After putting the final stitch on her quilt, Margaret Mauger laid down her needle and cried.
The warm, soft cloth map of Nova Scotia was a comfort and release for her. She had devoted hundreds of hours to it since April.
Every day after work for three months, she curled up in her Shubenacadie, N.S., home, put on an old hockey game or some music, and reached for the needle and thread.
"After the mass shooting happened, there was such an intense energy that you felt in our community," she said. "I just felt a compulsion — I need to do something, because we're all struggling with this."
Mauger had never sewn something as large as the queen-size quilt, which she did entirely by hand. Undaunted, she sketched out a design and colours.
"I went to the fabric store the next day and bought the fabric and just lost myself in it," she said. "There's hope in every stitch. It comes from a place of love, of support. Because we're not alone in this, with tragedy and trauma. We're not alone. There's so many of us that have experienced trauma in some capacity."
And now, Mauger is ready to pass her quilt to a new owner in support of a project she holds even closer to her heart: free trauma counselling for anyone who needs it.
Response to trauma
Mauger is a certified trauma counselling therapist with a private practice, who specialized for many years in counselling survivors of sexual assault.
In January, she co-founded a new non-profit organization called the After Trauma Empowerment Network (ATEN). The organization supports people who've experienced accidents, traumatic medical procedures, or any kind of abuse, intergenerational trauma or violence.
There is no charge to get an appointment, and anyone from across Nova Scotia can ask for help. Right now, ATEN has 10 active clients and often get calls from people seeking information.
"Often, when somebody experiences trauma, the symptoms that they experience, they don't know that they're normal. I've heard a lot of people say, 'I think I'm going crazy. I don't know what's wrong with me,'" said Mauger.
"And then when they learn through education that a lot of the symptoms and feelings and experiences that they're having is a normal response to trauma or an abnormal event, that helps to alleviate some of the stress that they're dealing with."
Some symptoms of trauma can include nightmares, obsessive thoughts, feeling out of control, depression, or feelings of helplessness.
Some people have asked whether the organization began in response to the pandemic and mass shooting, said Vida Woodworth, a volunteer and support worker and the other half of the ATEN team.
But it didn't.
"I have always believed that things happen when they're supposed to," said Woodworth.
"Who knew that a couple of months later we were going to have such traumatic things to deal with, first with COVID and then this community was directly impacted with the mass murder that happened."
The ATEN office is located on Highway 2, a few minutes walk from the place where RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson lost her life.
'Quilt of hope"
Mauger and Woodworth are self-funding their organization. To keep it going, they plan to hold fundraisers. That's where Mauger's quilt comes in.
They will soon start selling raffle tickets for a draw to win the hand-stitched piece they're calling the "Nova Scotia Strong quilt of hope."
At $5 a ticket, Mauger jokes they hope to raise "a million dollars." She plans to sell tickets at several locations in the community and on the ATEN website.
The draw for the quilt will take place in November.
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