Opioid Overdose Vigil Set for Wednesday in Gardner
By Peter Jasinski
GARDNER -- The “In memoriam” video gets a little longer every year.
Michelle Dunn, organizer of the city’s annual Overdose Awareness Day vigil, said there’s good and bad in that.
“Some of them are new, but some are people from years ago when the stigma was so heavy that their family didn’t want people to know how they died,” she said. “Now they want them included. It’s sad, but it’s really good people do now feel comfortable enough to share.”
This year’s video has 13 new names, each a different person who died of a fatal overdose. The video’s total run-time has reached 45 minutes, but it is only a small portion of the entire vigil.
The event will be held in Gardner’s Monument Park Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 8:30. Despite the event’s location, Dunn said it is intended for everyone in the greater Leominster-Fitchburg area.
“It’s for central Mass. so it covers a large area. People forget, because we’re rural, that we still do experience a lot of loss due to overdoses,” she said.
Dunn herself is included in those numbers, having lost her daughter, Alyssa, to an overdose in 2013. She held the first vigil for overdose victims in 2014, drawing an attendance of about 100 people, and has seen the crowd grow ever since.
Last year’s vigil was attended by more than 300.
“You always see people who have lost someone. Unfortunately, I do see a lot of the same faces because we’re all there to honor someone,” she said.
But like the vigil’s “In memoriam” video that has grown, in part, due to the lessening of stigma over the years, the size of the crowd has also grown for positive reasons.
“There are also a lot of new people there that are in recovery,” said Dunn. “People should come out not just to honor those that have passed away, but also to support those recovering from addiction.”
The evening will feature a remembrance ceremony for overdose victims, using glow sticks in place of candles. A new component added this year will be the placement of 1,909 ribbons on the lawn outside Gardner’s First Congregational Church, denoting the number of fatal overdoses in Massachusetts in 2017. Dunn said people are encouraged to write the names of lost loved ones on these ribbons.
The evening will conclude with speeches from three area residents currently in long-term recovery from opioid addiction.
“We want people to know that you can recover and go on to lead a great life,” said Dunn. “We don’t ever want to end on a negative note.”
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