by Josh Winquist
A small group of people sit in the Chapel at the Upper Room Mission. They have gathered to pay their final respects to a friend.
They share tears and stories. There are laughs, but they are chased away by more tears.
The setting is sombre and hauntingly familiar.
This scene has played out dozens upon dozens of times in the Chapel at the Mission over the years; however, what makes this memorial different, is that for the second time in as many days, people gathered to say goodbye to a loved one.
Even with the increased frequency of deaths in recent years due to the opioid crisis, never before have two memorials been held on consecutive days at the Upper Room Mission.
Two young women died in Vernon last week, Mehgan and Teresa — One from a fatal overdose, the other, a casualty of a high-risk lifestyle.
These women were part of the Vernon community; both raised within the city limits. They went to high school here, they had coworkers, they were known to people who call Vernon home, they had families.
With a population of just over 40,000 people in Vernon, these women were more than just faceless community members, they were irrefutably somebody’s friend, cousin, aunt, sister and for one woman, a mother and wife.
Their absence is noticeable.
Their deaths left a hole in the social fabric of Vernon — a fabric that is tearing apart more and more every day.
“It is important people recognize that we are one community and if we don’t work together to help each other through this crisis, we are going to lose so many more people,” said Dawn Tucker.
Dawn was long-time friends with Mehgan. During the service, Dawn spoke about the hopes and dreams her friend once held.
“She wanted to be a police officer,” said Dawn to the group. “She was very proud. She did everything she could to be a good community member.”
Mehgan had lived a life on the streets — she stayed in local shelters; she was a person who used drugs. She did manage to remove herself from that lifestyle, even entering treatment and living a sober life for a while.
That was, of course, until she slipped, accidentally overdosed, and died.
Much like Mehgan, Teresa belonged to a community as well.
Friends remembering the determination and hope Teresa held on to for better days.
“What I loved about her is she never gave up,” said one friend. “She loved her family — family was always central in her heart. She was fighting for her family. She was fighting for her baby.”
Between the long embraces between friends, stories are shared.
Grief is the painful side of love.
The two women’s stories differ, but tragically, their lives still ended with a community gathered to remember — sharing tears and stories; briefly laughing, only to have the tears come flooding back in a wash of grief.
“They are us and we are them,” said one woman. “Every life has value. It is a shame that isn’t always recognized.”