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Sarah Keast on Grieving an Overdose Death: 'Where Are You?'

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Sarah Keast lost her husband Kevin in August 2016 to an accidental heroin overdose. As the mother of two young daughters, Sarah was faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of dealing with her loss while raising her daughters on her own. From her TEDxToronto talk, Your empathy can save a life, to her blog, Adventures in Widowed Parenting, Sarah has been spreading awareness about Canada's overdose crisis and the stigma associated with addiction ever since.

For the overdose awareness campaign Weathered, Sarah shared Kevin's belonging with our photographer, Jessica Okonski, who photographed his brightly coloured Vans slip ons, baseball, and sobriety tags. In addition, Sarah Keast graciously shared a piece she wrote about Kevin, called Where Are You:

"Where are you? Your Vans slip ons with the rainbow coloured skulls are in the shoe rack by the front door, so you must be home somewhere? I wear them sometimes when I take out the garbage late at night. I’m too tired after daycare pickup, making dinner, cleaning up dinner and getting the girls bathed and in bed, so putting on your slip ons makes the job a bit easier.

Are you upstairs? Your closet is jammed full of your clothes, baseball caps, more Vans and sport jerseys. Sometimes, I find the closet door open when I don’t remember

opening it, so maybe you are in our bedroom? When I stick my head in your closet

before closing the door I can just faintly smell you. I sometimes wonder if my brain is making that up because the smell is so faint and I can barely notice it. But I can. Are you here? Our cleaning ladies told me that they refer to our house as the ‘ghost house’ because they feel you. Are you pissed off they aren’t cleaning properly? Is that why they feel you and your energy when they are here. I don’t think that’s it because you were always terrible at keeping things clean and tidy, so the skill level of our cleaning lady was never a priority for you. But still...are you here? Please tell me you are here.

I don’t always feel like you are here. Everyone, plus random strangers or acquaintances I’ve just met, tells me (whether I asked for their opinion or not) that you are with me, and that you always will be. I nod and smile politely. But inside I think ‘how the hell could they know that? As a society we haven’t even figured out how to not throw plastic in the ocean and yet everyone, and their mother, is certain they know what happens and where we go after we die? I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s just something people say when they don’t know what to say. It doesn’t bring me solace. It just reminds me that you aren’t actually here.

You weren’t there when anxiety and depression and nightmares with twisted scenes kept me awake at night. I know you weren’t there because if you were, you would have held my hand in the dark and reminded me that this was just a feeling and soon it

would be gone. As you always wisely said ‘no feeling is final’. But you weren’t there and

you won’t ever be there again. The darkness swallowed me and the night stretched on forever. I wish you were there. I always wish you were there.

Photograph taken by Jessica Okonski

Were you there for those months when Brooklyn was so anxious she couldn’t be alone? Were you there the night she asked me through the quiet of the dark if I would die too while she was sleeping? Were you there the day Piper told me she wished she had been with you the day you died because she felt you wouldn’t have taken drugs if she had been with you? Were you there when Brooklyn and I lay entangled in each others arms, tears streaming down our faces, listening to the songs from your funeral while I told her the story of each song and why you loved it? Were you there last week, last month, last year, a million times over when I screamed and sobbed silently into my pillow and cursed you and your choices in this life. I hope you heard me. You need to hear me.

Were you there when I went on my first date with some random guy from the internet? I think you might have been. I felt your deep belly laugh inside of me while I stared at the blank look on his face after I made what I thought was an awesome joke. I felt you and I missed you. I hope you weren’t there when I went on my second date with my now boyfriend. You didn’t need to be there for that. It was amazing and I really hope you weren’t there!

Photograph taken by Jessica Okonski

I’m pretty certain you were there when I took the stage in front of 1300 people to share our story of love and loss in the time of the Opioid crisis. My breath was jagged and my hands were shaking like a leaf as I tried to steady myself before going on stage. As I closed my eyes and sank deep into my grounding meditation, I felt you. You weren’t with me in the way those well intended yet sorely misguided statements of ‘he’s always with you’ imply. But you were with me. In me. Part of me. Somehow, somewhere, on some teeny tiny speck of cosmic dust, you were there. I’m absolutely certain you were with us at the skate shop as I bought Brooklyn her first skateboard. The sounds, the sights and the smell instantly took me back to those halycon days when we first met. When all we had was time and youth and happiness. Time to visit skate shops together. Time to sit in the sun at the skate park and watch you skate happily.

The ‘where are you’ question rattles around in my head most days. My analytical brain answers this question easily. You are a 15 minute drive from here, in a beautiful, peaceful cemetary, 6 feet under in an eco friendly wood box. Returning to the earth. But then my heart and my soul plead for more answers. I want to believe you somehow are with me, with us, watching us and taking care of us, but for my agnostic self, this is a hard pill to swallow. I can’t know everything and I will never know everything. I think there is beauty in wondering where you might be though. And in those fleeting

moments between sleep and wake, when my brain hasn’t yet remembered that ‘oh yes,

you are dead’, and I float on a haze of half asleep-ness, I’m with you. I’m holding your

hand and you are holding mine. In those moments, I know the answer to the ‘where are

you’ question."

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