MARLBOROUGH – Sitting under the shade of the Assabet River Trail’s canopy, perched just beyond the finish line, were the friends and family of Jeremy Oathout.
Oathout, who died in April 2020 after a long battle with addiction, could only be with the family in spirit, but his family made his presence felt. From their seats, the family – dressed in bright purple shirts embellished with Oathout’s face – prominently held a sign.
“Our angel, Jeremy,” it read. “Gone, but never forgotten.”
Oathout was hardly the only angel being remembered that morning. On May 13, hundreds of families and supporters gathered at Moose Lodge in Marlborough for the Remembering Our Angels 5K Run/Walk.
“I’m here with my mom remembering [Oathout] and remembering all the loved ones that passed on from substance use disorder,” Brittany Metterville, Oathout’s sister, told the Community Advocate. “I don’t think there’s enough awareness around it, so I’m hoping that today really brings a lot of awareness and helps people know that we love them and there’s a lot of support out there for them.”
Beside Oathout’s family – on the other side of the finish line – were close to 100 memorial posters meant to honor loved ones lost to substance use. Each poster included a photo, name, hometown, and two adjectives to describe the loved one.
“Victor [from] Saugus,” one poster read, featuring a smiling young man. “Intelligent. Caring.”
Several runners completing the course blew a kiss to their loved one’s poster on their way to the finish line.
Cheryl Juaire, the coordinator of the event and the executive director of Team Sharing Inc., which seeks to provide support to grieving families who have lost a child to substance Use disorder, explained that the Remembering Our Angels 5K, now in its sixth consecutive year, has traditionally been held the day before Mother’s Day.
“The reason is that Mother’s Day is a very hard day for those of us who have lost our children,” she said. “This is an event where we get together, and we get to spend time together as grieving families because we all know what it feels like to lose a child. We support each other.”
Though many had experienced profound loss, and the group had been formed by shared tragedy and hardship, the event was incredibly encouraging and uplifting, a testament to the power of community and togetherness.
Members of the community eagerly ran and walked down a roughly three-mile stretch of the Assabet River Trail; many people pushed strollers or held hands with loved ones. There were raffles, prizes, and a barbecue lunch waiting for participants upon their return to Moose Lodge.
Participants in the event had a strong sense of camaraderie and togetherness, but that’s not to say there wasn’t competition. Awards were given to the top overall male and female finishers and the top finishers in each age group.
This year, Derrick St. Cyr of Medway, Massachusetts, was the first finisher, running the 3.1-mile course in just over 20 minutes (20:07.6). Angelina Adams of Upton, Massachusetts, was the fastest female participant, reaching the finish line at the 26-minute mark (26:19.7).
Nancy Tobin, who advocates for adopting a new license plate to raise awareness about substance use, told the Community Advocate that when substance use disorder is stigmatized, people who may need help may not receive the treatment necessary for their recovery.
“We’re trying to start the conversation… We need to reduce stigma. We need to make conversation happen, and all work together to elevate this from something that people are hiding,” she said.
“[We need to] bring awareness to people that really look down on people who are struggling,” she said. “Nobody’s perfect – and this really affects a lot of families. Some of them are ashamed of it. For a long, long time people didn’t talk about it. I’m so happy we are doing this today because it will bring a lot of awareness.”
There was no stigma to be found on Saturday – just community, remembrance, and lots of happy participants.