‘Reflections’ by Marion McConnell

at the 8th Annual Remembrance Ceremony
12.30 pm, 27th October, 2003

Families and Friends,

Recently we have experienced public grieving for the lives so tragically lost in Bali. We have seen the unveiling of memorials, we have seen public figures taking a very active part in standing side by side with those who mourn the loss of their loved ones. Our aching hearts today meet with theirs. Our loss does not gain the same sympathy and understanding from public figures or society but our mourning is no different. Many of those we remember here to day were also young and our hopes and dreams for their futures have been shattered.

Those of us, however, who mourn the loss of a loved one to drugs or who have a family member using drugs often feel isolated from the rest of society. Our grief often brings with it the added burden of stigma, guilt and isolation.

But today we come together with others who do understand and who stand beside us. And we hope this ceremony will bring others to a closer understanding of the need for more compassionate and rational approaches to illicit drug use so that the suffering and grieving is lessened.

It is now eleven years since my family lost a much loved son and brother. Time is such a strange phenomena. It heals. Yes. But the pain of the width and breadth of such a loss as losing your child continues to arise, often when least expected. Certain things will trigger the pain and we have to continually reach out to whatever it is that helps us live beyond the pain and to focus on the beauty and potential around us. This is so well explained in the symbolism of this tree which you can read about in the program.

As I look out our kitchen window at home, I remember my son sitting on the wooden bench in the sunshine, enjoying a cigarette, warming his hands around a cup of tea, reading the newspaper or trying to unscramble the cryptic crossword.

I remember his wry smile, his infectious chuckle and his quiet manner. A young man who through his school days was often top of his class, who gained a distinction in the Australasian Mathematics Competition every year from year 7 to year 12. Who was in the top 9% in the ACT in the Year 12 Certificate. A young man with great potential who for whatever reason got caught up in illicit drug use and died far too soon at the age of 24.

I knew very little about illegal drugs before my son died, but the incident when I first discovered he was using heroin, just 2 weeks before he died, made me realise very strongly that our present policies were wrong. There is an injustice in our drug laws, when organised crime at one end of the spectrum, makes billions of dollars from illegal drugs, while our young people at the other end, become the victims of policies which cause more harm to users, families and society. It is wrong that our young people are punished for being addicted to drugs. Surely the addiction is punishment enough. The stigma, prejudice and persecution do nothing to help but simply add to that punishment. We should be treating these serious problems through better health and social policies.

I now have a little grandson and when I look at him smiling and listen to his laughter I can’t help but think of his uncle who too would have loved this little man. I can’t help but think that had my son lived long enough this young man could have been the catalyst he needed. Our governments and society must be prepared to try policies or treatments which have the potential to keep these people alive so that they are given every possible chance at life.

As we congregate here today may we take comfort and strength from one another but as we leave the safety of this place let’s not be afraid to tell our story because it is through telling our stories that we can change the attitudes of the people in our community and ensure more compassionate and rational drug policies.

Thank you .