Overdose Awareness Day Allows Families to Grieve for Loved Ones

Overdose Awareness Day allows families to grieve for loved ones

Event in Dickson Park gives some closure to those who have lost loved ones to drug poisoning.

The Region of Waterloo’s harm reduction group along with other outreach workers held an event Wednesday in Cambridge in memory of those lost to drug poisoning. 

Hundreds of wooden crosses lined the grass in Dickson Park as families and friends who lost loved ones had a chance to grieve their untimely deaths.

Jessica Hill is a peer support worker with Cambridge Addiction Services and lost her best friend Trish, to an overdose in 2020. Trish was a mother, a daughter and a bright spot in the lives of those she knew, said Hill. 

“The morning I found out that she had passed, it felt like a piece of me died along with her,” she said. “This hole has been ripped into my life and into my soul and I didn't know how I was going to fill it. I still don't know how to fill it.”

When Trish passed, everyone around her felt the impact. There was no bright spot in their lives according to Hill. 

“That one day, that one drug, that one choice, alters the lives of everybody that it touches. The healing journey is not quick, it's not easy and it's not uniform either,” said Hill. 

Due to the stigmatized nature of overdose and drug use, events like the one held in Dickson park allows people some type of closure they might not have had otherwise. 

Hill thinks this has been a cathartic experience with a lot of healing. She was able to chat with people who have lost close friends to drug poisoning and be in a space where there was no stigma or judgment. 

This idea of having a space of understanding and acceptance is exactly what organizer Emma Horner, co-chair of the harm reduction working group was hoping to create. 

“This is really just a day to really remember all the lives that we've lost to overdose and build a space for the community to gather, grieve, and recognize,” said Horner. 

They want the community to know about the services available to them and also rally for more progressive work to be made in order to deal with the growing overdose crisis. 

Over 500 markers will be set up to represent all of the deaths in the region. They hope this will be a powerful visual and humanize those who have died. The names of victims are written on these markers along with photos or messages written by loved ones. 

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry was also in attendance to pay her respects and engage with the community. 

“Having lost one of my sons due to complications of epilepsy last year, I know what it’s like to have that hole in your heart. You can’t really heal,” McGarry said. 

As mayor, she wanted to show the community that she is dedicated to bringing wrap-around services to the city to help with this growing crisis and stop preventable deaths.

These services include the safe consumption and testing site as well as immediate treatment for those looking to take the next step in recovery. 

Cambridge is no stranger to the backlash and derogatory terms hurled at people battling a drug disorder, McGarry said. 

She wants to change that mindset and offer education to community members as well as fellow politicians running in the upcoming municipal election. 

She feels disturbed by the rhetoric and attitude coming from some candidates and community leaders stating that harm reduction kills.

“Nothing's further from the truth,” added the mayor. 

“The attitude in Cambridge is one that needs to be stopped first and unfortunately, we still have individuals running in this election that do carry signs that say harm reduction kills.”

Hill wants to see changes made to the services that are in place and asks for more support for individuals that are suffering during this time. 

“There's some stuff that's very broken and I'm happy with the support that is out there, but we need more. We need more in terms of support for these people that are dying on an everyday basis,” said Hill.