‘He just wanted to be accepted’: Okanagan mother opens up about son’s fatal overdose

Judgment toward those with mental health challenges needs to stop, says West Kelowna mother

  • Mar. 4, 2021 12:00 a.m.

It’s been 503 days since Lisa Jilg said goodbye to her son Travis Thacker, but time, as well as the judgment from others, has done little to soothe the pain.

For the West Kelowna mother, it’s how her son went that remains the toughest part.

‘So much fighting just to lose him’

When Thacker turned 21, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, it took years for their family to find him the right medication. While living at home, he would do well. However, Jilg explained, when he visited with his friends, he would sometimes dabble in drugs.

“Ten months before I lost my son … and he overdosed, and I was out of town. I found him, and I was able to bring him back to life,” said the mother.

Thacker was on life support for three weeks, during which time some recommended Jilg take him off and let him go. Miraculously, he came out of it “perfect” with no lasting side effects.

Jilg and her family moved to West Kelowna to pursue a business opportunity, launching what is now Got Phones N’ Repairs Ltd.

Four days after arriving in the Okanagan, 29-year-old Thacker visited a friend, and shortly after, Jilg received a call saying her son had overdosed again. The two had bought cocaine together, which was laced with fentanyl.

“When I went to the hospital, I think I was just in shock, but I think I knew that it was different this time. They kept telling me that there was too much brain damage for him to come out of this one.”

After three days in the hospital, Jilg took her son off life support. Thacker died on Oct. 17, 2019, with his mother at his side.

“He was my sidekick… he was my soul mate. So much fighting just to lose him.”

West Kelowna’s Travis Thacker died of an overdose on October 17, 2019. (Contributed)

Despite having video footage of the man who sold them the laced drugs, Jilg said police told her an investigation was impossible due to a lack of evidence.

Deaths like this are happening in B.C. at an alarming rate. On March 2, a report published shows there were 165 fatal overdoses in the first month of 2021.

‘They feel very alone when they are judged’

When people find out how her son died, some are judgmental, Jilg says. This is a stigma she’s hoping to extinguish — alongside terms such as ‘junkies.’

Jilg hopes the public can find empathy for those who struggle with mental health challenges.

“People don’t understand that these are humans too and that they have parents that are grieving their loss… the biggest part I hate is that they say drugs are a choice. And what they don’t realize is that 90 per cent of these people deal with a mental health issue. And if they’re not getting the proper care through mental health, then this is going to happen.

“Drugs are inevitable. They want to feel comfortable, they want to feel like themselves again, and I know that was my son’s issue… They feel very alone when they are judged the way that they are, and it’s a cause for more drugs.”

She described her late son as brilliant and selfless, with the biggest heart.

“No matter what issues he had going on, laughter was his cure. He just wanted everybody to laugh and be happy. He just wanted to be accepted. That’s all he wanted.”

After losing Thacker in 2019, Jilg went straight back to work, trying to keep her mind busy. It was only after talking with a woman who walked into her store that Jilg reached out to Moms Stop The Harm. There, she found support through women who had similar experiences.

A regular volunteer with Moms Stop The Harm, Jilg joins many other mothers in the fight to decriminalize drugs. All mothers in the group have lost children to a fentanyl overdose or have children who currently use.

The West Kelowna woman is trying her best to turn this tragic event into something positive and prevent other parents from going through what she did.

At her business, she collects donations from customers in the form of clothing and money, which helps fund mental health support groups. During the winter, she drives around town looking for cold people in need of a warm jacket or toque.

To contribute, get in touch with Jilg at her store, Got Phones N’ Repairs Ltd. Visit Momsstoptheharm.com to donate, or for more info.

A painting of Lisa Jilg and her son, Travis Thacker. Thacker died of an overdose on October 17, 2019. (Contributed)

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: phil.mclachlan@kelownacapnews.com


 

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