Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day.
On Sunday night, my niece died of an overdose in a Kelowna park. She was 36 years old.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to Marina in more than 10 years but we were close when I lived in Penticton and Kelowna, before I moved to Prince George at the end of 1999. I was very proud to be her Uncle Neil and she was the reason I accepted the prospect of becoming a parent. If loving a child was like the love I had for her, then I was sure I could do the dad thing.
Marina grew up surrounded by love. Her grandparents always took her and her older brother camping and I wasn’t the only extended family member who loved being around her happy-go-lucky, curious nature and easy smile. She grew up in the nice part of town and her mom and step-dad were always there for her, even when her life started to go off the rails towards the end of high school.
Her death was a shock but not a surprise. Whatever demons kept driving her back to the drugs over and over again refused to let go. This is what these deadly hard street drugs do, uncaring of who you are, where you come from, your wealth, skin colour or anything else about you.
The worst part for those left behind is the powerlessness. For reasons we’ll never understand, all of the love and caring couldn’t loosen the grip the drugs took on her life. Our only consolation is the drugs will never hurt her again and she is finally free of the pain that drove her to their cruel embrace.
She was far more than a statistic but that is now part of who she is.
By the end of 2021, Marina will be one of about 2,000 overdose deaths and drug poisonings across B.C., on top of the more than 1,700 deaths last year. Her death is another contributor to this heartbreaking statistic – for people between 19 and 39, drugs are now the leading cause of death in B.C. This epidemic preceded COVID-19 and it will continue long after this coronavirus has exhausted itself. Like climate change, this crisis affects us all and it is a complicated problem that needs commitment, support, and money to address it but not enough is being done.
Marina was a real woman with a real story and real people who loved her, including grandparents in their 80s devastated that they lived to bear the loss of their Marina in what should have been the prime of her life.
My heart aches for them but also for everyone who has had to get that call and carry this grief. It hurts even more when I think of the other families it will harm today and tomorrow and the days to come. Based on how the year is going, another three or four B.C. families will learn today that their Marina is gone.
You were so much more than your tragic ending, sweet girl. You live in my heart and the hearts of all who cared for you. I will treasure my memories of our time together for the rest of my days.