A total of 217 paper hearts decorated a Christmas tree this season in remembrance of central Albertans who have died due to substance use.
The tree, set up by local members of the advocacy group Moms Stop The Harm on Dec. 2 near the gift shop at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, gave people the opportunity to hang purple, paper hearts in memory of their loved ones.
Member Wendy Little said seeing the tree covered in hearts by the time it was taken down on Jan. 2 was a little overwhelming.
“It was quite an experience to take them all down because we were all very aware of the emotions that were behind all those names for the people left behind. There’s a lot of pain on that tree,” Little said.
“At the same time, it was quite an honour to create that space for people to be able to remember the people that they lost. It was a good thing to create that safe space.”
The hearts represented people with substance use disorder, as well as casual or first-time substance users, who have died. Even before the hearts were hung, the tree already had 25 ornaments with photos of central Albertans who have died.
Little said substance-related deaths are still so stigmatizing that people don’t want to talk about it in the way that they should, or they feel like they can’t talk about it.
Moms Stop the Harm, created in 2016, is a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use-related harms and deaths who advocate for changes to drug policies and provide peer support to grieving families.
In Alberta, members have been calling on the province to expand supervised consumption services, provide access to safe, regulated substances to replace toxic street drugs, and offer rapid, barrier-free access to medical detox and evidence-based treatment.
Little said the paper hearts will be stored so they can be used throughout the year to honour those who have died.
She said the group will recognize International Overdose Awareness Day in August which is held to generate greater awareness and action as well as discussion around the opioid crisis, drug policy and evidence-based overdose prevention.
“Knowledge is power. Hopefully, all these little things will add up someday to help reverse this crisis.”
For more information visit www.momsstoptheharm.com.