Pubdate: Tue, 31 Jan 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Authors: Cheryl Chan & Matt Robinson
Page: A3


Overdose: Friends celebrate life of 'Auntie Mary' and hope her death 
opens eyes to 'national health crisis'

Mary Purdy baked homemade cupcakes, played the piano and lived for her
two young boys.

Friends describe her as a leader in the Downtown Eastside, where she's
known by many as "Auntie Mary," while her sister remembers her as a
loving and generous spirit whose smile could light up a room.

But on Jan. 17 Purdy died in her south Vancouver home - one of the
latest victim's of B.C.'s fentanyl crisis - leaving behind her two
sons, a sixyear-old and a four-year-old.

"It's hard to look at the kids," said her sister, Marie Purdy. "They
have her eyes. They miss her fiercely. I keep telling them that she is
in their hearts and that she is in the spirit world, and she is
waiting for them."

Marie said Purdy died Jan. 17 of a fentanyl overdose at home. Her two
boys sat beside her lifeless body for hours until they were discovered
by a former boyfriend, who had come to check on her.

"(The six-year-old) said that she fell over, and she wasn't breathing,
but he couldn't find the phone to call 911, so he sat with her for
hours," said Marie, who choked back tears as she talked about her
younger sibling.

Marie and Mary Purdy were born 18 months apart, the first two of eight
kids. They were born in Texas and grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, where
their dad was posted at a U.S. army base.

Mary became a mother early in life. Most of her six older children are
flying to Vancouver from the U.S. and other parts of B.C. for Purdy's
funeral on Feb. 4.

Marie said news of her sister's overdose death came as a shock. She
didn't know her to take drugs, citing their family's military
background and Catholic faith.

The sisters' father, who Marie said Purdy was very close to, died
eight years ago. She wondered whether her sister's fatal drug use, two
days before their dad's birthday, was her way of coping: "She missed
him enormously and was mourning in her own way."

Kari Ann Monk, a friend of Mary Purdy's who helped organize a
celebration of life for her last Friday at St. James Anglican Church
in the Downtown Eastside, said Purdy was a loving mom who always made
sure there was food on the table for her boys. Those boys, she said,
were Purdy's life.

Purdy loved to say, "aw," recalled Monk, a sign of her big heart and
kind spirit. "Her last pennies, she'd give to anybody or she would try
to help you somehow."

Monk said she didn't know the details of Purdy's death, but learned of
the tragic news through friends. If Purdy died of a fentanyl overdose,
said Monk, her death should serve as an "eye-opener." "Hopefully
people realize that drugs aren't worth it." Purdy's tragic death is
one of many. Sarah Blyth, manager of the DTES market, said she learned
of Purdy's death after reading her name on a memorial poster, the
likes of which are frequently plastered on street lights and posted in
buildings in the Downtown Eastside.

Blyth, who volunteers with the Overdose Prevention Society, is helping
raise donations for the two boys. The society is taking donations
through its GoFundMe page, with funds going to help supply and clean
an overdose-prevention tent and to train its volunteers on how to
administer naloxone and perform CPR.

Anyone wishing to donate to help the two boys can donate on that page,
but should specify they would like the money to go to Purdy's kids.

"Every day you wake up and you go to the Downtown Eastside and you
find out who's died. It's just people upset and crying everywhere.
It's just horrible and there is something we can do about it," Blyth
said. "It's affecting families, it's affecting children. It's brothers
and sisters … We need to call this what it is. It's a national health

The province recorded 914 overdose deaths last year, an increase of
almost 80 per cent compared with 2015. B.C. declared the fentanyl
crisis a public-health emergency in April 2016, but the federal
government hasn't made such a declaration.
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MAP posted-by: Matt