For those that have lost loved ones to the overdose crisis, the rising number of overdose deaths represent more than just figures on charts.
At a candlelit vigil on August 31, Moms Stop the Harm and the South Island Community Overdose Response Network honoured family members lost. The emcee of the evening, Jennifer Howard, lost her own son to the overdose crisis in 2016 — right after B.C. declared an overdose crisis.
“[This vigil] is a celebration of life and a moment in time to honour those lost,” she said. “We don’t need protection from our grief, but rather time and the means to express it, to experience it, and to live through it.”
Over 400 people watched the vigil while it was live streaming on Facebook. Musicians shared songs with themes of love and resilience and speakers included Moms Stop the Harm volunteers Leslie McBain and Nancy Murphy, Councillor Marianne Alto, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The live stream was posted after the event, and over 8 000 people have viewed the recording since.
The event started with a territorial acknowledgment, a healing song from William Pierre Jr., and a powerful speech from Lavatta Frank. Frank is a member of the Songhees Nation and knows what it feels like to lose a loved one to this crisis.
“It’s a great honour to be a part of this group,” Frank said.
She noted the effects the overdose crisis has had on the Indigenous communities in B.C., citing The First Nation Health Authority. There was a 93 per cent increase in First Nations overdose deaths from January to May 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year.
Frank gifted a set of beaded hummingbird earrings to Henry — a symbol of loved ones lost. Frank said that when someone sees a hummingbird, it is seen as a sign of someone lost visiting them.
Henry expressed her appreciation for the event and admiration for Moms Stop the Harm.
“This is not a new crisis … and it has been exacerbated by our new crisis, the pandemic,” Henry said. “We could not have conceived the added burden that would be put on people who use drugs. The measures we put in place that were meant to try to save and protect people have caused so much additional harm.”
The last three months have seen record-breaking highs for overdose deaths in the province. In July, 175 people died from overdose while 19 died from COVID-19.
Although this event was for remembrance, Moms Stop the Harm is actively looking to change policy and stigma around drug use. Their network of families call for an embrace of decriminalization, access to safe supply, and better harm reduction plans.
“In our loved ones’ names, the torch of advocacy will be picked up again tomorrow morning,” Howard said. “We will speak for those we remembered tonight and light a path of hope for those who continue to struggle.”