On March 20, Judith Conway and her overdose awareness display were blessed by Pope Francis. The display is made up of flags and ribbons honouring those who have died of overdoses and those currently struggling with addiction. (File submitted/ Judith Conway)

B.C. woman looks for spot to show overdose display blessed by Pope

Judith Conway created a large display representing people who have died from opioid overdoses

Judith Conway travelled from her home on Vancouver Island, across the world, to visit his Holiness Pope Francis in March and receive a blessing on a carefully folded series of flags and ribbons.

On each flag and ribbon is a name, and along with them are 4,000 strands of yarn which each represent someone who died of an opioid overdose in Canada.

One of the flags honours Conway’s own son, Matthew Yvon Conway, who was 29 when he died back in November 2017. He is one of more than 3,200 British Columbians who have died from illicit drugs in the past two years.

Since Pope Francis blessed the project, Conway has been on a mission to carry it forward and spread awareness about the need for change, but she’s been having trouble finding a place to hang the display in Victoria.

READ MORE: Comox overdose awareness display blessed by the Pope

READ MORE: ‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Conway has a static version of the project along her home’s fence in Comox and has the blessed version moving around the area. On April 25 the display was in the Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria for an inclusive memorial for those lost through overdoses, and in May it will be on display at the Courtenay Airpark. 

But Conway is hoping it will get a longer display in the Greater Victoria area where her children grew up. 

ALSO READ: Opioid overdoses claimed more than 3,200 lives in first nine months of 2018

The City of Victoria approved the display at the beginning of December, but at this point have not found a suitable spot for the project, which unfolds to be over 100 feet long.

Having the flags and ribbons out is important, Conway said, because it gets people talking.

“I’ve had mothers come up to me after seeing the flags and tell me that they’ve never told anyone how their child died,” Conway said. “This is all part of the stigma of drugs… People go through these huge losses and they can’t talk about it because of the shame of society.”

ALSO READ: Youngest opioid overdose victim in B.C. last year was 10 years old

Conway was aware of the opioid crisis before her son’s death, but has learned much more since then.

“I was a mother who sought support and everything else,” Conway said, “I was told the same as usual: they have to hit rock bottom… I believe now that the old teachings of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous], which has been a powerful tool for many people, is different than what’s needed now. This is not rock bottom. Rock bottom is death.”

Conway said Matthew was a hardworking, handsome and productive man, and kept up his job until the day he died. He had never had on overdose before.

Matthew became addicted to opioids after enduring a bad accident. He went through rehab, and worked with doctors and therapists to stay sober. He practiced abstinence – refraining from alcohol and narcotics, a move that Conway said isolated him from many of his friends.

The knell for Matthew came from a doctor’s pen.

“I found out from the coroner’s report that Matthew had gone to the hospital for an infection, and that he was prescribed narcotics,” Conway said. Shortly after, Matthew’s renewed dependence lead to an overdose.

Conway said that before Matthew’s death she believed abstinence was the way to go, but now understands that it doesn’t work.

“I have no idea what works. If I knew, my son would still be alive,” Conway said. “I’m willing to look at anything that will work and maybe part of that would be decriminalization of drugs.”

READ MORE: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Matthew’s death, and the death of thousands of others are preventable, and can be stopped when a community comes together and show support for one another, Conway said.

“I believe our society has really lost a sense of community, and everyone feels alone. In the old days it took a village to raise a child. Now, I think it takes a village to solve this.”

Preventative movements are happening across B.C., including the establishment of overdose prevention units and calls for safer access to opioid alternatives from municipalities and public health officers.

In April, Black Press Media also launched a comprehensive Overdose Prevention Guide and printed 15,000 copies that were sent to doctor’s offices, social service agencies, seniors centres, and free magazine stands across the Capital Region.

Still, Conway said more action is required.

“I think every bit helps. The more that we talk, the more that we try and break down the stigma, I think all of this will help,” Conway said. “An ounce of prevention saves a lot of money and a lot of lives.”

Conway hopes her project will eventually find a place in a Victoria park, where many people can see it.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


Send a Tweet: @NicoleCrescenzi

Like us on Facebook  

 

Judith Conway’s memorial for those who have lost their lives to a drug overdose. (File submitted)

Just Posted

UPDATED: Another section of Bruce Avenue closing for construction

New curbs, gutters, lighting installation will detour traffic to Howard Avenue for three weeks

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Snowbirds put on a show, not a military exercise

Letter writer responds to a letter that questioned the idea of celebrating militarism

Year-long volunteer program aims to empower Vancouver Island youths

Federally funded Youth 20/20 Can involves young people aged 15-30

V.I. Raiders earn a win against Okanagan Sun

Five interceptions help Nanaimo to a 37-13 victory Saturday at Caledonia Park

VIU staff go rock-hunting in Nanaimo for grade-school geology courses

University’s earth science department creating introductory teaching kits for schools

UPDATED: Nanaimo pumped for Red Bull Pump Track World Championship event

Nanaimo’s Ben Leslie wins men’s division of world qualifier at Steve Smith Bike Park

VIDEO: Ride to Conquer Cancer rolls into Hope

Thousands of cyclist descend on small town for annual cancer fundraiser

Island murder victim’s mom expresses outrage over mental fitness decision of the accused

Smith vows to keep fighting until justice served for Descoteau

B.C. VIEWS: Pipelines set to roll as federal politicians posture

Projects to drive B.C., Canadian economy in years ahead

Vancouver Island man dead after reported hit-and-run incident

Oceanside RCMP seek public’s help gathering information

Warrant issued for man who wielded machete across from Nanaimo’s tent city last year

William Robert Francis Carrigan failed to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo on Tuesday

B.C. Lions fall to 1-9 after 13-10 loss to Ticats

Lowly Leos have dropped six straight CFL contests

VIDEO: B.C. woman meets biological mother, 38 years later

Mother never gave up hope of finding daughter, despite all the obstacles

Most Read