'Shapeshifting trickster'

Dear, <<First Name>>. I’m writing to you from Banff, Alberta, where I’m spending all of July at a writer’s residency working on a very personal story. I lost my father to a drug overdose when I was 5, and am here to reflect on that experience.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, as I do every year around this time, when Father’s Day comes and goes. Childhood grief is a shapeshifting trickster. Just when you think you have it figured out, it takes on a new form. Writing has always been my way of keeping up with its mischief.

So, it’s fitting that I’m working on a story about B.C.’s current overdose crisis, sparked by the deadly opioid fentanyl. More than 900 people died from overdose in the province last year, and nearly 70 per cent of those deaths were linked to fentanyl. My father died in Vancouver in 1998, at the height of Vancouver’s crack cocaine epidemic. I am a child of that crisis — and last week, I interviewed a child of this crisis.

Mac is 13 years old and lives in Kelowna. His father, Tyler, overdosed last January on pure fentanyl that was disguised as heroin. Tyler had been struggling with an opiate addiction since 2010, after he ruptured his Achilles playing football and was prescribed Oxycontin. Tyler’s addiction quickly escalated to heroin shortly after his older brother Rian, Mac’s uncle, died of his own prescription-drug overdose in 2011.

I was impressed by Mac’s maturity, although not surprised. Losing family members to drugs as a kid makes you grow up fast. Still, Mac was very calm and very open with me. He gave a blunt and raw account of his father’s struggles.

Reflecting back on my conversation with Mac, I realized that in some ways, I was lucky to lose my father at such a young age. Mac may have had more time with his dad than I got with mine, but he also witnessed a lot more of his father’s mistakes. He was exposed to more trauma. He was closer to the sickness.

I am working on this story for the rest of the summer. It’ll be a retelling of my story and Mac’s story. It’s a story about the impact of addiction on families. About grief and mental illness. About resilience. About healing. But most importantly, it’s a story about what needs to be done to prevent future overdose deaths.

Thanks for following my journey,

P.S. If you have any questions, feedback or story ideas, or if you just want to connect, send me a note via email, Twitter or Facebook. And if you liked this newsletter, please invite your friends to subscribe. My next update from Banff will come July 17.



Mac, 13, is from Kelowna, B.C. Both his father and uncle died from drug overdoses. A photo of them hangs on the wall behind Mac's bed. He says people who're addicted to drugs are just like you and me — they're just sick. (Credit: Trevor Jang)


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