CINCINNATI — Every day is hard for the family members of heroin addicts who have overdosed and died.
But holidays can be the hardest.
That’s what inspired Libby Harrison to bring those grieving friends and families together this weekend during a nondenominational memorial service in Mt. Auburn.
“If you don’t have somebody sitting at the table around Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas, you feel it so much more,” said Harrison, who leads the Cincinnati Exchange Project, a service designed for heroin users to get clean needles. “There is so much stigma (around heroin-related deaths) and there’s so much shame, and I think that some people don’t go to support groups.”
The service will honor people who lost their lives to heroin, which killed more than 300 people in the region last year.
"We just thought that it would be a good idea to give grieving families and friends a space to grieve — where they weren’t alone so they could carry the pain together,” she said.
All are invited to attend the contemplative service Sunday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Church of Our Savior, including friends and family members of people still battling addiction.
“Those are the people who live in fear of getting the knock on the door. We want them to know they’re not alone," she said. "There will be recovering addicts who can speak to them afterwards to show them there can be hope and things can change."
The service is set for the first hour of the event — complete with a violin player and candle lighting ceremony, said Harrison, who organized the event after losing Cincinnati Exchange clients and others to the drug.
"I’ll talk about the loss that we feel as a community,” she said. “It’s going to be a really sweet and very beautiful (service) and I think it’s something that’s really needed by these families.
The most important part, Harrison said, is the social gathering taking place after the service. There will be coffee, cake and grief counselors available for anyone who wants to talk about their loss or about the circumstances that keep so many silent.
“Because there’s so much shame around death associated with drug overdoses, you’ll notice that in overdose deaths in the obituary, very rarely is the cause of death mentioned,” she said.
Harrison said she expects at least 100 people to attend Sunday's memorial service.
Overdose Deaths By County In 2014
Sources: County coroners in Ohio; the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center for Kentucky