This past Mother’s Day wasn’t a happy one for Rachel Harrington.
The Peabody resident and Revere native met Steven Harrington when she was 16. As life progressed and marriage and parenthood set in, things began to spin out of control.
“I had no idea that he was as bad as he was,” she said. His drug addiction ultimately led to their divorce in 2008.
After relapsing multiple times, Steven succumbed to his addiction on Mother’s Day: May 10, 2015. He was 38.
“One of the big things I really realized through this process is how affected the children are by this,” Harrington said, referring to her and Steven’s son, 8-year-old Keagan. “They grow up with questions and they grow up wondering why and having nobody to talk to. I didn’t want my son to feel that way and I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed or guilty by what happened to his dad.”
Harrington has channeled her loss into advocacy work with the Revere CARES Coalition, a part of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement. The primary focus of the coalition is the prevention of substance abuse, which has since expanded to the promotion of healthy eating, active living, and healthy relationships. Harrington and the coalition hope to destigmatize overdoses and increase community conversation.
For the past nine years, the coalition has hosted its Revere Beach Memorial as a means of remembering the lives of those lost to addiction as well as to create a dialogue within the city. This year’s event will be held from 7 to 8 p.m on Sunday, Sept. 20, at the William G. Reinstein Bandstand.
“I think a lot of people hide behind shame and embarrassment because there is such a stigma,” Harrington said. “Something like this brings the community together and you realize that you’re not alone and a lot of families went through the same thing. I think it’s a great healing process for families to share their stories and know they’re not alone.”
“Bringing these people together, they’re able to look around and see that they’re not alone,” said Jay Picariello, a Saugus resident who previously served on the Revere Fire Department for 39 years. “Friends, neighbors, people they went to high school with that are going through the same thing they’re going through.”
Picariello, who has played a large role in the creation of the vigil, said the number of names read aloud at the ceremony has continued to grow over the years.
“When we started this nine years ago, under 100 names were read and I believe last year 175 names were read,” he said.
Last year, Revere has an estimated 21 overdose related deaths as reported by the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services.
“[The event] highlights the fact that this is a community problem not an individual problem and it can’t be ignored,” said Heather White, the communications and coalition coordinator at Revere CARES. “When you see the number of people who are reaching out for healing or help you think ‘How can we reach out as a community? How do we support those who want to fight their substance abuse and their loved ones who are right with them?’”
The vigil includes an introductions and series of inspirational poems, the lighting of candles, a reading of names, and bagpipes. After each name is read, a fire bell will toll.
“We believe that this gives that person the respect and the dignity they deserve,” Picariello said. “[Addiction] is out there and it affects people in many different ways. It’s a community event because we get a lot of people who haven’t lost anyone, just to show their support.”
Donations and funds raised from the event also will go to local rehabilitation centers, Just a Little Help Burial Funds of Revere, and the Revere Beach Memorial Scholarship.
“For families, you’re not alone and we all feel similar in our battles,” Harrington said. “But for the addicts, I think it’s really important for them to understand they are loved. You are loved. Your family never stops fighting for you. And when you’re gone there is a hole left.”
Individuals can register a name to be read by contacting Revere CARES at 781-435-6440 or arriving between 6 and 7 p.m. the night of the event. Donations can be sent to Viviana Cataño at Revere Beach Memorial Fund, c/o Revere CARES Coalition, 300 Ocean Avenue, Revere, MA 02151.