When she woke up from the drug induced coma, she first wanted to know where her legs were. They were still where they had always been, but that wasn’t a good thing. Three days earlier, Jac was rushed into surgery with the prospect that both legs could be amputated at the groin in the hopes of saving her life.
But it was too late.
Necrotizing fasciitis–flesh eating disease, had spread to the trunk of her body leaving surgeons with no alternative but to cut out the infected tissue rather than taking her legs to save the rest of her. Doctors took much of the flesh on the calves of both legs, left thigh and buttock and infused her malnourished body with antibiotics in an attempt to halt the infection. And it did for the time being.
A confirmed diagnosis of two blood diseases, agranulocytosis and cryoglobulinemia, meant a death sentence for Jac anyways.
Turning her head to her mother, she said, “Mom, I know I’m dying. I don’t believe that it’s going to be right now. But it’s going to be soon.”
Jac’s understanding of the situation gave Donna a peculiar sense of relief. Not only would she not have to break the news to her only girl, but it also opened a dialogue of where to go from there.
“Well,” Donna paused. “With such a short amount of time left, what is it that you want to do?”
Jac’s response surprised Donna. She was expecting her daughter to express a need to make amends with people, spend time with her children, and other typical items on any standard to-do-before-I-die-in-a-few-months checklist.
But instead Jac, in a very matter of fact way, said, “I want to teach you what it’s like to be an addict. I want you to walk in my shoes and see through my eyes. You have been my worst enemy, Mom. The way you have stigmatized me has kept me from you and the help that you could have given me. I can’t turn to you when you treat me like an addict. And you have to understand that that’s not all of who I am.”
It was 1978.
Donna was living with her husband and children in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie. The ‘Soo’ is a steel town in northern Ontario and shares a border with its sister city Soo, Michigan. Those who love the town proudly call themselves ‘Saultites’. Those who hate the town call the ones left there ‘Saulters’ (pronounced ‘sewers’).
Donna was a young mother and an intuitive one. She loved her only daughter, but also detected a character trait in her daughter that she didn’t like at all. As a toddler, Jac demonstrated a mature ability to manipulate any situation to her benefit.
“She took great pleasure in seeing the arguments she would cause between her father and I,” Donna recalls. “I’d say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and before I knew it she’d have her father agreeing to the opposite and then she’d simply smile about it as we fought. She was so cute about it that you couldn’t be mad at her, especially when she’d give you that toothy grin and her dimple would stand out. She never seemed to be sorry for it though, no matter how much trouble she caused. I believe that my being the only disciplinarian during those early years put a separation between Jac and I that never really had a chance to heal.”
When Jac grew older, so did Donna’s concern for her daughter’s unusual behaviour. “I struggled to portray to doctors that Jac could say the right words, the right phrases and give the right emotion at the proper time, but I knew that it was acted out. I knew that Jac wasn’t really feeling it.”
Donna sought the support of local social workers, but got nowhere. It wasn’t until she had left the Soo that she was finally able to have her five year-old daughter referred to a psychologist. However, Donna was told that her expectations of Jac were unrealistic and in fact Donna was the problem. Being the young mother that Donna was, the doctor advised that she should learn some new parenting techniques.
There was, and there still remains, a significant lack of social support and diagnostic methods for parents of children displaying symptoms of mental disorders. Jac and Donna are only two of the many who have sought assistance through the years, only to find that they are part of an extensive waiting list.
Instead, finger pointing at Jac’s mother shifted the focus from the little girl’s need for a diagnosis and early intervention. Jac’s lack of ability to show remorse, her ability to charm, feigning of emotions and indifference to the consequences of her behaviour were all early indications of a personality disorder. Sadly, this life changing diagnosis did not come until Jac was 35 years old and just weeks away from death.
Though Jac was at the end of her life, the diagnosis provided some comfort in understanding why she was always conflicted when trying not to do the wrong thing. For Donna, the diagnosis was a confirmation of what she had always suspected. But the knowledge was bittersweet.
“I would have raised her differently. Had we received the proper diagnosis, information and resources to help us better manage the situation, I believe things would have turned out differently.”
Instead, entering puberty, Jac had turned to a popular escape amongst the ‘missed’ diagnosed and undiagnosed that experience mental illness- self-medication. Not understanding why she was different and why it was so difficult for her to live within society’s expectations served to provide Jac with bouts of depression and anxiety, leading her to seek relief through substance use.
More so, the loneliness she felt in a world that she did not understand and that did not understand her drove her to the bosom of a subculture that offered her a redefined code of conduct. Her inability to feel remorse, to not be swayed by popular conscience and a physical addiction to opioids set up Jac for a troubled life of dealing drugs, prostitution and violence.
There was a period of time when Donna felt that her concerns for her daughter might be unwarranted. Donna shared that during the time that Jac was starting her family, there appeared to be a period of stability in her daughter’s life that caused Donna to second guess herself.
“Jac appeared to have all of the natural abilities and skills to care for her young family that you would expect from any young mother.”
It wasn’t until the passing of her father in 2004 that it became evident, even to outsiders, that Jac’s life was spiraling out of control. In order not to face the criticism of her mother, Jac cut all ties with her. Even so, tid-bits of information would filter through the grapevine, and nothing of what she heard about her daughter was good.
The next contact Donna had with her daughter was after receiving a call from family services explaining her daughter’s inability to continue to care for her family and to inform her of the conditions under which they were living. She had been completely unaware of how desperate things had gotten and was shocked when she showed up unexpectedly to see for herself.
“She opened the door and it was like nothing I could have ever imagined. I tried to explain to Jac what would happen if she couldn’t pull herself out of this. But, she wanted no part of me being there to help her and she certainly didn’t want me interfering with her lifestyle. She told me to leave and I did. I called the caseworker at family services and told her I agreed with her; they needed to intervene.”
In the years that followed, Jac collected numerous charges to her record and was regularly mentioned in news briefs for theft charges. The profits of her infractions kept her coffer of fentanyl overflowing- her drug of choice.
By this point, Donna believed that Jac was in complete bondage to the addiction. “Even if Jac had wanted to stop she had become so addicted to the drugs and the lifestyle that she couldn’t have given them up without extreme intervention and in Sault Ste. Marie that immediate help for addiction wasn’t anywhere to be found, not even in the most likely of places. Believe me, we tried, more than just once.”
Jac loved the bad boys. That made her a valuable commodity to law enforcement. Time after time, Jac would be hauled in on charges and released on a promise to appear. “A joke,” said Donna of the process.
Donna began to notice a pattern. Each time Jac was picked up on a charge and released it would be just a matter of weeks, sometimes days, before police would announce the arrests in some major bust in the Algoma district. Donna had a hunch that Jac was being used by local enforcement as an informant. Her suspicions were later confirmed by a Sergeant with Sault Ste. Marie Police Services.
“She would be let go on her own recognizance even though she missed court dates. We always wondered why and we started adding things up. I spoke with an officer and he told us that what we suspected was in fact true. The police were paying her to be an informant.”
The process of police enlisting the use of informants is not surprising. Seeking out information is something the police have always done.
However, when Donna learned that her daughter was being used as an informant the news was frustrating.
“What position did that leave my daughter in?” Donna questioned. “There was no one she was safe with at that point. And where did that leave us in trying to get help for her?” Donna believed that if Jac had been incarcerated, she would have received access to medical detox and recovery programs and possibly even psychological support.
During the evening of December 2nd and the morning of December 3rd, 2010, Jac endured the beating of a lifetime.
Heidi Debassige and Mike Leclair tracked Jac down at a local crack house. A drug deal involving Jac went bad and the pair had come to extract another kind of payment from her. Debassige applied her boots to Jac’s face, breaking her nose, occipital bone and jaw, as well as the sternum and ribs of her upper torso. Leclair’s job was less strenuous.
As reported in the Sault Star, Jac told the courts that Leclair threatened to bring her into the bathroom for the purpose of slitting her throat and letting her bleed out in the tub.
But there was a third person present during that beating- Wesley Hallam. According to Jac’s testimony at the trial of her assailants, it was Hallam who stepped in and put a stop to it. By all accounts Jac would have died in that tub if not for Hallam’s intervention.
As reported in the Sault Star she states before the court, “Wesley is the reason I got out of that apartment. He didn’t assault me. He didn’t participate. He didn’t strike me. He was present.”
Just one month after Jac’s beating, Hallam’s torso was found in a ditch on Landslide Road. It was during a house party on January 7-8, 2011, where he was killed, decapitated and dismembered.
In a Sault Star report, the testimony from one of the witnesses who was also charged in relation to circumstances following Hallam’s death, tells the court that she became aware that a violent incident had taken place and went upstairs to discover that Hallam was dead. The witness observed a significant amount of blood in the hall and bathroom and that Hallam’s body had been placed in a bathtub.
The two separate trials of Jac’s assaliants occurred between March and May 2011.
Debassige pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault and threatening. “An agreed statement of fact at her arraignment included that Leclair had accompanied her to the crackhouse where they encountered Gray and participated in the assault when she refused to pay for the drugs they were delivering,” as reported in the Sudbury Star.
But when it came time to identify Leclair at his trial in May 2011, Debassige denied knowing him. She said that she only knew the first name, ‘Mike’, of the man who participated in Jac’s beating that night and that it was not the man sitting in the prisoner box.
Jac’s mother believes differently. Donna believes that the trial of Michael Leclair was yet another event that led her daughter to feel she had no support. “Even with the obvious debacle of testimony at trial, there was still no one wanting to take the word of Jac.”
During Leclair’s trial, a witness for the defence, Roy McLean, testified that he picked up Leclair from the Greyhound bus terminal in Toronto on the day that Jacquilynne was assaulted. McLean stated that he then drove Leclair to his mother’s home in Stayner.
Donna May is perplexed that this was never questioned as a bus traveling from Sault Ste. Marie would have to pass through Stayner approximately one hour before reaching Toronto.
“This means that Leclair and McLean voluntarily added two more hours to the road trip to double back.” And as far as Donna is concerned, “It just doesn’t add up.”
When police conducted a search for a Greyhound ticket in Leclair’s name on December 2nd, 2010 -the day of the beating and the day Leclair claimed to be riding a bus to Toronto, officers came up empty handed.
Despite Leclair’s questionable travel route, no evidence of a ticket in Leclair’s name, and Jacquilynne’s clear regonition of Leclair—a man she had known since childhood, Justice Koke acquitted Leclair.
As reported in the Sault Star, Koke stated, “His [McLean] evidence, which supports the alibi evidence, does raise a reasonable doubt in my mind, and accordingly I must find Mr. Leclair not guilty of the charges before him.”
Between the incident of Jac’s beating and the beginning of the trials of Debassige and Leclair, Sault Ste. Marie Police found the lifeless, bludgeoned body of 48-year-old Todd Petrie in his Albert Street West apartment. When his body was discovered on February 27th, 2011, he had been deceased for days. Forensics were not able to attach a specific date to his passing.
When Donna heard about Petrie’s murder she had a sinking feeling that Jac was involved. “Call it mother’s intuition. I can’t explain. It was just her response when I spoke to her about the murder and certain things that had been going on in her life that I felt it was possible she knew more than what she was saying.”
Sure enough the police did consider Jac to be a primary person of interest in Petrie’s death. A fentanyl box- Jac’s drug of choice, prescribed to Petrie was found with Jac’s belongings as were a pair of bloodied jeans. Both were taken as evidence but Donna was told that they held no DNA evidence linking her daughter in any way.
Donna has followed this matter closely wanting to know for certain if her daughter had any involvement.
“I believe that anyone using drugs as powerful as fentanyl in an illicit manner is capable of unspeakable things under provoked circumstances. Add to that a lack of empathy and being incapable of taking responsibility for your actions, having no family, social or community support at the time? I ask myself why she wouldn’t have wanted to take the fentanyl from Todd Petrie. Do I think she was capable of killing? No, no I don’t. But, I do believe that things can go horribly wrong in a heartbeat. What I do know for sure is that something changed in my daughter right around that same time. It was as though she simply gave up. Gave up on expecting anything from anyone including their kindness.”
*Fentanyl is an opioid analgesic used to treat pain. It is normally prescribed to those with cancer and severe chronic pain. Fentanyl started showing up on the streets a few years ago. It is 750 times stronger than codeine and produces intense feelings of euphoria. Abusers of the drug smoke or inject it to maximize its effects.
After presenting her testimony in the trial of Heidi Debassagie and Mike LeClair, Jac feared for her life and fled Sault Ste. Marie. Her outstanding drug debts, having outed her attackers, and possibly fearing charges in the Petrie murder sent her on the run. Donna, living in Southern Ontario at the time, drove nine hours to Sault Ste. Marie to search for her daughter.
Finding Jac was not easy.
“I spent the whole summer looking for her after she took off. I spent a lot of time in the Sault searching. Searching laneways, walking with prostitutes and asking them questions. I sat in the Jamestown parking lot hoping that she would show up looking to score or sell. I sat outside crack shacks, I cruised Wellington, Albert and Gore St. and just kept doing circles until I finally gave up.
“I was emotionally exhausted walking through the doors of the Sault Ste. Marie police department. I wanted to find out how I could put out a missing persons report on someone who either didn’t want to be found or who was never going to be found.”
To her astonishment, Donna sat down to find that the Sergeant had had no trouble locating Jac. He proceeded to tell Donna that her daughter had recently been picked up on a shoplifting charge in BC. and then gave her the information she needed in order to connect with the appropriate services. Not only that, but without ever being aware of it, he gave her the name and number of a very special angel who was going to be instrumental in leading Donna directly to her daughter.
“And that’s how I found her.” Donna did not wish to disclose the names of those who had helped her.
“When I picked up that phone and heard the word ‘Mommy’ I could finally begin to breathe again.”
Jac and Donna maintained regular contact from that point. Donna would call Jac daily at the recovery home in Surrey where she was staying. Tragically, Donna would soon find out that the recovery home was little more than four walls and a roof managed by a slumlord.
A lengthy report to The Vancouver Sun discloses the proliferation of “flop houses” presenting as recovery homes in Surrey, BC. Numerous factors have perpetuated their existence, including cheaper real estate and the deregulation of recovery homes in the province. “Recovery homes had been regulated in BC under the previous NDP government from 1998 to 2002, when the new Liberal government decided the regulations were too onerous. The recovery homes were licensed the same way as care homes for seniors, which continue to operate under stringent guidelines.”
For some property owners, opening a recovery home in BC can be lucrative. At present, the province allows owners of unregistered homes to collect welfare cheques on behalf of residents. Owners are expected to provide decent shelter, access to services, and staff the home with support workers. Without appropriate regulation and monitoring, residents are subjected to overcrowding and are deprived of basic necessities in an environment where drugs and alcohol are abundant.
As quoted in the article by health ministry media relations manager, Kristy Anderson, the Ministry of Health began registering supportive recovery houses in the spring of 2013 after examples of abuse were discovered by both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
Eventually, Donna and Jac’s daily phone calls dropped off. Donna continued to call the recovery home, but it had become increasingly difficult to connect with Jac. It was during one attempt to reach Jac when a resident answered the phone and informed Donna that Jac was not getting the help she needed. Donna recalls that the resident said the recovery home was “just a place to flop” and that Jac was “out on the streets doing her thing to get her drugs.”
When Donna would next hear from Jac, she disclosed that she had been spitting up and passing blood for a number of days. With Donna’s encouragement, Jac admitted herself to the hospital where she was diagnosed with septic pneumonia. She remained in the hospital for almost two months. When she was released, she went back to the flop house. It was a matter of days before she was back on the streets selling drugs for a new ‘boyfriend’ and using again.
While Jac was in the hospital, a number of blood tests were taken. With Jac back on the street, the hospital had no way to reach her to share that the results which showed that besides being Hep C positive, Jac had contracted MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci).
Both were indicators that Jac was seriously immune compromised. More seriously though, the samples they had taken showed the existence of Agranulocytosis (a significant decrease in the number of granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, in the bloodstream). They also confirmed the condition Cryoglobulinemia (a medical condition in which the blood contains large amounts of cryoglobulins – that become insoluble at reduced temperatures causing the blood to become jello-like). It is a symptom associated with 35% of chronic hepatitis C infections.
All of these conditions can be attributed to the sharing of needles, unhygienic conditions while mixing and drawing your hit and by using either cocaine or heroin that has been cut with Levamisole.
*Levamisole is a drug originally marketed to treat parasitic worm infections in humans; more recently studied in combination with other forms of chemotherapy for the treatment of colon cancer, melanoma, and head and neck cancer; and it currently remains in veterinary use as a dewormer for livestock.
A 2011 report of the US DEA shows that levamisole was found in 82% of its samples taken from cocaine seizures, up from the 69% found in the samples taken of seizures from 2008-2009. It has been found to be a desired cutting agent as it enhances the high and adds bulk and weight to powdered cocaine producing larger rocks. It has the same burn rate as cocaine making it undetectable to those cooking their fix and its colour makes the cocaine appear purer enabling it to pass street purity tests.
Jac returned to the hospital emergency a few days later to have an abscess that was bothering her examined. Medical staff lanced it and took samples and recommended that she be admitted to hospital once again. However, at the insistence of the man who had accompanied her, she left.
“Jac explained to me later that he needed her in order to make sales and she needed to make the sales in order to get what she needed.”
After a long night of dealing and using Jac returned home and discovered a spot on her leg that looked similar to the spot on her buttock. It was about the size of a dime. She went to sleep and when she woke up a short while later the spot had taken over both legs and buttock.
Donna received a call from Surrey Memorial Hospital and the nurse on the other end told her that Jac was being rushed into emergency. The medical staff advised that they may need to amputate Jac’s legs at the groin to save her life.
Donna spoke with her daughter moments before she was wheeled away to an uncertain surgery. “I told her ‘I’m coming. And I’m not leaving until I can bring you home with me. I don’t care who’s after you. I don’t care if they kill me trying to get to you. You’re not staying out there anymore by yourself. You’re coming home.’ And I hung up the phone and flew out there.”
But Jac’s surgery had a far more tragic outcome than a double leg amputation. The infection had already affected the trunk of her body. In an attempt to stop the spread of infection and prolong her life doctors hacked out chunks of black, rotten flesh from her legs and buttocks. The pain was excruciating and Jac suffered terribly.
On February 24th, 2012, Jac was deemed well enough to make the flight back to Ontario to be cared for there by her mother. By then she had undergone five separate surgeries to remove flesh as she continued to be overtaken by the relentless flesh eating infection. There was no coming back from this. Powerful antibiotics barely held the infection at bay. There was little more to do other than keep her comfortable.
“Summer came as soon as we got back to Ontario it seemed. It was early and it was warm,” Donna remarked. “That was perfect though. It gave me plenty of time with Jac out in my garden. We’d sit out there for hours just talking the time away. It was so nice to be close to her again. She talked a lot about her experiences in addiction. She spoke easily and honestly -even when it hurt, and so did I. We discussed my role in her life and how especially in dealing with her mental illness and addiction I had failed her. I know I had done the best I could considering the morals and standards I had been raised with, but Jac’s honesty with me opened my eyes and made me understand addiction as a disease and not simply a choice.”
In the last days of her life, Jac lived true to her word to teach her mother about being an addict. And even though she would not know it until three weeks before her death, she also taught her mother about the tragedy of living with an undiagnosed personality disorder.
Donna’s boldness in calling out the stigmatizing behaviour of the numerous institutions and individuals that failed Jac and so many others like her comes from the recognition of her own former prejudice.
“I’ve lived both sides of it. I have been the person that throws the most stigma. ‘Tough love’ and ‘kicking to the curb’ was my theory on Jac for years,” she honestly shared. “It was the only way I could deal with it and take care of myself at the same time, until she took the time to show me how to be a better person and to show me a different way. Love the person and hate the addiction.”
In the final months of Jac’s life, Donna walked beside her daughter and experienced firsthand what it was like to be the object of stigmatization. On more than one occasion while Jac was hospitalized, Donna found herself in the position of having to step in to advocate for her daughter when staff and social workers treated her like “the scum of the earth.”
“I think it was their cruelty towards her that really hit home as to what an addict or mentally ill person faces constantly from everyone. I’m ashamed that it wasn’t until they began treating me like the mother of an addict, that I really blew. So much anger and hurt had built up by then and it fueled my courage to speak my mind.”
Donna called a meeting amongst Jac’s primary caregivers for the next morning and threatened them in order to be sure they showed up. She spent the evening carefully planning out what they needed to know about what she had learned from observing their behaviour with her daughter.
“I walked into the meeting to find a full house and walked out of it knowing I had gotten through to them, but for the life of me I have no recollection of what I said.”
During the final weeks of Jac’s life, and over thirty years after Donna’s first efforts to find out what it was that made her daughter so different, doctors finally diagnosed Jac with a personality disorder. Even through exquisite pain and imminent death, Jac continued to present behaviours that were aggressive and impulsive.
For Donna, the diagnosis was important. “I needed clarification once and for all. I wanted a confirmation that she had always been like this and could have been treated very early on. And maybe that early treatment would have allowed her to deviate from the path that she took in her life.”
The diagnosis also provided Jac with an opportunity to understand the demons that chased her for thirty-five years. In the few remaining days of Jac’s life, Donna and her daughter had lengthy conversations about how her undiagnosed personality disorder and addiction led to a lifetime of bad choices.
“The diagnosis was important because it helped me explain to Jac why she might have done all the things she did and how the chemicals of the drugs and just the different frame in her mind supported her to be that way. I think it helped her not feel as bad about herself.”
In those conversations, Jac disclosed to her mom that she had always known what the right choices were, but that she was compelled to make poor ones.
“She said it was just so frustrating and that she had that drive to fulfill that need. She had that urge to do harm, to not do the right thing and it was very strong,” Donna recalled of their chats. “And of course, that urge was amplified by the drugs.”
On the evening of August 20th, 2012, just before 8:00 p.m. Donna found her daughter in her bedroom, in obvious respiratory distress.
“From the moment I called 911 everything went wrong,” Donna accounted. “Everyone arrived at once and kept taking me away from Jac, to answer their questions. First the EMS, then Fire and finally Police. I was getting so frustrated at repeating myself until I finally realized that what they were doing was questioning me.”
Donna was forced to open the safe where she kept Jac’s medication to prove to the officer that all meds were accounted for in their blister packs. “She hadn’t even taken her evening dose yet because she had been sleeping.”
Donna wasn’t even allowed to ride in the back of the ambulance with her dying daughter. She was placed in the back of a police cruiser and questioned on the way to the hospital.
“When we arrived and he opened the door to let me out. He tried to redirect me through the hospital doors rather than the ambulance bay and I ran to exactly where I knew my daughter had been taken. I knew from her being brought in this way so many times before. I don’t know where he was going or where he ended up, but I didn’t see him again and was glad to be rid of him.”
The calamity of errors did not end there. Donna sat with her barely conscious daughter from approximately 8:30 p.m. until after 11:00 p.m. while nurses tried to find a vein to put an intravenous line into.
“I kept repeating that they needed to skip right to a central line,” Donna said. “That was one of the first things Jac’s doctor’s in B.C. had told me to ask for because of the damage to her veins from her drug use and the diseases. Instead they kept trying. When I expressed my concern to the emergency room doctor, she dismissed it and told nurses to keep trying while she was being observed.”
The doctor provided an explanation that several emergencies had come in at the same time and that if the nurses were unable to get a line in she would put the central line in as soon as she was free. By the time she came back and began the procedure Jac could no longer be roused. Her oxygen saturation dropped to dangerously low levels, as had her blood pressure. The doctor called for a respirologist to assist with intubating Jac and when they began the procedure she aspirated.
“The next thing I knew she was in cardiac arrest and a code was being called. I sat there and watched in disbelief. She and I had kept her alive on sheer faith and determination, yet here she was, dying amongst all of these doctors, nurses and resources that were meant to do that job, simply because they were busy with other emergencies.”
Jac was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m. August 21st, 2012. Some would consider her life wasted, but to Donna her daughter’s life, and how she lived it, was her greatest blessing to the world.
In the almost two years since Jac’s death, Donna has committed her days to raising awareness and challenging the stigmatization for those who live with addiction and mental illness.
Donna has become a sought after speaker and vocally advocates to amend legislation for the purpose of increasing safety and dignity for addicts. Donna has spoken on the dire need for harm reduction among them the need for needle exchange programs and safe injection sites.
“I’ve seen how difficult it is for people who are addicts, have a mental illness, who are under-cared for and who are underprivileged. I spend my days now trying to put the ‘human’ back in humanity. Without it they’ll never get better.”
Donna remembers Jac’s smile and her dimples. She remembers how beautiful her daughter’s hair was. “It was absolutely gorgeous, like silk until the drugs took the shine out of it.”
And she remembers Jac’s unquenchable sense of humour.
“Even in caring for her in those last months we had such laughter between us even though she was dying. She could turn anything around to make you laugh. She was so quick witted and comical. She always knew what to do to make you laugh.”
She pauses a moment and then continues, “And she was a brilliant person. There’s no one that had the depth of knowledge that Jac had. She just used it the wrong way.”
The death of her only daughter could have done her in. But instead Donna held true to her promise to her little girl. “Jac lived a life that was so difficult and took so much strength, much more than anyone else I know. In her last days she sat with me and told me all the bad things that she did with her life. And then she had the wherewithal to ask me to speak her voice after she died, to bring this information to other people. I need to have at least as much strength as she had. Her words have value and mean so much to me and it can be shared with other people. That’s what gives me the strength to do what I’m doing.”
Donna is quiet for a long moment before she continues. “Jac’s life had a major purpose because through her life I am going to teach just exactly what she taught for me. I find a lot of strength in the fact that my daughter was an addict, that she was a prostitute. And I am so honoured to be her mother.”
Condolences of investigating officers in the Todd Petrie murder were received by Donna as was the news that her daughter had been cleared from any suspicion of having been involved in his death.
Since the death of her daughter, Donna has dedicated her time to advocating, at a federal level of government, for real choices in harm reduction practices for all substance users. She is the founder of ‘Jac’s Voice – on living with addiction and mental illness and is a one of the key facilitators of a national rally for Canadian Drug Policy Reform to be held on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, on September 29th and 30th, 2014. For further information see http://www.rufedupca.com/.
Video below, Donna May in Ottawa, September 2013, advocating for safe injection sites.