By JOY STRUTHERS
The house on the corner sparkled with Christmas lights. Shimmering spots of different colours danced around the doorway and down the steps, beamed from a projector in the tree directly out front.
Janice Walsh-Goddard, of Kitchener, didn’t want to celebrate the holidays, but put up a tree and decorations because she runs a home daycare and has three of her own older children and a grandchild to think of.
Her home is impeccable. Clean and organized and welcoming. The living room is full of toys in different containers and the soft coloured floor mats that lock together like a puzzle are stacked neatly for the kids to use.
You would never suspect something had gone wrong with this family. You would never know that Walsh-Goddard had lost her son Iain suddenly to a fentanyl overdose. He died from addiction May 23, 2016.
Walsh-Goddard and her husband Chris Goddard had four children – Adam, now 28, Iain, Heather, 23, and Nicholas, 16. The parents have been separated for years but still take care of their family jointly.
Iain would have turned 26 on Dec. 14. But this past year on his birthday, instead of celebrating with him, his family released 25 red balloons and one white one. They plan to do this each year with additional white balloons for the birthdays he hasn’t been with them.
His mother described him as outgoing and hilarious.
“He was curious,” said Walsh-Goddard. “I think being curious was one of the reasons he tried drugs in the first place.”
He was the child she would spend hours talking with. They would talk about a number of subjects and loved spending time together.
She always worried she would lose him young. One time he dove into a pool without knowing the water was shallow and hit his head. When he was older he worked painting water towers and would send her pictures he took on his phone showing how high up he was.
“He was a daredevil. The first time he went to a sleepover he had to break his wrist showing off skateboarding,” she said.
Even though he took risks, he was also very careful. He was neat and clean and would take off his shoes carefully as a child, unlike his older brother who would toss them off at the door.
“He was the little boy who had to line all of his teddy bears up a certain way before he could go to sleep,” she said.
At some point he was introduced to drugs and it may have caused the end of a serious relationship. That is when he started to change.
Walsh-Goddard wiped at her eyes under her black-rimmed glasses, although her tears didn’t spill out because she is so practised at not letting them. Her voice caught and she ran her manicured hands through her streaked blond and red hair.
She pointed to the corner, near the kitchen’s round wooden table at which she sat, where the yellow and grey paint meets. It’s a bit messy because it is unfinished.
“Iain was the one doing the painting. He texted me the day before he died and said I’m painting the doors,” she said. “He was my hardest worker.”
An angel that always holds a burning candle is on a CD shelf in the corner, beside a picture of young Iain in a yellow frame shaped like a flower.
Walsh-Goddard was visiting her father in England when her son died. She ignored her cellphone when it started ringing, but after her eldest son tried to call for the third time she answered.
After throwing her phone and running straight into a wall she fled outside and tossed herself into flowerbeds, smashing her own body into whatever was in her way.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself so I lay on the ground and screamed at the sky.”
She flew home the next day, after a sleepless night of staring at her own feet.
For a couple of years they had struggled with Iain’s drug use and had tried to find him help. They got him a counsellor, took him to a family doctor and the hospital. She asked her own doctor many times for help. They tried to put Iain in detox and into a rehabilitation centre.
“We tried tough love. We tried everything,” she said.
The illness and the withdrawal were severe. Doctors wouldn’t help, the lawyer representing him in his criminal court case for driving impaired wouldn’t help. No one would listen.
To pay for drugs he sold most of his belongings and stole from his family. He took a computer to sell and emptied his mother’s savings account. He was eventually put in jail for his driving violations.
“This was a young man who was desperate,” said Walsh-Goddard.
He knew he was hurting his family and himself, but he just couldn’t stop, even when he wanted to.
Walsh-Goddard regrets not doing more, and is angry that help wasn’t more available. She wishes for change, and action.
There are people in the community doing what they can to provide help for addicts and people at risk of contracting diseases and becoming ill or overdosing. They are also pushing for change and trying to end the stigma.
The work done at Sanguen Health Centre is crucial. Violet Umanetz is the manager of outreach at Sanguen for education and prevention.
They provide different types of harm reduction kits to drug users who use different types of drugs. These can be obtained at their offices and from other locations and staff also go out on the street to find and help the people who most need them. Workers go out in the community health van with various supplies Thursdays in Kitchener from 6 to 9 p.m. and Fridays in Cambridge from 4 to 7 p.m.
“Each week we’re seeing 150-200 people and that’s in a total of six hours,” Umanetz said.
They have naloxone kits (also called Narcan) and provide training for administering this life-saving drug. Naloxone is a medication used to prevent opioid overdose and can be given to people without any risk. It will prevent the overdose for a short period of time so medical professionals have time to respond.
Naloxone is also available at pharmacies to anyone who has a health card. Drug users, family and friends or people who work in the community could save lives by having the drug with them and knowing when and how to give it to someone.
“Every single person should have a naloxone kit available to them,” said Umanetz.
Some people may not be comfortable with needles, but training is provided no matter where you get the drug. Places like Sanguen offer longer sessions but someone can learn about naloxone and how to give it in about 15 minutes.
Soon Sanguen and other outreach workers will have a nasal spray instead of a needle which will be preloaded and ready to go.
“Even if they are not breathing it is effective because it is absorbed through mucus membrane,” said Umanetz.
Fentanyl is to blame for a number of recent overdoses in Waterloo Region.
“A huge number of people all overdosed rapidly in a cluster,” Umanetz said.
It is not just new or occasional users overdosing, it is seasoned users who are very careful and have been using for some time. Many don’t know that fentanyl is in their drugs because it is being sold as something else.
“It could be in anything,” said Umanetz.
Police will only test drugs if they have confiscated a large amount. Also, overdoses have not been regularly recorded in the past.
“As a region we are trying to get better at tracking overdoses,” she said.
People need to be aware of signs and be prepared to help people in jeopardy. People in overdose can slow down and become non-responsive, and their lips and fingernails or gums can start to turn blue. They can also overdose dramatically and fall to the ground.
“The biggest red flag for me, if I’m with someone and they’re using, is if they respond. Create some pain. If they are not responding to that, they need help,” said Umanetz.
Pinch them, shake them, or try to get a response. Naloxone should be given right away, and then paramedics need to be called.
Umanetz strongly feels that everyone should know about drug use and the help that can be given. People may think that it doesn’t affect them but they would be surprised to know how many people use drugs in the community.
“There is so much stigma attached to drug use,” she said.
More people are addressing the fentanyl crisis and opioid addiction with the increases in overdose deaths.
“We are finally starting to talk about it. We are finally talking about drug use,” said Umanetz.
Janice Walsh-Goddard wants to talk about it. She wants to share her experiences.
She copes with her loss in different ways. She talks to others and has met a number of moms on Facebook groups who have also lost children. They support each other.
Walsh-Goddard got a memorial tattoo this past December, on her son’s birthday. She plans to do that every year.
“Iain loved ink,” she said.
She also started a journal so she could write down the things she wanted to say to her son. The first thing she wrote was that she no longer feared death, having lost him. She believes in the possibility she might see Iain again.
She has a glass display cabinet in the hallway of her house that holds special things. There wasn’t much left of Iain’s personal items but she did keep his white Nike sneakers and a Tae Kwon Do certificate and some ribbons. Clay objects Iain made sit in front of his baby book. They have his name and his age when he made them written on the bottom.
There are two family photographs, the last ones that were taken of them together, and three angels that keep watch from the top shelf. Two were presents from her son when he was younger.
Walsh-Goddard took out one angel and turned it over, winding a little dial and soft music started to play.
“These are my treasures,” she said.
She is still just a mother trying to protect her son.
She keeps Iain’s ashes in her bedroom closet because the idea of putting him in the ground was more than she could handle. They had been planning to bury him later in the year, but when it started to snow she knew she couldn’t do it. She wanted to keep him warm.
On the anniversary of his death she hopes to scatter some of his ashes. She is not confident she can do it, but knows it is what he would have wanted.
“He loved to go to Algonquin,” she said. “He loved the outdoors. We are going to try to get a cottage.”
Walsh-Goddard wants to help others any way she can. She does not want her loss to be for nothing.
“If you have a child or a brother or sister or friend on drugs, don’t hide. Make a big noise so you can save them,” she said.