HOPE Display Message Grows Beyond Vancouver Island

March 11, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

Following the loss of her son Matthew to overdose in 2017, Judith felt a strong need to get people talking. With help from friends and community members, she created a heartfelt memorial using thousands of pieces of twine and over 100 brightly-coloured flags to show the massive amount of people who have lost their lives to overdose.

Since creating the display, Judith’s story has been featured in the media. Many people have opened up to her. Those passing by have added hundreds of ribbons to the display to honour their loved ones. Realising it would be meaningful beyond her hometown, Judith created a travelling display. Below, Judith shares her recent experiences.

Where have you travelled with the memorial?

In October 2018, I wrote to the Vatican about Matthew and the crisis in Canada. I am Catholic, and a lot of guilt surrounds such a loss. I knew Matthew was a good person, yet so many judged Matthew because of how he died. I knew many other mothers and families felt the same guilt. I thought of how powerful it would be for flags and ribbons with the names of loved ones to be blessed by a holy man who is known worldwide.

We were invited to the Vatican in March 2019 and we met the Pope. He came right over to me, blessed me, blessed the flags and ribbons. When I told people about it, the number of mothers and families that responded was overwhelming. It was healing for so many.

I went to Jordan and Israel. I brought prayers with me from many loved ones across Canada and placed them in the Wailing Wall. This was a spiritual trip for me. I was in Jerusalem on the anniversary of Matthew’s passing.  

The display travelled to Courtenay, Victoria, Vancouver, Campbell River, and Nanaimo. In Nanaimo, the group who displayed it consisted of frontline workers and people who are suffering. I met them and all were such beautiful people and so happy for the display as it really helps to raise awareness. 

What have the comments been like at the places you’ve displayed it? 

Most comments start with disbelief, people simply have no idea.  Even though the number of deaths is reported, it simply does not hit home how many people have lost their lives unless they visually see the numbers. 

I am always told how powerful it is, breaking the silence and shame in such a way. 

It’s astounding the amount of people who are affected by this crisis. This display somehow gives them a way to reach out, speak up and to forget about the stigma and shame - if only for awhile.

How has creating and travelling with the display been healing?

There has been a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, a lot of joy and even some anger that has come out of this memorial and awareness display.

Healing is part and parcel. I have met so many amazing people! I have heard so much sadness, heartache and pain, and yet I am happy people are able to speak openly. 

I also hear and see the gratitude of so many as it has become a part of their healing. Just making it and getting people involved raised awareness for us all and allowed us to be more open in conversations about substance use. 

How can other people make a positive difference to end stigma or help people impacted by the overdose crisis in their communities?

It is complex in many ways and yet can start with simple acts of kindness, respect and love.  

I have heard from many, and saw with Matthew, how when certain behaviour begins, no one knows how to communicate or help, so those suffering become isolated. We need to learn early how to communicate and connect with people. All humans need connection, belonging and community.

So many people hide behind closed doors and fear is a driving force. Fear of judgment, losing a job, stigma, shame.

We must continue to talk, reach out and find ways for people to connect to community. Make it safe.