Part one in a two-part story about Maggie and Tim. An Indigenous mother who lives proudly with determination despite her many hardships endured over her 57 years, and a son who didn’t survive his own troubles over his 25 years.
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Even those who did not know Tim Postma might recognize his face from the streets in the downtown Chilliwack area.
He wasn’t a troublemaker or a criminal, but Tim was homeless, struggled with substance abuse issues and, when he was in Chilliwack, wandered the streets with friends from Central Community Park to Salish Park, spending time at Ruth & Naomi’s and on the streets in between.
He didn’t live with his mother Maggie Smith who did her best to take care of him when she could, working five, six, sometimes even seven days a week at her job at a retirement residence. She is well known at her local coffee shop, the Salish Plaza Starbucks, where staff say she often comes in to buy her regular drink and sometimes even drop off home-baked treats.
Maggie didn’t let Tim live with her at her rental apartment given his increasingly problematic drug use, but she looked for him on the streets to check in on him in between her shifts. She would let Tim come to shower, have a meal, even sleep once in a while at her apartment.
One day in the days leading up to Tim’s death in somewhat uncertain circumstances in a commercial trailer in an alley behind a business on Jan. 22, 2020, Maggie said Tim was at her place. Tim had a shower while Maggie made supper for the two of them.
But Tim’s desperation and addiction became too much, and he tried to take Maggie’s TV.
“I said, ‘I can help you but I can’t help you that way,’” Maggie said in an interview with The Progress.
“That was the last time I saw him or talked to him.”
While for most of his troubled years, Tim’s issues were with alcohol and marijuana, only relatively recently did Maggie find him using of needles. Naive on the use of any drugs, Maggie was shocked yet non-judgmental. She wanted Tim to get better, wanted to point him in the right direction, but never by a pointing finger.
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It was at approximately 3 a.m. on Jan. 22 when RCMP officers on patrol downtown smelled smoke and began to search for the source, according to Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail.
The fire was found in an alley off Victoria Avenue in a commercial trailer between two business.
Tim Postma was found inside the trailer, unresponsive. He was transported to Chilliwack General Hospital where he later died.
The Progress is awaiting the official BC Coroners Service report on Postma’s death, but his mother was told he died of hypothermia and asphyxiation. While needles were found around him and it was likely he was consuming drugs, Maggie doesn’t think he overdosed.
Maggie agreed to talk to The Progress about Tim’s life and death, a conversation joined by Tim’s older sister Sarah and older brother Jared.
All too often there are reports of a body found, or an overdose victim, or a missing person, and sometimes there are no reports at all about those things. Maggie agreed it was worthwhile to say a little something about Tim, a human being, a son, a boyfriend, a brother, a hurting young man, to put a face to the opioid crisis and homelessness and mental health issues and the tragedy facing too many people in Canada.
“I was trying to help him,” Maggie said. “I told him there was help, it’s just that he was not ready for help.”
Maggie worked long shifts often six days a week, but after or before she would often go looking for Tim and just sit with him and other street people in places like Central Community Park. Sometimes his friends would ask her if she had Tylenol-3s, but Tim would always make it clear to his friends that his mother did not do drugs.
Maggie said she found it informative to be with Tim, if briefly, on the streets with others suffering as he did.
“That was great because it really taught me a lot about unconditional love, getting to know people and listen,” she said. “Let them talk and get to know them instead of being judgmental.”
According to those on the streets, Tim was a positive force, a bright light would was friendly and helpful to others.
His sister Sarah said she knew that Tim always made sure “his bros” were taken care of. His brother Jared said that when things were going well and he was with his girlfriend, they travelled and were living life to the fullest.
Maggie herself always has a smile, her tiny frame walks around town to her work and to Starbucks, often delivering homemade goodies to people she knows. She endures with that smile and with strength despite a history tainted by Canada’s terrible past with residential schools. She was taken from her home in Port Douglas at the age of five. She also suffered sexual abuse in foster care, and later says domestic abuse in her relationship with Tim’s father. (Tim’s father John denies any such abuse occurred, only that they had a troubled marriage unresolved even through counselling.)
But she blames none of that on Tim’s situation, let alone his death on the streets.
For now she is trying to grieve as best as she can, but until she has Tim’s ashes it isn’t easy.
“Today has been a good day,” she said while chatting at Starbucks. “Yesterday I broke down.”
Walking to take a photo at Salish Park with Maggie, Jared and Sarah, another regular from the streets walked by. At first he asked if they had a dollar. Then he saw Tim’s brother and asked, “Is that you Jared?”
He looked shocked and emotional as he expressed his sadness at the death of Tim on the streets.
“He was my friend,” this broken young man said, tears in his eyes.
• For part two of Maggie and Tim click here, with more on Maggie’s experiences at the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School and how that affected her life.
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