Jill is blond, fit and full of energy. She often wears her hair in a bouncy ponytail. But there is a sadness around Jill’s eyes that somehow conflicts with the spring in her step.
The Okanagan mother of two recently retired from a career as a renal nurse. She spends her days in the mountains, running and hiking. Her favorite place to go is the hills behind Penticton, where she can spend time in the quiet and lose herself in memories of time spent with her son Daniel, who also loved the outdoors. Sadly, Daniel fought demons even a mother’s love couldn’t help.
Daniel died in 2016 from a fentanyl overdose. It was a week before his 24th birthday. After years of battling addiction, he had been substance-free for 17 months. The family was getting ready to celebrate together. But he died alone in his car outside a Kelowna park. It was the car they had so much fun buying together – a G37 Infiniti that Daniel loved.
Looking back, Jill says she had underestimated the risk of relapse and the role of stigma. “He was too ashamed to come to us and tell us that he had relapsed, that he needed help,” she says.
Many people don’t realize that opioid use disorder is a chronic relapsing condition, and there can be tremendous stigma about relapse because it is felt to be a personal failure.
“I can’t change what happened that day,” Jill says. “What I can do is use the pain of my loss to help me be more aware of the suffering of others, and try to be more open in sharing my emotions and vulnerabilities. I have learned so much from Daniel, both through his life and sadly his death. His death has transformed me. How could it not?”
“Living without one of your children is the most unnatural way for any mom to live out her years. I have learned how to connect more deeply and meaningfully with my family, friends and life… One of the many gifts that Daniel left for me.”