Vigil brings light to addiction and loss

09/17/2018

By Sue Cody 

Seventy-five hand-held lights lit the field outside Astoria High School Friday night. It was a different kind of “Friday Night Lights.” There was no school band, no football players in uniform, no cheering crowd. This was a candlelight vigil in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day.

“We wanted to have a quiet candlelight vigil in remembrance of those who have died and to bring awareness to the disease of addiction,” said Kerry Strickland, founder of Jordan’s Hope for Recovery.

People stood in line to add names to a list of those they had lost to addiction. Battery operated candles, information on Jordan’s Hope for Recovery and GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing) were offered, along with training for Naloxone, a drug that can be given to someone who has overdosed on an opioid.

Kerry began the ceremony with thanks to all who have supported someone struggling with addiction.

“I lost my son Jordan to an accidental overdose on July 10, 2015, at the age of 24. I founded Jordan’s Hope for Recovery to continue his battle and to honor his memory by helping others.

“Jordan was bright, funny, athletic and kind. He loved his family. He didn’t know the pills he was prescribed and the choices he made after would alter his life so dramatically. He did not know the devastating consequences of using these chemicals recreationally would have on his life. Knowledge is key. And if we continue to share our stories and reach out to those who struggle, we can save other families from experiencing this devastating tragedy.

“We gather tonight to support one another as we grieve our losses and to bring awareness to this devastating disease. Together we can make a difference. Together we can bring hope back to our community. Look around you. You are not alone. You are not alone.”

After a prayer given by Pastor Shawn Leonard, names submitted by the gathered crowd were read. More than 70 names, each with some sort of local tie. More names than fill a professional football roster.

Personal support

Some people find comfort and support sharing their experiences with others. A local chapter of GRASP meets at Crossroads Community Church in Svensen the third Monday of each month. It is an organization that offers support in 34 states and Canada.

“GRASP is a support network of people who have lost someone to the disease of addiction,” said Josie Tripp, a spokeswoman for the local chapter. “Mainly what we do is offer outreach at meetings where people can discuss their grieving process.

“It’s hard for some family members to feel understood. With this kind of death there is a lot of social stigma. Sometimes you feel judged. You might not as easy to be as open about it.”

Josie displayed a framed photo of two young women. She said, “My husband and I lost Jessie Curtis and Kimberly Tripp. My daughter Jessie died in 2012 of an overdose. Kimberly died of an alcohol overdose.”

Astoria native Ashly Lukoszyk held a photo of a young man, saying, “This is the man I was going to marry. He was my best friend. His name was Gabriel. He passed away nine years ago of a heroin overdose.

“This vigil is awesome — people support each other. This is awareness that should have been brought forward 10 or 15 years ago. This is wonderful.”

Just then a shooting star flashed across the field.

Community support

The Way to Wellville and its sponsor, Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization (CCO), encourage healthy living. The CCO has sponsored opioid summits, supported medical and behavioral health initiatives and worked with north coast communities to develop solutions to addiction. Jordan’s Hope for Recovery, Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT), opioid pain clinics and the Clatsop County needle exchange are some of the programs it helps.

“We hope to build on our progress through collaboration and to destigmatize addiction in our communities,” said Dr. Safina Koreishi, medical director for Columbia Pacific CCO, at the 2018 Opioid Summit.

Gathering together

After the ceremony, some gathered around photos of friends or relatives they had lost. They shared stories of their own struggles and of grief. Some wept, some hugged, some gave words of assurance and some said nothing as they extinguished their lights and left the field.

The second annual Celebrate Recovery Rally & Fun Run/Walk will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 22 at the Astoria High School track. It features booths with activities for kids, music and speakers. Free lunch provided at 11 a.m. by Subway. Preregister at www.jordanshope.org.

For more information about GRASP, see the website www.grasphelp.org.