Helen Jennens spoke at a fundraiser for the Foundry Kelowna, an integrated youth-service centre for kids and teens in need of mental health care and social service.
Thank-you for offering me the opportunity to tell you my story and honour my boys.
I am referred to as a mother with lived experience. I can assure you it is not the kind you would want to share. There are no words to express the never-ending grief and sorrow of child loss.
In 1987 my oldest son Rian, at the age of 13 was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin, he hated taking it.
Rian was a kind, soft hearted soul. He was easily hurt and disappointed. He struggled with school and was a bit of a social out cast so had little self confidence. At 15 he started self medicating, first with alcohol and then drugs.
I searched high and low for help, explored every avenue available. At that time the services were scarce with large gaping holes in the system. The next 11 years of our lives were riddled with trauma, drug misuse and mental health issues.
Then a miracle happened. When Rian was about 26 he found a recovery group that really seemed to work for him, a big part of it was connecting with others that faced the same challenges. He spent the next 8 years of his life free from drugs and alcohol.
In October of 2008, Rian was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle. He suffered horrific injuries to his leg which was shattered from hip to toe. After three long years of on going surgeries, suffering chronic pain, depression and anxiety on August 21, 2011 Rian died alone in his bed of respiratory failure due to a combined drug overdose. I found him the following day.
Tyler on the other hand lived a charmed life. He was smart, witty industrious athletic extremely funny and absolutely fearless. He had startling good looks and things in life came easily to him.
He was a true adventurer. He climbed and went scuba diving in the most amazing mountains and waters in the world. He loved to travel and finally ended up in Thailand. He quickly picked up the language and had soon built a very successful business and happy life. It was here in Thailand he fathered his first child, a son named Mac.
Tyler was also a very kind and generous man. He was hailed as a hero in the Canadian press after he saved a drowning Thai boatman during the devastating Tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand on Boxing day in 2004.
With many friends lost and his business destroyed, he and his family returned to Canada.
We have no idea what impact that Tsunami had on Tyler’s mental state but felt he was exhibiting signs of post traumatic stress.
It was difficult to return to Canada with nothing and start over, but Ty managed. In 2010, Tyler ruptured his achillies playing football. He underwent surgery and was sent home with a prescription of oxycontin. With all the other components most likely in place, Tyler developed a dependency on opioids.
In my opinion, mental health issues and drug misuse are dance partners. Who leads depends on the day and the circumstances. Does drug abuse begin with mental illness, I am not sure but I do believe mental health issues will develop from drug misuse. Until we can deal with these issues concurrently we have little chance of solving either.
Tyler did not cope well with Rian’s death. Shortly after, Tyler’s drug abuse escalated to heroin, it was cheaper and much easier to get than oxycontin. I could write a book on the horrifying and tragic events that followed over the next five years.
Once again I was launched into the search for resources. We spoke to physicians, psychiatrists, councillors, outreach workers, RCMP, treatment centres and members of the clergy. My knees were raw from prayer.
The spare bedroom in my home became an emergency room, a detox, a rehab, a homeless shelter, a jail cell and on the worst of days a war zone. Long nights, I sat on the sofa with my son’s head in my lap and we both cried for the man he had once been, the one we could never seem to bring back….we still remembered that boy.
Supporting his addiction, Tyler had broken his own moral code and his shame and self loathing only added to his suffering and the relentless drive to use.
On January 13, 2016, Ty returned home from a recovery meeting. His spirits were high. He came around my bed and knelt down and taking me in a big bear hug, he told me how much he loved me and how he could not live without me in his life. He then did the same with my husband.
The next morning we left him sleeping peacefully in his bed and went to work. If I could just turn back the hands of time.
At work that morning I received an e-mail from an old friend of Rian’s. I had not spoken to Betty in over a year, but she wrote, I am not sure what compels me to write to you today, but I wanted you to know I feel Rian’s spirit so strongly and wanted to tell you he is right there beside you.
I left work at the usual time, I was sitting at the light at Water and Hwy 97 when a firetruck, with siren blaring roared around me into on coming traffic and flew up Pandosy. I ended up following that truck and when it stopped in front of my son’s ex-wifes apartment my heart plummeted. They would not let me in the apartment. I was forced to wait in the hallway as first responders worked feverishly to restart my son’s heart. Finally, after failing they allowed me in. For the second time I laid down with my dead boy and whispered things in his ear I knew he could no longer hear.
Jan 14, 2016, Tyler died of a pure fentanyl disguised as heroin overdose. I try and make myself believe that Rian did come that day to guide his brother to a safer happier place.
In a text to me a few weeks before he passed, Ty wrote, “ Mom I just need you to know,” It took me weeks to figure out it”s meaning. Ty had probably tried to tell me in a hundred different ways. What he wanted me to know was that he loved us all more than enough, but alone, without the proper help, he just could not win this battle.
In February of 2016 I became a member of Moms Stop The Harm. Moms stop the harm is a network of western canadian mothers that have all lost children to mental illness and or drug misuse. They are warrior moms that advocate for change and offer support to other suffering families. I joined a group of 12 Moms, we are now 80 strong.
I am often asked, how do you do it, how do you keep going, keep advocating.
I’ll tell you, I do it for Rian and I do it for Tyler. I do it for Tyler’s children, for surely with their young history they are at high risk for mental health and drug misuse.
I do it to reduce the shame and stigma that surround mental health and addiction. To bring awareness and prevention. To help society recognize that these are medical issues, not moral failings. To have you all see,it happens in the best of families to the nicest people.
I am still searching for the answers to the questions I started asking when Rian was 13. I have high hopes that Foundry will provide them.
I applaud the hard work, devotion and commitment of everyone involved in making the vision of Foundry a reality. As a caring, connected community we now need your help to insure it’s sustainability.
These were my children, but believe me when I say, it could be anyone’s child.