'Power through grief'

Dear, <<First Name>>. In my last newsletter, I introduced you to Mac, a 13-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., who lost his dad and uncle to overdoses. Now, I’d like you to meet Mac’s grandmother, Helen Jennens. Her son Rian died of a prescription drug overdose in 2011, and her son Tyler succumbed to a pure fentanyl overdose that was disguised as heroin in 2016.

Helen is one of the key voices in my story about Canada’s overdose crisis. Since losing Tyler, Helen has become an outspoken advocate for mental health and addiction awareness, fighting to end the stigma around these issues and for better services. She’s a member of Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian mothers whose loved ones have died from substance use. I met Helen in Kelowna last month. She told me her advocacy work helps her power through grief.

“Moms Stop the Harm found me; I didn’t find them. And I think I latched onto them as kind of a lifeline. I know that doing what we do is how we stay sane,” Helen says. “Then you have those times where you think: I don’t want to be sane; like, I just want to let go and wallow. But I think I decided one day that I’m not the type of person that would commit suicide. So, I’m not gonna die today — and if I’m gonna live, I somehow have to make that worth something.”

“You do the advocacy, and you do the interviews, and you try and make change, so you save another mother and honour your child’s illness.”

This month, I’m at a writer’s residency in Banff, Alberta, working on Helen’s story, as well as my own about losing my father to a drug overdose. If you have any questions, feedback or ideas — or if you just want to connect — send me a note via email, Twitter or Facebook. And if you liked this newsletter, please ask your friends to subscribe. My next update from Banff will come July 31.

Thanks for following,

Speakers' Corner

Helen Jennens' son Rian died of a prescription drug overdose in 2011, and her son Tyler succumbed to a pure fentanyl overdose last year. (Interviewer: Trevor Jang)


  • This informative story from The Guardian explores why men made up 80 per cent of the 935 fatal overdoses in B.C. last year.
  • personal blog from the mothers of Moms Stop the Harm provides updates on their advocacy work, and sheds light on what it’s like to lose a child to drugs.
  • One of my mentors in Banff is Ian Brown, Globe and Mail journalist, award-winning nonfiction writer and author of The Boy in the Moon, a memoir about his son Walker, who was born with a rare genetic disorder. Watch this documentary about Ian’s book and experience.
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