The mother of a girl who died from fentanyl poisoning in early 2019 is establishing a support group in Regina for people who, like her, are grieving the loss of those who have died from the drug.
In early February 2019, officers from the Regina Police Service approached the Balfour family home. They would deliver news that Heather Balfour describes as the "most devastating thing that can happen to anyone."
Officers told her that they had found her 18-year-old daughter, Rachel, dead in a university dorm room in Edmonton after staff checked up on her at the request of her parents. It would take four months for the Balfour family to learn she had died from fentanyl poisoning.
"It just takes the whole world out from under your feet," Heather told Shauna Powers, host of CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.
After her loss, she was paralyzed with grief, she said. But she learned she wasn't the only one whose life had been affected by fentanyl poisoning.
Heather said that after Rachel's death, she was approached by people who said their nephew, neighbour or someone else they knew had died from fentanyl poisoning.
It's why Heather has established a Healing Hearts bereavement support group in Regina for people who, like her, have lost a loved one to substance use-related harm.
So far, there have been 81 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in Regina in 2021, 69 of which included fentanyl, according to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
Healing Hearts is a nationwide organization of peer-led support for families grieving from those losses. Participants sign confidentiality agreements so that they can share some of the very personal stories and hardships they face discreetly, Heather explained.
The group is meant to provide support, tools to cope and books or other resources that could help — as well as a place to share your feelings.
"We had no idea that she was taking drugs," Heather said of her daughter, who she described as a "generous" and "kind ... computer science whiz" who suffered from depression and anxiety.
Heather said she considers herself fortunate because, unlike others who may not be, she was deeply supported by friends, family, her church and others after Rachel's death — including a bereavement group of mothers.
Even then, she said she still cries "every day when I get out of bed, I cry on my way to work," Heather said. She puts on a face for those she works with, "but on the inside I feel alone and isolated … and I look at all the other people working around me who have no idea of the pain that lies just under the surface."
"They have no idea how much courage it takes for those of us who have lost a part of our heart just to walk around and function in the world."
She hopes that opening a Healing Hearts group will give people who also feel like that a place to open up about their experiences.
The meetings will run the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. CST.