Her son died of drug toxicity 5 years ago. Every year since, she's honoured his memory with a purple chair
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Her son died of drug toxicity 5 years ago. Every year since, she's honoured his memory with a purple chair

Oct 12, 2023

Every August for the past five years, Janice Laplante has been placing a purple chair on her porch.

Laplante, who lives in Kamloops, B.C., painted the chair in 2019 as a way to remember the leadup to International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, a day that holds special significance for her since she lost her son, Alexander. The idea came from a tabletop sculpture she saw once, honouring the memory of someone who had passed away.

Alexander was born on June 29, 1993, and grew up in Kamloops. He died age 25 in February 2019 in Grand Prairie, Alta., due to opioid toxicity.

Before his death, he participated in a three-month addictions recovery program by the non-profit Freedom's Door in Kelowna.

Since the provincial government declared drug overdose deaths a public health emergency in April 2016, over 11,000 British Columbians have lost their lives due to illicit drug toxicity.

Laplante spoke to host Shelley Joyce on CBC's Daybreak Kamloops about the purple chair, her memories of Alexander, and raising awareness on the issue of drug overdoses.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Will you tell me about your purple wooden chair?

I have to do a little bit of touchup and I want to go get some purple flowers as well, but I do have a nice little porch out front that it's going to sit on this year. It symbolizes overdose awareness, which is observed this month.

What do you want your neighbours, the people who drive by or walk by your house on the street to know about you?

I'm very outgoing when talking, so my neighbours pretty much know my story. I'm not sure they understand about the purple chair, but if they ask, I'll tell them.

What I would like them to know is that our family had an incredibly huge loss in February of 2019 of my son. It's affected a lot of people, not just us but also our friends, our extended family, our family. And it can happen to anyone.

My boys had a beautiful upbringing. My husband and I did divorce, but I'd say we're best friends. We really get along well. He's a wonderful man and we've done lots of things together, so the purple chair is just a symbol of my door being open.

Tell me about your son, Alexander.

He was a very big guy. He's the smallest of my boys, but he was the biggest and he had the best hugs in the world. He was very caring. He went to the gym every day and he prepared meals like you wouldn't believe. He loved food, loved his friends. He was the most faithful friend you would ever meet — just an amazing guy.

What happened to Alexander?

He struggled with his addiction for several years. Of course, we don't really know exactly how long, but he came to me when he was 19 and said, "Mom, I need help. I tried heroin and I just can't stop."

It came out that it wasn't just that time — it happened long before that. In high school, he connected with a young man who was doing cocaine in Grade 8, and he got into that.

But the real beginning of what happened was when he was working. He had a workplace accident that blew out some of his teeth and did a lot of damage — you could actually see the marks on his face around his eye of the bolts from a tire that hit his face.

The doctor put him on oxy as he was in a lot of pain. He was probably 14 at the time, and then … this just didn't seem right. We got him a prescription for Tylenol #3 to get him through that first week of severe pain, and Tylenol #3 made him very angry.

He went to a friend and he said, "Can we check your father's medicine cabinet?" This is his story to me, and that's when he found more oxy, and that's what was his gateway into drug use.

When he passed away, was it an overdose or was it a drug poisoning?

I do know he was sober for just about a year. It was December [2018], and he was laid off from a job he had in Kelowna. He had amazing friends in a very good sober community. He went to the Freedom's Door in Kelowna, which I completely supported. Beautiful people there that took him in like family, and his family took him to do jobs, took him to church and really just loved him.

He went up to Grand Prairie, and within two days he phoned me and said, "Mom, I need to come home — I can't do this, this is not the place for me. Can you send me a bus ticket?" So I did, and he came back to Kelowna because that's where his new sober family was, because we could never quite wrap our heads around the whole thing.

He came back and he went through a few more things. He broke up with his girlfriend. He was using steroids because he was a gymer and he'd done steroids for years. I think that actually was the gateway drug with steroids.

Meantime, one of his really good friends found him a job in Grand Prairie. He had a sober place to live with somebody else who was in the [Freedom's Door] program. This friend was also going up there because he was working full-time up there as well. They went at the beginning of the end of January, and I could tell very shortly thereafter he was getting back into something.

I told him my concerns about a week before he died. He said, "Mom, don't worry, I don't want to die. I'm being smart. I don't want to die."

What was he like as a little kid?

Amazing. He was the kid who got on a mountain bike and went straight down. He was just going for it because he loved it. He was the kid at five years old that, with his dad and our international students, hiked to the top of Mount Paul at five years old. Then he did it again.

He was very enthusiastic. He was loving. He was smart. But in school they told him he wasn't, so school was a real detriment to him.

Do you feel that he was judged by people?

I used to. I don't anymore. I don't care about being judged. I care that if I put that purple chair out, if I can make a difference and somebody would like to talk to me, I'm good with that. I'm open to share my experience because I'm not ashamed of my son. He was a beautiful human being and he had a lot of love to give, and he would want me to give that love.

I feel the first time that these kids are trying drugs is a choice. I think a lot of us smoked pot when we were younger because we wanted to try it. There's that mystery. But I think the drugs that are out there now are different. I really don't feel there's a choice after that.

The boys don't deal with it very well and neither do I honestly. I'm pretty ticked off. I'm pretty ticked off.

I don't know what the solution is and I have a hard time speaking out, because I can see the problem and I can see so many things people are saying. But I don't know what the solution is.

I would love to be part of the solution — I really would.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

Will you tell me about your purple wooden chair?What do you want your neighbours, the people who drive by or walk by your house on the street to know about you?Tell me about your son, Alexander.What happened to Alexander?When he passed away, was it an overdose or was it a drug poisoning?What was he like as a little kid?Do you feel that he was judged by people?