From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Every year in late October, the Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform hold a ceremony to remember loved ones who have died because of drugs. Since the ceremony was first held in 1996, it is estimated that over 20,000 people have died because of drug overdoses. The ceremony takes place in springtime in beautiful Weston Park in Canberra. The location, beside a memorial on a stone under a locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), was chosen for the first ceremony in 1996, because of its particular associations for the family of one of the members of FFDLR, whose brother had died earlier that year. The blossoming locus tree under which the memorial stone lies is a potent symbol for the event: an expression of hope in the midst of remembering and honouring those who have died.
Bill Bush, Chairperson of FFDLR (and member of St Ninian’s UCA), notes that “these avoidable deaths have ballooned out to at least 20,000 people since that first ceremony. Then, as now, opiate overdoses have been the main cause. The make-up of those who have died”, Bill advises, “has changed from generally troubled young people trying to cope, pushing boundaries and risk-taking, as young people have always done, to include older Canberrans who, in desperate search for inadequately provided pain relief, have had recourse to illicit substances. There are those who in desperation to shed themselves from a dependency have taken their own life without the aid of any drugs.”
The ceremonies have brought out of the shadows the promise and worth of those who have died and enabled grieving families and friends to draw aside the curtain of shame and stigma with which an unfeeling society has shrouded their loved ones. You can read some of the addresses given over the years at https://www.ffdlr.org.au/remembrance/
Every year, a local politician speaks at the ceremony—this year it was Peter Cain, MLA for Ginnindera, who chairs the Select Committee considering the Decriminalisation Bill. In addition, a family member of someone who has died speaks—this year, Janine Haskins, whose 23 year old daughter, Brontë, was driven to believe that the only relief available to her was to take her own life. She bore witness to a tragic sequence of events leading to the death of Brontë.
This year, also, John Squires was invited to preside over the roll call of names of people who are being remembered, and to speak as a representative of people of faith. There is a link to the address that he gave at https://johntsquires.com/2021/10/25/bearing-the-mark-of-the-divine-remembering-with-families-and-friends-of-drug-law-reform/