Every year on a specific date, families and friends of the rapidly growing number of people lost to drug overdose gather together in cities and towns across the country to grieve, to remember, and to raise awareness of the rapidly escalating public health emergency that took their loved ones too soon. This annual event is called "International Overdose Awareness Day," and this year, for what we think is the first time, Knoxvillians touched by the scourge of drug overdose will have the opportunity to gather together for our own, locally based Overdose Awareness Day event.

Friday night's Candlelight Vigil is being hosted by a group of local moms and aunties, all of whom have lost their children to drug overdose. I am one of the volunteer hosts, as is the wonderful Karla Douglas - mother of Aaron Douglas, who was lost to overdose in May of 2011, one year to the month after my son Henry died of the same causein May of 2010.. Karla is a wonderful mom and community member who is such an inspiration to me, and I feel honored to call her my friend.

We decided to create a local Overdose Awareness Day event because we know that there are many grieving families in this community who feel isolated and alone in their loss due to drug overdose. They don't know how to find or connect with all the others of us who have experienced this terrible tragedy, and we want to change that.

The 2012 Knoxville Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil is free, open to the public, and will take place beginning at 8pm on Friday, August 31 2012 at St. James Episcopal Church, which is located at 1101 North Broadway. Parking at St. James is very convenient and totally free. The 2012 Vigil will offer a quiet, compassionate, warm and welcoming oasis for anyone who has been impacted in any way by the terrible drug overdose epidemic currently ravaging our community.

As a local parent who lost my own teenager on May 31, 2010 to an overdose-related brain injury, I know very personally how easy it is to feel alone in the unique grief that comes with a family member's death from drug overdose, which remains a terribly misunderstood and stigmatized issue. But since my own son died, I have learned that I am not alone in my loss. Tragically, dozens of Knoxvillians are dying each and every year from drug overdoses, but the families and friends of these victims are still too often encouraged to keep the cause of death a secret from others, due to the stigma.

Additionally, despite the fact that overdose is now killing more local residents than car accidents, gun violence or any other type of non-natural cause of death, the media generally does not report overdose deaths when they occur. For these reasons and others, families and friends of overdose victims often remain isolated from one another, believing that no one else can understand the specific type of hurt and loss that we are experiencing.

But on the evening of August 31, families and friends of local overdose victims will find one another, introduce ourselves to one another, hug one another, cry and laugh with one another - all in a reverent setting of memory, respect, compassion and celebration of those we've loved and lost to overdose. During the Vigil, everyone who attends will have the chance if they choose to do so to share their loved ones' stories with the group, and we will light a candle and ring a bell (both provided) for each loved one lost. We encourage you to bring photos or any other special items that remind you of your son, daughter, mother, father, cousin, aunt, uncle, wife, husband, friend or co-worker lost to drug overdose, in order to share your memories with others.

Please know that if you have lost someone you love to drug overdose, you are not alone, and you do not need to feel ashamed, or keep what happened to your family member or friend a secret.

I encourage everyone in our community to visit the Facebook page for the 2012 Knoxville Overdose Awareness Vigil to learn more about this upcoming event, to read the stories and see the photos of those who have died of drug overdose, and if you are comfortable doing so, to share your own loved one's photo and story. Please also consider letting your friends and neighbors know about the August 31 Knoxville Overdose Awareness Vigil.

We want to get the word out about this special event to as many people as possible, and even if you aren't able to attend the Knoxville Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil in person, you can still show your support by sharing the event information today on Facebook, Twitter, or even through good, old-fashioned emails sent to friends, neighbors and co-workers.

If anyone has any questions about the details of Friday night's Overdose Awareness Vigil, please contact Planning Host Betsy Tant at henrygranjufund@gmail.com

Thank you, and I hope to see and meet some of you at St. James Episcopal Church on Friday evening.

-Katie Allison Granju

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