Two mothers with a message

Anne Uebbing and Kathy Wagner want parents to find their own 'clarity in the chaos' through a book event on Thursday, Oct. 5

Left: Anne Uebbing, who owns Kinder Books. Right: Kathy Wagner, the author of Here With You. Uebbing’s photo: Supplied. Wagner’s photo: Jenn Fontaine Photography.

You may think a discussion about a book with serious tones at a New West children’s book store seems a little unorthodox, but Anne Uebbing—who owns Kinder Books—and Kathy Wagner—the author in question are here to tell you it isn’t.

In their respective opinions, it’s necessary.

Both mothers are trying to find hope and healing in shared heartbreak: each lost young sons to the drug crisis.

Luka, Uebbing’s son, was 13 when he died in the bedroom next to hers a few years ago. “Luka was 13, but he looked 17,” Uebbing explains to The Anchor. “He was very tall, very involved [in his community], and very outspoken…When people hear ‘13,’ they see a little boy that used to play with Legos, but Luka wasn’t like that.”

Uebbing says Luka also had the gift of taking charge when it came to solving problems. And as he struggled, he was trying to find help for himself in any way he could.

“He overdosed [for] the first time in August of 2021. My husband found him in time and brought him back to life. Then, we were sent to the hospital.”

Uebbing remembers rushing home to Port Moody from the store that day: the family stayed at the hospital for about two hours, but they eventually sent Luka home.

“[Luka] said, ‘now what, what do we do now?’ [My husband] said, ‘well, you go and search for help.’

Uebbing says both her husband and Luka did hours and hours of research, and the younger Uebbing eventually stumbled upon The Last Door as a potential option. But when Uebbing talked to Luka’s counsellor about possibly sending him there, she says she was told it probably wouldn’t be an appropriate place for a child.

“[We thought], ‘someone will come. I bet tomorrow [there] will be social [services] and all these people will be in front of our doorstep. Nobody came. Nobody, no one from weeks, nothing,” explains Uebbing, who added that she couldn’t believe no one had even batted an eye at how young her son was.

Months later, Luka passed away.

“[Luka] said, ‘now what, what do we do now?’ [My husband] said, ‘well, you go and search for help.’”

Anne Uebbing, owner of Kinder Books at the River Market in New Westminster

“We were set up for failure. People are always criticizing, [so I think to myself], ‘so tell me what you would have done?’ I can check the list. We did everything. And [this experience left me] thinking, ‘we’re the only ones.’ Then I hear the statistics.”

For the uninitiated, deaths tied to the current drug crisis is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 to 59 in BC. That means these deaths topple statistics related to homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural causes—and that’s all combined. In 2023, more than 1600 people have died from an overdose, and more than 12,000 lives have been claimed since the public health emergency was declared in 2016.

And while people may think many of them are happening on the street, that’s actually not the case: many of these deaths happen within the walls of a residence.

For Wagner, losing Tristan upended so much, and like Uebbing, she had no place to turn. In life, Tristan had activities he loved like Kung Fu, which at one point he practiced for a year-and-a-half in China. Nonetheless, he still struggled.

“One of Tristan’s best friends in recovery shared photo upon photo of happy times he spent with Tristan, and reminded me of Tristan’s love of life. And his courage: how Tristan would stumble into tough times but would always, always get his sparkle back; how Tristan shared that part of him honestly and selflessly with others…Tristan was joyful and he was loved. THAT is the story that needs to be told, and remembered.”

Author Kathy Wagner through her Instagram page, @kwagnerwrites

“When my son went into recovery, he had been struggling with addiction for about six years,” Wagner tells The Anchor, adding that when he eventually went into treatment, she ended up going through a recovery of her own.

“That's really where I started learning how to have my own life separate from him because my life had become so wrapped up in his wellness. It was a learning curve, and to be honest was a lot of what I want to to share through this book.”

The writing that she did as her son tried to recover paved the way for what would become Here With You: A Memoir of Love, Family and Addiction.

While the workshop is taking place at a kids’ bookstore, Wagner cautions the literature is very much for an older audience. “I’ve told my granddaughter she can’t read it until she’s 16,” she underscores as she characterizes the material. “[At] the heart of it is a book of healing and hope, and recovery, right? My intent is that people will walk away—you know, people who are maybe struggling with parenting a child in addiction or who have lost a kid to dark harms—my hope is that they will come away with a sense of hope. Even if hope looks like nothing they ever expected it would before.”

“One of the things I do talk about in terms of what we as a society can be doing differently, is we can be much better out of identifying at-risk children when they are still children,” notes Wagner, who believes that there were a number of traits Tristan had been exhibiting at the ages of three and four that might have helped them navigate their path differently. “I know Tristan had both personality and both environmental situations that put him at risk.”

In Wagner’s experience, she’s hoping that people learn to work together and not prioritize one facet or perspective over another in the drug-related crisis. She believes in a model that works with a little bit of everything: funding, understanding, empathy, hope, and compassion.

Down the line, fate intervened: Uebbing and Wagner got to know each other at a local group called Healing Hearts, a group with ties to Moms Stop the Harm. Uebbing says she looked to the group as she tried to find her own ‘clarity in the chaos’ of losing her son.

“[When I met Kathy], I remember her saying, ‘I was writing lots. I was writing lots. I have three kids and I’m writing lots.’ That stuck into my head.”

A few months ago, Uebbing met with another parent she’d become acquainted with through Healing Hearts. As they reminisced over coffee, the acquaintance reminded her Wagner had recently published a book about her story.

“Two days later, Kathy stood in front of me in front of the store, and I said, ‘let’s do it.’”

While the bookstore showcases beautifully written and illustrated books, one of the other facets Uebbing takes pride in is her ability to be able to offer workshops that touch on all sorts of life lessons and experiences. She’s hosted dozens of storytime and crafts events, but she’s also hosted workshops that look at a range of child-rearing topics, including a recent one delving into tantrums and why they can have hidden gifts.

When The Anchor asked Uebbing about the juxtaposition of a children’s book store and the seriousness of the topic, she noted her ultimate goal was more than just physical literature.

“I am trying to have a mirror for everybody [at the store],” she explains. “Whether you come from a different country; whether you're struggling with anxiety, whether you are looking to get a question and answered…I mean, I'm not a parenting expert, but I know many.”

The event has been filling up quickly, and will now be taking place on the second floor of the River Market—the same building Kinder Books is in. If you’d like to register for this free workshop, be sure to do so through the Kinder Books website.

The workshop will take place on Thursday, Oct. 5 at 7pm.

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