On Overdose Awareness Day, People Remember Their Loved Ones
PITTSFIELD, MASS. (AP) – Last year, there were 62 fatal overdoses in Berkshire County, with 33 of them happening in Pittsfield.
On Wednesday, the community observed National Overdose Awareness Day with a monument in the Common and a vigil at Park Square.
The event, organized by Living in Recovery, aims to remember people who died as a result of an overdose, shed awareness on an often stigmatized issue, and provide harm reduction and bereavement support options.
Overdose rates continue to grow, according to Program Director Julie MacDonald, who underlined the necessity of removing the stigma around substance usage.
“There’s still so much shame attached to this and so, therefore, our people in our community don’t really get to grieve properly because of the shame and stigma,” she said.
“And also that which we hide under the bushes, if the light cannot shine on it then it cannot be addressed, it cannot be changed. We can’t take any action toward it if we’re not willing to, so a big part of the awareness part of the day is to raise the awareness in the community about how we’re all affected by this, and how impacted we are by it, and to remind them of that.”
A procession was conducted from the Common to Park Square, where 62 placards representing individuals who died from an overdose in 2021 were erected at the intersection of South, North, and West streets.
MacDonald read the names of individuals whose relatives and friends wanted to pay tribute to them, and a battery-powered candle was set next to each placard.
The exhibit was a stark physical reflection of the community’s drug fatalities. In Berkshire County, there have been 374 overdose fatalities since 2010.
“We come together on this day with a range of emotions as deep and complex as those that we are remembering. Some here may have come feeling bruised by their loss and asking what you could have done to prevent it or what you could have done to lessen your loved one’s pain and suffering. For some, there is an array of mixed emotions and the futile search to understand why their loved one suffered so here on the earth and why they were taken from this earth, snatched away in the brutal arms of addiction,” MacDonald said.
“But let us remember that no matter how stalked they were by their own pain, their life also had many moments of delight and happiness, caring and friendship, sharing and love. They mattered in this lifetime and today we remind ourselves and our community of them. Today despite our pain, we stand together and we strive to find hope and healing knowing that their pain has ended.”
One couple attended the ceremony in memory of their son Matthew, who died on his 30th birthday in 2015. They also underlined the importance of de-stigmatizing the issue, claiming that overdoses had claimed far too many lives.
“We spend every year trying to celebrate him,” his mother said. “We celebrate 365 days a year but on this day, and of course on this birthday, with something special.”
Larry Lake, chaplain with Hospice of Western and Central Massachusetts, addressed the topic of bereavement.
“What you want to grieve with is the love you had for that person. To realize in your hearts, that they died knowing they were loved. They didn’t die saying ‘oh, if he only stayed a minute longer, I wouldn’t have done this,’ they died knowing that you love them and that’s what you honor in your grief,” he said.
“Because you need to be able to grieve fully and also live fully and if you’re feeling guilt over the loss as if it were anything that you could have prevented, anything you could have cured, anything you could have stopped, that gets in the way of our living for.”Lake recommended that a person does not move on from a loss, but instead takes the memories and affection of the individual with them.
Living in Recovery, 81 Linden St., is a peer-led program founded in 2018 in memory of Joseph R. Botz.
According to MacDonald, the facility provides assistance to persons in recovery, those affected by people who use substances, and those who promote the recovery lifestyle.
“A big part of it is that socialization but also in working as a community and the peers leading it, the members leading it,” she said.
“It’s part more too of learning cooperation with others, how do we make joint decisions, and so it really sort of touches on every area of someone’s life when they are in recovery and it helps to build that skill set.”
Learn to Cope, a peer-led support group for families dealing with the addiction of another person; Support After a Death by Overdose (SADOD); and Berkshire Harm Reduction were on hand to give resources at the event.
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