Hopes community will begin to view addiction in a different light

M’CHIGEENG—It’s been just over a year since the tragic and untimely passing of Trisha Ann McCauley, but for her mom and siblings, the pain never recedes. Instead of wallowing in the sorrow Trisha Ann’s death brought day after day, the family has decided to give purpose to it and has launched a Hike for Hope, a yearly event to honour her memory and shine light, and hope, in the darkness for those living with addiction.

Trisha Ann’s mother Crystal Taibossigai describes her youngest child as an “awesome kid” who worked very hard and strived to always do her best. She graduated with top marks from Lakeview School and left Manitoulin Secondary School with a Specialist High Skills Major seal on her diploma.

“She decided to go to Georgian and study business entrepreneurship, moved to Barrie and bought her first vehicle,” Ms. Taibossigai explains. “She was so proud.”

While Trisha Ann was away at school, studying for her second college diploma, she lost her father Ian. “She made the decision to move home and do school from here to be with her family,” her mother says. Trisha Ann was the eldest of five siblings.

On the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, Ms. Taibossigai says she noticed odd behaviour from her daughter. “She was avoiding family. She was late and she was someone who was never late. She really closed herself off from everyone.”

Ms. Taibossigai received a Facebook message from a friend informing her that Trisha Ann was using drugs and expressing serious concern for her well-being. Before confronting her daughter, Ms. Taibossigai reached out to her best friend, Deana Sampson, and to her mother about how she should approach Trisha Ann.

“I went to her apartment and told her I knew everything and that she would be okay and that I would help her,” she recalls, emotion in her voice. “After that, everything spiralled out of control.”

Ms. Taibossigai said the next few weeks became all-consuming with protecting her daughter. She drove around endlessly looking for Trisha Ann, chasing her down roads, even calling the police on her daughter and urging them to arrest her, just to know that she was safe.

“I felt so fortunate to have Deana and my co-workers to validate the things I was doing,” she adds. “It was a rollercoaster ride for three weeks.”

Ms. Taibossigai says she came to the realization that her life was being affected in a huge way and that, as much as she worried about her daughter’s well-being, she had five other children to take care of. “I told Trisha Ann that until she’s ready for help, I’m backing off.”

“I set boundaries with her, I was feeling good about the decision I had made,” the mother continues.

The following day, on September 22, 2017, Ms. Taibossigai’s phone rang at approximately 2 pm. “The person on the other end of the phone told me Trisha Ann had overdosed and she wasn’t waking up. It was a police officer in Lindsay. I had no idea where Lindsay was or why she was even in Lindsay.” Ms. Taibossigai begins to break down, sobbing at the memory that is still so fresh in her mind.

The police officer told her that paramedics had got a pulse but were going to continue working on her and advised her to get to the hospital in Lindsay as soon as she could.

“It was the longest ride of my life,” Ms. Taibossigai shares, wiping tears from her eyes. “The doctor kept in touch with me, calling me three times.” Trisha Ann went into cardiac arrest two different times; each time being brought back to life with CPR. Narcan (or Naloxone), the drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose, was used too, but it wasn’t working.

“The doctor told me he wasn’t sure how much longer she could hang on. I told him to keep doing what he had to do and to tell her I was on my way.”

When Ms. Taibossigai arrived at the hospital it was nearing 10 pm. She found her daughter in the intensive care unit.

“I walked in and she just had every imaginable tube hooked up to her,” she recalls, sobbing. “I literally did not know who I was looking at.”

“I felt my whole body totally drain, totally collapse,” the grieving mother continues. “I sat with her at her bed, held her hand. I brought her dad’s ashes with me and I put them in her hand and sat with her.”

Ms. Taibossigai says she prayed to God and asked to keep her, promising that whatever shape she was left in, if she required care for the rest of her life, she would do that, as long as Trisha Ann got to live.

The doctor told Ms. Taibossigai that there was no brain activity and talked to Ms. Taibossigai about ‘pulling the plug.’

Ms. Taibossigai asked the family and friends who had gathered with her to leave the room. She called Trisha Ann’s paternal grandparents and held the phone to her daughter’s ear, giving them the chance to say goodbye. Family and friends were called back into the hospital room and said their farewells to Trisha Ann and then Ms. Taibossigai simply held her, telling her daughter that if she had to go, that it was okay. An hour later Trisha Ann had passed away. An autopsy later showed that Trisha Ann had overdosed on fentanyl and was found with eight times the normal dose in her system.

Ms. Taibossigai said she came to the realization that if her family had made it through the loss of their husband and father, they would persevere through this latest tragedy too.

“We buried her beside her sister (Alicia McCauley, who also passed away tragically in 2005) and her dad.”

Ms. Taibossigai said that following the funeral, she felt “pure anger.”

“To this day I don’t know why she was there (in Lindsay),” she says. Questions constantly circled her mind, mainly why did the people she was with just leave her there? (Those that were with her called the ambulance then left in her truck, which was later recovered.)

“I still try and processes the whys, but it doesn’t matter what I say, think or do—she’s not coming back.”

Ms. Taibossigai says the pain of missing her daughter is often physically debilitating. It was during one of these stages of her grief that her aunt Debbie decided something should be done to mark the life of Trisha Ann. That’s when the idea of the Hike for Hope was created.

The first year, held Thanksgiving Weekend just weeks following Trisha Ann’s death, was held at the Cup and Saucer Hiking Trails and saw a good turnout of family and friends.

“Taking my kids on that hike, I was very truthful about what happened,” Ms. Taibossigai says. “I want them to know what’s out there.”

On that inaugural hike, many things were going through Ms. Taibossigai’s mind. She likened the hike to the journey an addict faces—often uphill, the chance to lose one’s way and with many stumbles along the path. “And sometimes,” the mom adds, “you don’t reach the top.”

When the group made it to the top Ms. Taibossigai spotted a butterfly and she knew at that moment that Trisha Ann was there with them. Butterflies were special to her, her mother explains, and they both had matching tattoos to mark Trisha Ann’s favourite critter. “I had this overwhelming feeling of peace,” she says.

The second annual Hike for Hope was held on Sunday, October 7 and saw even more people out to the Cup and Saucer, some of whom did not know Trisha Ann but saw the article in this paper and the post on Facebook and came for support.

“If I can help one person by sharing my story, then that’s good,” Ms. Taibossigai says, sharing her worries that Trisha Ann, a private person, would not approve. “I know I’m never going to have all the answers, and I’m okay with that now.”

“It’s in my community; it’s everywhere,” Ms. Taibossigai continues. “Addiction has no preference.”

“It’s a sickness and they need help,” she adds. “The worst thing we can do is shun them and keep them away.”

Ms. Taibossigai says the more people talk about the addiction that’s found across our Island community, this province and country the better and, she hopes, the likelier people will be to reach out for help.

“It’s okay to talk about it, only then will the healing begin,” she says.

“It’s terrible what this devil is doing to our communities, but we need to work together. Things will change, slowly, but they will change.”