By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Marlborough – On a calm, warm night, Aug. 31, nearly 100 people gathered in front of the Walker Building for a candlelight vigil to solemnly remember the 1,260 residents of Massachusetts who have died of an opiate overdose over the last year.
The vigil, held as part of International Overdose Awareness Day, was organized by Marlborough resident Kathy Leonard, whose son, Jonathan Testa, died of a heroin overdose in December 2014.
Prior to the vigil, Leonard and a team of volunteers placed small, purple flags – one for each person who had died – on the building’s front lawn. The flags were donated through the generosity of the Jacqueline Olivo Foundation, Inc., a Bellingham-based nonprofit founded in memory of Olivo by her mother, Lois. (For more information visit www.jofoundation.com.)
Sitting next to the field of flags during the vigil, audience members listened to several parents who spoke of the sadness and loss that the toll of drug addiction had taken on their families.
This night, Leonard said, was not to feel shame or recrimination nor even about finding a cure. Rather it was “remembering and honoring the legacy” of those who had died. It was also important to remove the stigma around addiction, she said, for it knows no boundaries.
“Addiction can happen to anyone,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your background is, your education or your financial status.”
“Every one of those lives mattered,” she added. “Every one of them was someone’s child.”
After several other parents shared their stories, audience members lit candles and walked over to the field of flags. Led by Leonard, they then recited the Serenity Prayer.
Leonard and Cheryl Juaire have formed a local chapter of the national organization GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). Meetings are held the first Thursday of the month at the First Church Congregational, 37 High St., Marlborough from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Juaire at 508-485-0879 or Leonard at 508-460-2002 or email [email protected].
Another support group for people suffering from opiate addiction and their loved ones meets the first Tuesday of each month at Marlborough City Hall, 140 Main St., on the third floor. For more information contact Maureen Begg at [email protected] or Carol Pickford at [email protected].