the current situation?
  • What do those around me see as my strengths? What strengths can I use in the grieving process?
  • Is it possible to talk about the situation with someone, and share my feelings with this person?
  • Who can I call on for practical help (meals, support with formalities, looking after children, etc.)?
  • What support groups and professional services are there in my community that could come to my aid? How can I access these services?

Some examples of strengths and resources

  • My beliefs, values and convictions
  • My ability to adapt to difficult situations
  • Presence and access to a supportive social network
  • My personal qualities (ability to express my emotions, etc.)
  • Access to a support group for bereaved persons and the availability of professional help when needed.

Ways to help myself

  • Share my emotions with loved ones and accept their help.
  • Get together with people going through a similar situation.
  • Allow myself relaxation time.
  • Perform symbolic acts in line with my values and beliefs.

Despite using ways such as these to cope with the situation, you may need professional help.

Here are the possible warning signs:

  • I experience major and persistent disturbances to my appetite and sleep.
  • I have difficulty functioning in my various roles (family, work, leisure).
  • I feel a marked drop in interest for things that I used to like.
  • I constantly isolate myself from those around me.
  • My consumption of alcohol, drugs or medications has increased considerably.
  • I cannot concentrate or make decisions.
  • I feel intense suffering that is not fading with time - or, on the contrary, I act as though nothing had happened and register no emotion.
  • I feel so overwhelmed by the event that I have suicidal thoughts, or feel like attacking somebody.

You are not alone in experiencing this situation; do not hesitate to ask for help.

Despite the difficulties disasters cause, they may also bring beneficial effects, such as a surge of solidarity between members of the community.

Do not give up hope!

Where can I get information?


  • Services Québec toll-free line: 1 877 644-4545
  • Régie de l'assurance maladie: Montréal, 514 864-3411, elsewhere in Québec: 1 800 561-9749
  • Emergency Operations Centre, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: 613 996-8885 (collect call), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week


Where can I get help?

Produced with the collaboration of

  • CSSS de Lac-Saint-Jean-Est
  • Mr. Pierre-Paul Malenfant, t.s., (psychosocial) Civil Security Counsellor (psychosocial), MSSS


  • BRILLON, Pascal. Se relever d'un traumatisme, réappren- dre à vivre et à faire confi ance, Éditions Quebecor, 2004.
  • BRYMERS, M., et al. Psychological First Aid: Field Ope- rations Guide, 2nd Edition, National Child Traumatic Stress Network et National Center for PTSD, 2006.
  • DEMONTIGNY, Francine, and Line BEAUDET. Lorsque la vie éclate: l'impact de la mort d'un enfant sur la famille, Saint-Laurent, Éditions du Renouveau Pédago- gique, 1997, 271 pp.
  • ECHTERLING, Lennis, Jack PRESBURY and J. Edson McKEE. Crisis Intervention: Promoting Resilience and Resolution in Troubled Times, New Jersey, Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall, 2005, 269 pp.
  • GOUVERNEMENT DU QUÉBEC. Earthquake in Haiti, 2010, Québec. (Consulted January 23, 2010).
  • MALENFANT, Pierre-Paul. "Les réactions des personnes sinistrées: module 4", in L'intervention sociosanitaire en contexte de sécurité civile, ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, 2007. [Working document].
  • MALENFANT, Pierre-Paul. "Le processus d'adaptation: module 5", in L'intervention sociosanitaire en contexte de sécurité civile, ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, 2008. [Working document].
  • MALENFANT, Pierre-Paul. "La fonction intervention psychosociale: module 6", in L'intervention socio- sanitaire en contexte de sécurité civile, ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, 2008. [Working document].
  • MALTAIS, Danielle, and Marie-Andrée RHEAULT (eds.). L'intervention sociale en cas de catastrophe, Québec, Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2005, 392 pp.
  • MALTAIS, Danielle (ed.). Catastrophe et état de santé des individus, des intervenants et des communautés, Chicoutimi, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, 2002, 866 pp.
  • MARTEL, Claude, and Alain BRUNET. "L'intervention psychosociale lors de sinistre", in Intervention en situation de crise et en contexte traumatique, Gaëtan Morin, 2006.
  • PINARD, Suzanne. De l'autre côté des larmes: guide pour une traversée consciente du deuil, édition revue et augmentée, Boucherville, Éditions de Mortagne, 2005, 230 pp.


Different psychosocial information sheet about earthquake in Haiti are availlable:

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