A local Christmas tree is quickly being covered with purple paper hearts with the names of people who have died from substance overdoses over the years.
Moms Stop The Harm, whose members have all lost children to substance-related deaths, set up the tree near the gift shop at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on Friday and left 30 paper hearts nearby so people could add the names of their loved ones to the tree. By Monday, all 30 hearts were on the tree.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting that many that quickly,” said member Wendy Little.
“Red Deer has been deeply impacted. I hate to think of how many names are going to be up on that tree after a whole month.”
Even before the hearts were hung, the tree already had 25 ornaments with photos of central Albertans who have died.
It’s the first time Moms Stop The Harm in the Red Deer area has set up a memorial tree at the hospital to give people an opportunity to remember their loved ones.
“Often there’s a lot of disenfranchised grief that comes with losing someone to substance use disorder and it was just a beautiful way to memorialize at a hard time of year.”
Little’s son Quinn, 22, died from an opioid-related overdose in June 2020 in Delburne.
“I joined Moms Stop The Harm not too long after that. It’s a really safe space for families who have lost somebody to substance use-related deaths. Often there’s a lot of stigma and judgement that comes when you lose a child or a family member to a substance use-related death, specifically drug-related.”
She said many people also picked up information left near the tree about Moms Stop The Harm and its two peer-led support groups Healing Hearts and Holding Hope.
Little and another member are starting a local Healing Heart support group in February for families who have lost loved ones to substance use disorder.
Little said it’s also important to push forward with more harm reduction programs. Safe consumption sites work for those who use them, typically homeless people struggling with addiction, but not necessarily for kids like her son.
“Unfortunately, there are two things happening. There’s the crisis on our streets and the crisis that’s happening in our kid’s bedrooms and in our homes. My son died alone in his bedroom, not on the street. He wasn’t homeless. He was just a regular kid.”