It is a question that has been at the forefront for Sue Fichtler, member of the support team at Orca Place Supportive Housing program throughout the past few months after the untimely loss of her son Evan.
It is the kind of thing that can break a mother, and yet, months later, Sue is using her pain and her passion, and the powerful legacy of her son, to make a difference in her community – leveraging hope for other people in need and in pain.
It is, she says, because of Evan himself.
Eldest of her three children, Evan had been on the road towards making a big impact in the community. After years of struggling with substance use, Evan was in recovery and finding his place and his voice as a support worker, helping others who face challenges with substance use. Driven by his own experiences and painful past, Evan was moving forward in hope – and committed to bringing healing and help to others. As the family wrote in his obituary, “He was fiercely committed to helping the homeless and anyone that struggled.”
For the last year of his life, Evan had studied and worked as a support worker, investing his energy and his passion for others towards making a difference.
It was a road hard won.
“Evan detoxed at our house November 2021. And he just really wanted to get his life back. And then he immediately started working at the VIP, which was a shelter, and became supportive housing, at the same time getting his peer support certificate and then his support worker certificate,” Sue relates. He cared about people and was driven to use his own pain to help others – and he believed in people.
“The potential that he had is the potential of everybody out there that we’re trying to help, to lend a helping hand. So many people spoke, have spoken to me since, about his compassion and his kindness, and those are like little gems. You get these little nuggets that’s beautiful, beautiful stories of different people’s experiences and the way he helped them.”
Yet this potential was cut short last Remembrance Day, when he fell victim to a fire in his small apartment. The fire didn’t spread, but Evan had recently relapsed and never woke up and therefore succumbed to smoke inhalation in his bedroom.
The last few months have been hard for Sue, yet much like her son, she is determined to not let her experiences be in vain. Instead, she has chosen to act, and to try and continue Evan’s legacy of making a difference.
Recently, Sue had the opportunity to walk with her youngest son, in Evan’s memory, as a part of the Healing Hearts team for Coldest Night of the Year, an annual Canada wide fundraiser organised in Oceanside by Island Crisis Care Society, in aid of programs for people who have experienced homelessness.
“It was a very bittersweet night,” Sue says.
Last year, Evan walked with Sue and her team, proudly stepping forward to support people in need – people he understood so well. “Last year my son Evan walked with me, with our Orca team… and this
year he didn’t.”
Instead, this year, his brother walked with Sue, and carried Evan’s boots, as a symbol of their loss – but also of the love that they still share.
Moved by the commitment of Sue and her son to walk in this year’s event, despite – and in many ways because of – her loss, the organizers invited her to share her story at the opening ceremonies. She was nervous, but, with Evan’s face before her, she did it.
“I spoke about why I was walking. We had a Healing Hearts team…with three other moms and other family members who have lost children to substance use harms.” For all, the moment of walking together was a statement of hope in the face of their loss.
A hope that Sue wants to continue to turn into action. Already, she is advocating for more services and for change at the municipal, provincial and national level as a member of Moms Stop the Harm (www.momsstoptheharm.com), a network of Canadian families impacted by substance-use-related harms and death.
Sue hopes to carry Evan’s advocacy forward, to make a difference for people who, like her son, have struggled. She wants to bring awareness to the crisis, “because he would’ve done that.”
Sue is committed to making an impact from the seeds of something that’s been terrible. There is hope that a scholarship will be established in Evan’s name for others who want to move forward from pain in their past to study as support workers.
It has been a hard road, but one which Sue is not willing to slow down on. The pain is still there, but the passion to turn it to good remains.
There is a quote she recalls, from Gertrude Stein, which encompasses her movement forward. “In the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling.”
Both the meaning, and the feeling that still besets her in her down times, help her move forward to create healing for others in need.
(Story by ICCS writing volunteer)