In this episode of Unsilencing Stories, you’ll hear Rhonda Watt interviewing Tamerel Richard in Lloydminster, Alberta about her brother Tyrone Hickey who experienced a fatal opioid overdose at age 29 in 2018.
Jenna Keeble 00:00
Unsilencing Stories is a podcast that reflects the voices of people in small towns and communities in Canada, who have lost loved ones to the toxic drug supply crisis. Since 2016, more than 30,000 people have died from fatal overdoses in Canada and that number continues to climb. The risk in smaller towns and communities is much higher than urban areas because of a lack of harm reduction services, and stigma against substance use and people who use drugs. This podcast is part of a community based participatory research project facilitated by Aaron Goodman, Ph.D., a faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., along with students, Jenna Keeble, and Ashley Pocrnich.
The aim was to assist collaborators in publicly memorializing their loved ones and expressing grief as well as challenging silences imposed by dominant media organizations and stigma from society against substance use and people who use drugs. We hope these nuanced stories make it clear why the government needs to be doing more to prevent further deaths. In this episode, you'll hear Tamarel Richard interviewing Rhonda Watt in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, about her son Eric Watt. He died at age 19 in 2017 from a fatal overdose.
Okay, tell me your first and last name.
First name is Rhonda, last name Watt.
Where do you live?
I live in Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
Is there one person you would like to speak about, who died from an overdose?
Yes, my son Eric.
Where did they live?
He actually lived with us. He lived with us; he moved back into our home about three weeks before he passed away.
And what do you remember most about him?
What don't I remember about him? He was, he was a young man struggling with anxiety but had a big future ahead of him. Huge future, sadly.
What words would you use to describe his or her character?
He was vivacious. He was larger than life. All his friends, he will still talk about his love of life, his love of the outdoors. When he walked into a room, everyone was there with him. He was just a jokester. He was funny and he was the center of attention wherever he went.
What was his laugh like?
It filled the room, filled the room. He was just, when he was really happy and joking, he just laughed. We would laugh. We would roll on the ground laughing; we were best friends. He was my youngest.
That's so sweet. Were there any major changes to his life that affected him in big ways?
Yeah, just before he passed away, he actually left his job on the oil rigs, because it was affecting his mental health. He was struggling with it. He had moved to Saskatchewan, took this big job on, was going to make a bunch of money and then travel. That was his goal. This money was just to travel and everything about the job he struggled with. He's struggled with the mentality, struggled with racist innuendos when he has two siblings who are half black. He also has a sibling that is transgendered and there was a lot of that kind of put down, kind of mentality and he would phone and say, “I can't do this, I can't speak up because I'm very new on the job and these guys are making and flowing green”. It was affecting his mental health. He was actually finding, he was getting into arguments with people outside at work and I was telling him to get back to the gym, do things to get rid of the anxiety, that sort of thing. So, he quit when he came home. He said it wasn't worth it. The money wasn't worth his mental health. So, he came home to try and find his way.
Do you have any traditions that you guys do to honor and remember him?
We do a lot actually. Him and I used to go to Edmonton to Hope, Mission, and feed the homeless and that sort of scenario. So, every year my husband and I, we do some fundraising. We get Tim's cards and food and we used to go into Edmonton, after he first passed away and then a homeless shelter opened here in Wetaskiwin. We went up there last Christmas and did the same thing, give the traditional give the Tim's card I talked about Eric. I talked about addictions and overdose and all that sort of thing.
So, we did that then I ended up taking the job at the shelter and changed my whole trajectory of my nursing career. I'm a nurse also. So, he's brought me to a whole different place in my career now, and then on birthdays, we do something similar this year, we, I usually go to a local bakery, and I asked if there's a cake for some somebody who has booked a cake for the day of Eric's birthday, and I buy their cake. I leave a little note on there saying, I'm doing this in honor of my son who passed away and then we buy a cake and we used to go to the shelter, and we shared the cake. Actually, the homeless this year sang happy birthday to my son, because they know why I'm working with them now, is because of him and trying to help in any way I can right now. So yeah, traditions are huge. It really helped. It really helped me.
Last one, I guess. Are you comfortable and can you talk about how Eric died?
Yeah, I can actually. The night before was Halloween and him and his buddy hung out at home giving Halloween candy. My husband and I were out. We got home, they had been hanging out. I had to go to bed because I had to be up early for work and said good night to him and my husband and him just hung out and watched the ballgame for a bit. Then 10 o'clock at night, he said, “I'm heading off to bed, I'll see in the morning”. My husband gets up very early and he heard a noise coming from Eric's room in the basement. So, he kind of went downstairs and banged on the door and he said he heard some weird sounds. So, he came and woke me, and I ran downstairs open the door and he was struggling to breathe, and he quit breathing and I started CPR on him, and my husband had to do CPR. It took 20 minutes for them to get to our home. That when they got there, they did give Narcan right away, they did everything they needed to do, put him in the ambulance and then we went to Wetaskiwin Hospital where I worked in the ER. So, I come running in the door and the girls doing the CPR and doing the code just looked at me and said, “This is not your son”. I said “Yes, he is, you have to do everything”. So, they did everything, and he was pronounced in that ER at 6:30 that morning, November 1st, four years ago.
It took me a long time, a lot of PTSD after that because I've run codes, I’ve done CPR on people, never did I expect to do it on my own son. So, it's been a long time, a lot of grief work to realize that, you know, some people I've talked to said they were sad that they weren't with their loved ones when they died and I struggled with that. But now I don't struggle with it. I tell people I was with him for his first breath and that was with him for his last. But I honor him now. So that's all we can do. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing now and that's why I am with Mom Stop the Harm and that's why we're doing what we're doing in these interviews. Trying to let other people know and my Eric wasn't, he wasn't an addict, but he was going down the path of becoming an addict for sure. He was a recreational user. So that's a scary point for a lot of people out there just experimenting right now.
Jenna Keeble 09:58
That brings us to the end of this episode of the Unsilencing Stories podcast. To listen to more interviews in the series, please go to www.unsilencingstories.com, and if you'd like to share your thoughts on the episode, message us at email@example.com. Thank you so much for listening and please share the project with other people you know.