August 29, 2019
One by one, a bell slowly and methodically tolled — 84 solemn rings against the quiet August night. One toll for every life lost in 2018 to opioid abuse in Erie County plus one final toll to represent lives lost thus far in 2019.
Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC, Family Hospice and Palliative Care, and Maria House recently collaborated to hold the second annual Vigil of Hope. The event honors loved ones stolen by the ravages of substance abuse. Families, friends, and mental health professionals came together to find comfort and support in the shared company of their common loss. The evening was marked by special music, the lighting and extinguishing of candles, and tiny vials of sand symbolizing each of the lives that are no more.
Gina Bizzarro addressed the gathering and shared her intensely personal journey. Having lost her 56-year-old mother to addiction, Gina explained, “The reason I share my story is because addiction does not discriminate. It can affect anyone. Drugs and alcohol are so powerful that they can completely overtake a life. You must remember this if you love someone struggling with addiction.”
When Gina’s mother lost her battle and her life, the stigma of the disease of addiction caused Gina to feel guilt, shame, and judgment. These harsh feelings impeded her ability to grieve, but the vigil event brings Gina a measure of healing. “This is so important for me. Not only can I remember my loved one, but I can also continue to process significant loss in my life.”
Today, Gina dedicates herself to a message of hope in the aftermath of trauma. As a behavioral health therapist at Safe Harbor, she helps others dealing with experiences similar to her own.
A co-sponsor for Vigil of Hope, Hamot Health Foundation also administers federal grant money in support of Safe Harbor’s work in opioid response planning. As we know from Gina’s story, this work is important to help prevent and relieve suffering caused by substance abuse. Hamot Health Foundation stands ready to partner with Safe Harbor in this critical community health mission.