NORTH EAST — More than 50 luminaries arranged in the shape of a heart on the floor of the Gilbert Lighthouse Pavilion in North East Community Park served as a centerpiece on Tuesday night.

It was the scene of the eighth annual Voices of Hope of Cecil County Overdose Memorial Vigil, an event that is held on International Overdose Awareness Day. In years past, people who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses have encircled those luminaries at the end of the event in communal prayer.

Attached to some of those bags in that heart-shaped pattern on Tuesday night were photos of people whose lives were cut short by drugs.

Written on most were messages about how much their surviving fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and other relatives loved them and missed them. Written in red and green marker under the overdose victim’s name, a message on one of the bags read: “Love & miss you. We pray that you are at peace.” It was adorned with hand-drawn hearts.

The vigil is a bittersweet event, as people memorialize loved ones who lost their battles with addiction — but they do so alongside others who also lost their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and loved ones to the very same culprit.

The annual event facilitates a sense of community, attendees often explain. Although from different walks of life, those who participate in the annual vigil are united by that bonding experience of losing a loved one to alcohol and, or, drugs, according to them. Consequently, while together at the vigil, attendees do not feel like they are all alone in their grief.

“It’s a touchstone day,” said Jennifer Tuerke, who is executive director of Voices of Hope (VOH), referring to International Overdose Awareness Day and the VOH vigil held in Cecil County each year to mark the observance.

She continued, “We remember the people who lost their lives. It lets them (surviving friends and family members) know that we don’t forget.”

The luminaries haunt Tuerke because each one, in her eyes, represents a person who could have been saved if he or she had received the help that they needed.

Last year, 85 people in Cecil County died from drug overdoses, Tuerke reported.

That translates to a person dying from a drug overdose roughly every four days in 2020 — a year in which the coronavirus pandemic halted several support and treatment programs for addicts and recovering addicts for many months.

Tuerke believes that the pandemic made it more difficult for people to get into recovery and to stay in recovery, she said. Moreover, she believes that the pandemic is part of the reason why 20 more people died from overdoses in Cecil County last year than was logged in 2019 — when 65 lost their lives to drug overdoses, Tuerke added.

If anyone needs assistance in accessing treatment or acquiring Narcan, call Voices of Hope at 443-993-7055.

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