Gina Dias accepted a warm hug from a friend on the streets of Duncan Saturday as she trembled with grief and guilt.
The 48-year-old said she is heartbroken after losing the “love of her life,” Josh Derrah, who died alone in the cold on Dec. 20.
“I miss him so much. He should be here. I don’t know what to do without him. I just don’t know,” said Dias, who’s been living on the streets of Duncan for several years.
Derrah, known as J.D. on the streets of Duncan and who Dias called her “hubby” for two years, was found dead at 28 years old.
It was a freezing cold night, and temperatures dipped to -6 degrees Celsius with windchill, according to Environment Canada.
Dias said she left Derrah outside a Duncan restaurant to get a coffee and warm up since there was no warming shelter to go to, and when she returned hours later, she found him unresponsive and lying in the parking lot without a blanket.
She said when BC EHS Paramedics arrived, they told her he was dead.
“They checked for a pulse,” said Dias.
“I believe if they tried, he would be here today,” she said.
The BC Coroners Service says it is investigating the death but couldn’t confirm the cause. But Adrian Sylvester, who bikes around Duncan checking in on those outside, believes that J.D. froze to death.
“When I hear about people freezing to death because there’s no warming centre, it really hurts. Because I used to be homeless,” said Sylvester, a member of Cowichan Tribes, who volunteers to check on those in trouble.
Michelle Staples, Duncan’s mayor, says the site that was to open as a warming centre the night that J.D. died, and in those leading up to it, could not because of staff illness. It was opened the next day.
In a twist of fate, J.D. and Dias were in a deadly Duncan apartment fire on New Year’s Eve of 2020. They jumped from a fourth-floor window and narrowly escaped death with serious injuries.
Now on the second anniversary of that tragedy, Dias is grieving her husband, who she said saved her life by making her jump from that fire, and wishes she could have returned the favour.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here, and now I’m here without him,” said Dias.
Josh Derrah leaves behind a five-year-old daughter who he lost touch with years ago.
Dias says the couple planned to get clean and one day get off Duncan’s streets — a dream that she now intends to start without him.