By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – A pair of mothers who lost their sons to drug overdose are using their tragedy to help others.
Kathy Leonard lost her 27-year-old son Jonathan Testa in December and Cheryl Juaire lost her son Corey Merrill, 23, in 2011 – both to heroin overdose.
The pair met at Nar-Anon meetings, for relatives and friends of loved ones with drug addiction. After Jonathan’s death, Juaire reached out to Leonard and the two decided to start a local chapter of the national organization GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing).
“The closest chapter was in Lowell,” explained Leonard, adding that the Metrowest chapter will be the eighth in Massachusetts.
Leonard said she knew there was a need in this in this region.
“Unfortunately in this area, there have been many recent deaths,” she said. “I know of at least four others in the Marlborough-Hudson area.”
Leonard and Juaire contacted the GRASP organization, attended meetings in Lowell and Bridgewater, studied the literature, and went through an interview process.
“They wanted to make sure I was prepared mentally to lead a group,” Juaire explained.
Leonard, too, was unsure if she was emotionally ready, but said she believes it will help her through the grieving process.
“It will help me heal, too,” she said. “Helping them helps me because I’m able to tell my story.”
Juaire added that the group does not offer counseling, just support.
“They feel like they are the only ones going through this,” she said. “We want them to know we understand.”
Part of the challenge, she continued, is getting people to open up.
“There is a stigma surrounding addiction and overdose,” Juaire said. “Some people are embarrassed. We want them to know that they are having normal feelings and reactions. That they are not alone.”
The co-leaders have distributed brochures to organizations in the area, including counselors, funeral homes, and police departments to spread the word about the support group. Since they are a nonprofit, they are also focused on fundraising.
Both Leonard and Juaire are very open about their sons’ addiction to heroin.
“The last seven years were hell,” Leonard said. “My son was in and out of rehab.”
She explained that Jonathan was an A student, a talented musician and athlete when he attended Hudson High School.
“After the first year of college, things went downhill,” she said. “Like many others, he became addicted to narcotics and turned to heroin because it is available and cheap.”
“They didn’t want this,” added Juaire, whose son Corey attended Assabet Valley Regional Technical School. “The drugs got hold of them. It’s like Russian roulette; they think they can do it one last time.”
For parents of addicts, Leonard said, “you always know you can get that phone call.”
For her, that phone call came only a few short months ago.
“I don’t wear eye makeup,” she noted. “I still cry every day.”
But organizing the support group with Juaire, she said, gives some meaning to her grief.
“It’s not about me,” she emphasized. “It’s about helping other people through the loss of our sons.”
Meetings will be held the first Thursday of the month beginning May 7 at the First Church Congregational, 37 High St., Marlborough from 6:30 to 8 p.m. To register or for more information, contact Juaire at 508-485-0879 or Leonard at 508-460-2002 or email [email protected]. For more information about GRASP, visit www.grasphelp.org. To help with the group’s fundraising efforts, visit www.gofundme.com and search “GRASP,” to make a donation.