Wendy Kitt, 35, died in Agassiz from an overdose in August. With no next of kin notified, it took a month before her mother, Lyn Firth knew her daughter was dead. Now Firth is turning her grief to action, advocating to erase the stigma around mental health and addictions. Submitted

Agassiz woman’s body in morgue a month before family learns of her death

Mother discovered daughter had died by finding an online obituary

Wendy Kitt was gregarious, outgoing and opinionated. She was spirited, passionate and independent. She had moved to Agassiz to work as a senior’s care aide and according to her mother, was trying to get help to deal with addiction.

These are the things that defined the 35-year-old woman, and not her battle with mental illness. But her mother, Lyn Firth, fears her lifestyle might be the reason her daughter’s body was in a morgue for a month before her family even knew she had died.

Last summer, Firth and Kitt had been talking every day about finding resources to help Kitt get clean.

“She was just at the end of her rope,” says Firth. “She didn’t know what else to do and I saw the hopelessness in her.”

READ: B.C. declares fentanyl drug overdose emergency

One day in late July, Kitt suddenly stopped responding to her mother’s calls and texts.

Firth started looking for any trace of what happened to her on the internet. Regular searches revealed nothing.

A month later, she discovered her daughter’s obituary.

It detailed nothing more than her date of birth and date of death – a month before. “No service requested,” it said.

“I thought it was a joke,” Firth recalls. “It was just the coldest, harshest, thing.”

Firth called the mortuary and was told she would have to wait two days to speak to the appropriate person.

“I find my daughter’s dead online. She’s been in a morgue for a month and they’re telling me, ‘You have to wait until Tuesday.’

“She would have laid there for another month and then been cremated and interred in a cemetery in Surrey if I hadn’t found her. And we would never have known.”

A history of adversity

Kitt was a strong, independent person, her mother recalls.

“She really had a lot of potential. The issues she was dealing with – mental health and addiction-wise – really prevented her from achieving what she really wanted to achieve in her life.”

Firth believes her daughter suffered from mental health issues her entire life, but was never treated.

“She did see a psychiatrist, she did see counsellors, they recognize that she has a problem, but what’s the next step? Unless you have a hefty bank roll, then she’s kind of left on her own.”

As a teenager, Kitt got into a relationship that led her to heroin. “We did the best we could given the skills we had,” says Firth. “As she got older, those turbulent teenage years start. That’s really when the [addiction] started.”

“By the time we recognized that she really had a problem that needed intervention, it was too late. She’s an adult.”

‘No service requested’

With the help of her partner, who is a private investigator and former RCMP officer, Firth learned Kitt had died after ingesting methamphetamine laced with carfentanil.

She believes her daughter had bought the drugs in Agassiz and died in the home where she worked as a live-in senior’s care aide.

She also believes authorities would have been handled Kitt’s death differently if she had died of another cause.

“It was so shocking to find this obituary online. I was so enraged,” she says. “How could this possibly happen? That you’re treating my daughter like a piece of garbage.”

When she asked the police why she wasn’t notified when Kitt died, she says she was told, “It’s just our system, our system broke down.” She says they also told her it was not because of Kitt’s “lifestyle,” using Firth’s word.

“Even if it is the system, the way this has played out, because of your lack of care and attention, just feeds directly into the stigma around people that have mental health [issues] and addictions,” Firth says.

Kitt had multiple pieces of ID in the purse that was collected at the time of her death, says Firth. “It’s pretty shocking that their process is so broken that they can’t find a next of kin that was actually on a piece of paper.”

READ: Fentanyl, a mother’s pain, a mother’s message

The Observer contacted multiple people at the BC RCMP and received a statement from communication services.

”We are aware of the concerns raised by the Kitt family, and we continue to work directly with them,” it reads. “We have expressed our regret to the family for the failure of process which resulted in the delay in the notification of Wendy’s death. We will continue to provide guidance to our officers to reduce the chance of this type of delay occurring again.”

They declined to comment on the process they follow to notify a deceased person’s next of kin.

Firth says she wasn’t satisfied with the ‘expression of regret’ the police provided her.

“The situation around how the police treated my daughter is kind of unforgivable,” she says. “I’m not asking them for an internal investigation, I’ve simply asked for an apology. And I’m still waiting.”

Turning grief into action

Firth says she can either collapse into grief or use it to make a difference.

While she believes the RCMP failed her daughter, she doesn’t point her finger at one cause.

“The bigger picture here is that there’s multiple systems involved in what happened to my daughter, and they all failed.”

She says it’s an opportunity to get people talking about a lack of effective care for people with mental health and addiction issues.

She encourages parents to visit the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website, Be4Stage4.ca and sign a petition for better mental health resources in B.C.

“Just sitting here blaming is not going to help,” Firth says. “Turning the grief into action and actually taking some steps to make sure that all of the other Wendys out there have a better chance.”

READ: 25 per cent of organs donated in B.C. came from fentanyl overdose deaths

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