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Family of Saskatoon overdose victim grieving over Christmas

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WATCH: The family of a Saskatoon man who died from an overdose in July are grappling with their first Christmas without him. More people in the province died from overdose than COVID-19 – Dec 30, 2020

“Big brothers are supposed to be invincible, right? They’re not supposed to get hurt, they’re not supposed to die.”

Brooklynn Irvine said she isn’t looking forward to Christmas this year because it will be the first without her brother, Jesse.

Read more: Regina friendship centre asks Sask. for permission to proceed with overdose prevention site

He died on July from an overdose.

He was 25 and began using drugs when he was 14. He started with cannabis and eventually moved on to fentanyl.

He had been in and out of jail, in and out of addictions programs in the past few years and he and Brooklynn had become somewhat estranged.

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Now she’s wishing they had reconnected before he died. Christmas was his favourite time of year and the pain of losing her older brother, she said, seems fresh.

“I had a different mindset than what I have right now. And right now I understand that he wasn’t just an addict. He was a person,” she told Global News over Zoom.

“His addiction wasn’t part of his main personality, his loving, caring and protective side.”

His mother Laurie said even things like decorating can be emotional.

“I put up Jessie’s baby’s first Christmas ornament. Things like that that really… hit,” she said.

Jesse’s family aren’t the only people grieving someone who died from an overdose this holiday season.

Read more: Regina’s front-line workers say coronavirus is causing ‘heartbreaking’ battles with addiction

According to the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service, 323 people have died from overdoses, or are suspected to have died from overdoses, since Dec. 1.

That’s nearly twice the previous record of 171, set in 2018.

And, as of Dec. 23, it’s more than the number of people who died from COVID-19.

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Since Jesse’s death Laurie has joined Mothers Stop The Harm, a group calling for the government to take control of the overdose crisis in Saskatchewan

She says she’s found an outlet and support.

“It’s made a real difference,” she said.

“It’s made me realize I’m not crazy, it’s made me realize that I can grieve at my own pace.”

It’s different for Brooklynn. She’s 21 and not many people her age know what it’s like to lose a loved one – especially a sibling.

She said they’re familiar with Jesse’s past struggles with sobriety but didn’t have any personal experience.

Read more: Unanswered distress calls: Overdose response requires political will, community members say

Therapist Erin Menz said that’s an important component of processing grief.

“We are social creatures that that need that connection in order to heal and also to thrive,” she said, speaking via Zoom.

Menz said holidays can be especially hard for people grieving because they have a tendency to try to rush through it, when grief is something that requires time.

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“Holidays, anniversaries and special occasions and even regular days will bring up sadness and they’ll bring up memories and stories and feelings about the loss,” she told Global News.

“We often see Christmas being one of the hardest times for people just based on the social norms that are attached to the traditions that are attached in our culture of spending time to family.

“Grief isn’t a linear process, nor does it really work itself through five specific stages,” she said.

She warned that unresolved grief affect a person later in life.

“[Unresolved grief] can show up by way of depression, it can show up by way of addictions, it can show up by way of stress, chronic stress [and] chronic pain,” she said.

She added its important to honour the loss, to acknowledge them and pay attention to those feelings, and to reach out for help if needed.

Brooklynn said every day is different, some are good and some are bad.

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Read more: Saskatchewan family calls for better addictions treatment during coronavirus pandemic

One of Jesse’s hats is on top of her Christmas tree this year, a way to keep him in mind as she celebrates his favourite time of year.

Brooklynn hopes the New Year brings new awareness and help for people with addictions – like more affordable treatment and more accessible treatment, especially during the pandemic – so that other families can celebrate together.

“It was really hard. It was scary. And it was difficult,” she said, explaining what it was like to learn her brother overdosed and died.

“I hope no one ever has to go through something like that.”

Are you or someone you know struggling with addiction? Here is a list of resources you can use to get help.

Click to play video 'Advocates say more needs to be done to prevent overdose deaths in Saskatchewan' Advocates say more needs to be done to prevent overdose deaths in Saskatchewan
Advocates say more needs to be done to prevent overdose deaths in Saskatchewan – Nov 25, 2020