Two Kelowna women who lost their sons to overdose are speaking out to end the stigma

Moms lose sons to overdose

Two Kelowna women who both lost their sons to overdose are speaking out amid B.C.’s worst year for overdoses, in an effort to end the stigma.

Lisa Jilg lost her son Travis Thacker at the age of 29, on October 17, 2019.

Before his passing, Travis was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 21 and once he got the proper medications, he was doing well.

“He did really well, but if he hung-out with his friends he never felt quite normal or himself. And so if they got drugs, he would dabble in drugs the odd time, which wasn’t a lot because he was with me and he knew that he wasn’t to do that,” Jilg explains.

Travis experienced an overdose and was put on life support for weeks but he came out of it alive.

Jilg and her family then came back to the Okanagan to start a business in West Kelowna called Got Phones N’ Repairs Ltd. Four days later, Travis went to hangout with some friends and he overdosed again, on cocaine that was tainted with fentanyl.

“He ended up dead actually and they found him the next morning. The kids went to go to the bathroom and he was in there,” says Jilg.

When the ambulance arrived, they were able to bring him back although he had been gone for quite awhile.

“So by the time I got to the hospital, he was on life support. They basically said that there was no chance of him recovering, that there had been too much brain damage.”

Three days later, Jilg made the difficult decision to let him go.

“I climbed into bed with him, with his blanket and they took off the machine,” said Jilg, holding back tears.

“It’s horrible you know, people don’t realize how this affects our lives. Nothings the same. You don’t find joy in anything anymore. It was me and him for so many years and we had so many plans and now it’s just gone.”

Four months after Travis passed away, Jilg was working at her store when she found out about Moms Stop The Harm — a Canadian organization dedicated to ending substance use stigma, harms and death. She is now a member and advocate in the community.

“We want to raise awareness because the stigma when people hear how your child died, that’s all they think of — this person is a drug addict and that’s not what Travis is about,” says Jilg. “He was such a kind person, he wore his heart on his sleeve, he trusted so many people and he just wanted to be accepted and loved. That’s all he wanted and he got taken advantage of by many.

“Some people don’t know about your story and then the way that they talk about the junkies that are hanging around or the needles that they find outside or how these homeless people could work or how using drugs is a choice — that’s the biggest thing, it’s not a choice. Once they’ve started, it’s so hard to get out of.”

Through Moms Stop The Harm, Jilg met Pam Turgeon, another Okanagan woman who also lost her son to overdose.

“When we first met, we had a connection because we both lost our children and then we just started to have a friendship where we supported each other,” says Turgeon.

Ryan, her son, died on February 1, 2016.

“He died of fentanyl poisoning. He had no idea that it was in there and he’s like so many others that this has happened to,” she says, adding that she’s been a part of Moms Stop The Harm for five years but she feels like she’s spinning in a hamster wheel.

“People keep dying, we keep putting ourselves out there, telling our stories, asking for help and we’re still spinning in the wheel. I don’t see a solution happening anytime soon. Our federal government needs to step up and help the provincial government and we need to end the stigma. We need to start from ground zero again.”

Another disturbing reality for the mothers is that they both know who gave their sons the drugs on the night they overdosed, but no arrests were ever made.

“Something needs to change with the laws with these people who sell these drugs,” says Jilg. “When Travis passed, I found a baggie in his wallet. His friend’s house where he was, they had video surveillance — everything on video. They guy at the door selling it to them. Clear as day, his vehicle, the whole bit. I went straight to the police station before my son passed and there was nothing they could do.”

Jilg says RCMP notified her that they needed to catch the drug dealer “red handed.”

“Really, it's crap. This kid is still walking around and he’s still selling drugs,” she says.

In addition to policy change, the moms want the community to show more support for people experiencing substance use problems, addiction and homelessness.

“Have empathy for them if you see them in the street. Don’t treat them like they’re anything less than you, cause they’re not. That's someones child. I’m hoping we can maybe save one life or save a parent from having to go through this, cause this is the worst pain that you could ever imagine,” says Jilg.

With B.C. experiencing it’s worst year for overdose deaths ever and a record setting-month in January, Turgeon wishes the crisis had as much attention as the COVID-19 pandemic has.

“COVID has covered this up. If the government had at one point did as much help with the overdose crisis as they did with COVID, we maybe would have saved some lives and the problem is, they haven’t. They’ve put it on the back burner,” she says.

“Now they’re thinking of closing the shelters in Kelowna, how ridiculous is that? And then they complain that they’re on the streets. Where are they supposed to go? They have to have treatment. You can’t cure somebody that’s dead.”

Moms Stop The Harm is seeing new members join their organization every day.

“Theres barely a day that goes by that there’s not at least one new mom that’s lost a child. Or five a day, or seven,” says Jilg.

Jilg is now collecting clothing and basic essential donations at her business in West Kelowna. She takes the donations to organizations including local shelters and CMHA Kelowna, as well as takes them down the streets looking for people in need.

More Kelowna News