Judith Conway’s memorial on her back fence in Comox overlooking Guthrie Road. Photo submitted.

Comox display visual representation of lives lost to overdose

When Judith Conway visited a local fabric store for supplies a few days ago, she expected it to be a quick trip.

An hour later, Conway found herself in the Comox Valley store, purchases ready to go, listening to other people share their stories.

The conversation began after they asked Conway what she was doing with the material she had purchased.

“The idea just came to me, and within a few days, I contacted a few ladies. I really wanted to show a good visual of how many people die (of overdoses), and a string seemed like a good idea.”

At the west end of the display, three rows of empty white flags hang with small red hearts, representing people who are predicted to die this week from an overdose. Photo submitted

The Comox resident decided she would create a memorial display on her back fence – which spans more than 100 feet – to those who lost their lives to drug overdoses. A string was placed in a vertical zig-zag pattern in order to fit with yarn tied to it (one for every person who died of an overdose in Canada last year) and it is topped with a row of colourful flags – each with a name on it, representing primarily victims from the Comox Valley.

“It’s so surprising – there’s still so much stigma and shame that surrounds it. It seems like everyone was affected,” she noted as she recalled the stories shared in the fabric store.

Last year, Conway lost her son to a fentanyl overdose and wanted to create the display in time for International Overdose Awareness Day set for Aug. 31.

“I’ve been pretty outspoken and I want to break down the same and stigma, especially when you realize how staggering this is becoming.”

This display – which is across from the Comox Public Works building on Guthrie Road – has been up for a few days, and Conway is hoping to keep it up for a few weeks.

At the west end of the display, three rows of empty white flags hang with small red hearts, representing people who are predicted to die in B.C. this week from an overdose.

Conway has a plastic bag attached to the display filled with purple ribbons – symbolic of overdose awareness – and encourages anyone to stop by and tie a ribbon for those who have died or are suffering.

“We have about 40 ribbons (so far), and they are increasing in numbers daily. Cars are driving by slowly and people have been stopping me – that’s really an amazing thing.”

While she admitted to never have attempted a project similar to this before, Conway explained the goal is to raise awareness of drug overdoses within the community and beyond. She used weather-resistant ink and hopes the display will stay up for a few weeks.

According to the most recent data released by the BC Coroners Service, there have been 17 illicit drug overdose deaths on north Vancouver Island in the first seven months of 2018. In B.C., there were 134 suspected drug overdose deaths in July – about 4.3 deaths per day for the month.

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Friends of Judith Conway assisted with the memorial project. Photo submitted

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