The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone grieving a loss. For those who have lost loved ones to overdose, it can be even harder to navigate.
A tree in Town Centre Mall highlights overdose awareness and serves as a way for people to honour those who have died as a result of it.
“I’m trying to find ways to help reduce stigma and help others who are grieving,” said Darlana Treloar, who lost her son Sean to overdose in May 2016. “This tree is very meaningful to people who have lost someone in this way. It helps us in our grief and gives us a feeling of peace to do something in their memory.”
Located across from Coles bookstore, the white tree is covered with purple and silver decorations, including ornaments featuring the pictures and details of people lost to substance use disorder.
“To read the ornaments, the names of the people, the ages, the years they lived is a really hard thing to do,” said Maureen Christensen, who lost her son Anton Christensen Lemieux. “It gives meaning to these people. They’re not alive anymore, but they were alive and they did matter.”
Christensen said something important that must change is the language people use to describe those who struggle with addictions.
“The term substance-use disorder, that needs to be used a lot more as opposed to saying heroin addict, opioid addict,” she said. “If the majority of those people had thought of themselves as having a substance-use disorder they might have been able to get more help, but if they thought of themselves as a hopeless addict they didn’t get the help they needed.”
Lyn Nicol has added an ornament to honour her brother, Neil Kulcheski.
“He died of an overdose seven months ago and I really miss him,” she said. “He was funny and kind.”
Nicol said it is important to remind people who are struggling and those around them that supports exist in the community.
“There are a ton of resources people aren’t aware of,” she added. “They need to get in touch with mental health and addictions and they will point the way to whatever is needed to help them out.”
Anyone who would like to add to the tree is welcome to, said Treloar.
“There’s a purple box under the tree where I’ve put all the supplies needed for people to make an ornament featuring their loved one,” she said. “Especially at Christmastime, it helps us to feel a connection to others who have lost someone in this way.”