"She just got caught up in a moment"

These were the concluding words of a memorial speech spoken by Colleen's* best friend at her celebration of life. This sentence has lingered with me ever since. It has been almost a week since we gathered together to mourn the death of Colleen, a woman in her early 20's, a mom, who died her final time, of organ failure after an infection in her lungs.

In the end, drug use may have played a significant role in her death, but that's not how she died.

Colleen's death was that of a thousand cuts.

Those who loved her most would say Colleen was born at the wrong time. She should have been born in the 60s, when it would have been safer for her to have loved so freely, she'd have been barefoot & pregnant, smoking pot and dancing her days away.

She ran until she could run no further - the traumas chased her down.

Colleen's celebration of life was organized by a local retailer of pregnancy and parenting supplies (also a good friend of mine), who had developed a relationship with Colleen during her early parenting days. She'd go into her store looking for advice, and found company and a community. She was known for spending every last penny on baby items.Quickly the staff and other patrons would form a little circle of support around Colleen.

There were other younger mothers there too, who would recount to me the day of Colleen's celebration, that this had been their space, a place for mothers who had been motherless, to safely learn and grow into the mothers they had never knows. I often joke with this store owner that she's part retail, part Public Health, her back teaching room/drop-in space operated as such. But without the formality of course. And I think most people would agree.

I won't share the details of Colleen's life. They belong to her and her loved ones. I did have the opportunity to meet her once at my friend's store, her wee babe carried on her chest. When Colleen left, I remember talking about how incredible she was, how gentle and kind. I could see why my friend care so much about her well-being.

"She just got caught up in a moment"

We gathered in a beautiful park. Something Colleen would have appreciated as a self-declared 'hippy'. Vases of donated sunflowers were spread about, and balloons brought by friends were anchored to trees surrounding our celebration space. Her dad brought a piece of poster board decorated by Colleen in her early years. The words: "I love Pizza" caught my attention. They could have been the words of any teenager - of my teenager, yours. And yet here they were, on a poster displayed at her celebration of life.

Donations from local community services poured in to assist with the costs of facilitating this event. Cakes, platters of veggies and fruits, drinks, printing costs of memorial cards, cash for a memory leaf in the park ... Her family was tremendously grateful. I have some feelings about the outpouring that comes at the end of someone's life, but are so elusive when they are alive.

[There is a conversation to be had another time, about how we may come together to always ensure there can be dignity in death regardless of circumstance and personal resources]

"We are here to remember and be reminded, through Colleen’s life and untimely death, that we are more than our missteps, more than our mistakes, or the circumstances of our death."

Good afternoon, and welcome. I am Rev. Dr. Jodi Hall and it is my honour to join you for Colleen’s celebration of life ....

By remembering the best of Colleen alongside her struggles, by recalling some of her finest qualities, by honouring the dreams which once guided Colleen’s life, we are not ignoring the circumstances of her death or the role drug addiction played toward the end of her life. We are holding the tragic alongside the joy to paint a fuller picture of who Colleen was, and the life she had lived.

We are reminded through Colleen’s death, of our own vulnerabilities as human to the at times crushing demands of life. We are reminded that our very best intentions do not always bring us the happy ending we aim for, that we deserve for merely being human. Colleen’s death is a reminder that many of us can become lost in this world, and that tragedy often befalls us when we are not prepared.

These tragedies and losses add up over time.

And they can overwhelm us.

We are reminded through Colleen’s death that many in our community are not able to access the resources they may need to make different choices in their lives. Let us direct our anger and sorrow toward change in our communities for adequate housing, safe places, an end to poverty, and additional addiction resources.

I can’t pretend for one second to know what Colleen felt or thought day in and day out.

What I do know, is that Colleen had hopes and dreams for her life. She fiercely loved her children, and at one point in her life, they were all she lived for. Without them, she kept on keeping on, for as long as possibly could. For as long as any of us could.

"She just got caught up in a moment"

Let us honor the life of Colleen by living, ourselves, more gently, more compassionately and lovingly toward one another.

As you return to the routines of your lives, may an abiding peace go with you always.

As Colleen would say, "Kindness Matters".

*Name has been changed