Her name was Kathie Magrum.
She died on a cold concrete ledge. Her body was found in downtown Abbotsford early Tuesday morning, after dying from an apparent drug overdose.
Magrum’s 45 years of life came to a sad, lonely end after decades of struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine. Her death is yet another tally on the list of thousands whose substance use has ended tragically in B.C. in recent years.
But that’s not how she will be remembered.
She was “loving, caring, giving, outgoing, energetic, bubbly.”
That’s how Carolyn Wells describes her sister.
“She loved kids so much,” Wells says. “She was like a second mom to my daughter. She had such a giving way to her … They had a bond like you wouldn’t believe.”
That love was also extended to her several dogs, Wells says. She was at her happiest when spending time with them.
“Her dogs were her babies, her life.”
Magrum was born in Markham, Ont., but moved around with her family, including Carolyn and brother Alex, many times over the next several years before they settled in Niagara. Right from the start, Wells says, Magrum was always looking outward, trying to help others before herself.
Later in life, she moved to the small town of Pelly Crossing in the Yukon, where she stayed for 10 years. There, she helped set up youth programs, worked at a school, the post office and ran a store.
“She did everything,” her sister says.
All the while, though, Magrum struggled with substance use. The love and care she so readily offered others was less often given to herself.
That pattern continued after she moved to Abbotsford last year. As a brief marriage fell apart, she found herself living out of her car, then on the street. Her addiction worsened as she was hit with one loss after another. Her aunt died. Her grandmother died. Then her mother passed. The last time Magrum spoke to her sister over the phone, they were trying to arrange for her to return to Ontario for their mother’s burial in May.
“It’s hard on everybody but for someone with an addiction … I was very scared for her,” says Wells, who has started a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of returning her remains to Ontario.
Even as she fought to regain control over her life in Abbotsford, Magrum was still fixated with helping others first, whether it was her dog Sadie, whom she brought down with her from the Yukon, or other people.
“On several occasions, she said that she’s looking forward to being in a situation where she’s able to volunteer with us,” says 5 and 2 Ministries pastor and homeless outreach worker Jesse Wegenast.
Although he didn’t know Magrum well, Wegenast says his interactions with Magrum were all positive.
“She would ask about my kids and my family, which was always nice. She was always nice to see, always nice to have around, always willing to reach out and want to help.”
For Wegenast, Magrum’s death was just the latest in a series of losses. He has known more than 20 people who have died from an overdose in the last year.
“You’re sad every time it happens. Last week it was another friend and the week before that it was someone else,” he says.
He says the overdose crisis is taking a “tremendous toll” on people who use drugs and those who know them.
“It’s taking a toll on everyone because there are only so many times that you can allow yourself to mourn losses as you need to in order to heal and move on. But when they come crashing like waves against the beach – all these deaths, all these deaths – it’s not easy.”
Wegenast said the sorrow felt by himself and others on the frontline must almost be switched off in order to allow them to do the crucial work serving Abbotsford’s most vulnerable citizens.
But the bodies keep piling up. In 2017, 49 people died from overdoses in Abbotsford.
“It’s pretty gruesome,” Wegenast says.
But Wells won’t remember her sister as a statistic or as part of an epidemic of drug-related deaths.
“She is not her addiction. She’s a person. She’s loved. She loved deeply. She cared.”