International Overdose Awareness Day 2022 Frederick, MD – Candlelight Vigil Speech by Heather Stang

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Updated: August 30, 2022

Posted: August 29, 2022

This is the script for the speech I presented on behalf of Soul In Service for their thoughtful candlelight vigil in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day 2022 in Frederick, MD. I included the “stage direction” for the event for other people planning such a vigil.

Good evening.

It is heartwarming to see so many people gathered here for International Overdose Awareness Day and the kickoff to Frederick Goes Purple 2022. That being said, I wish none of us had to be here – I wish you did not have to experience the pain of loss or struggle with addiction. But given the reality of the opioid crisis, we choose to come together to support those who are grieving, those who are in recovery, and those who are still struggling with addiction. And of course, to honor the lives of those we love who died.

You may be here for your own grief, your own recovery, and that is most important. But do you realize that you are supporting all these other people by physically showing up? You are the manifestation of community. Everyone in the audience is giving and receiving support just by being here.

Take a look around. This is your tribe. This is a safe and loving space.

The global intention of this event is to bring people together to shine a light – literally and metaphorically – on the impact of the opioid crisis. This includes honoring the memory of people who died, supporting those in recovery, and sharing our treasured community resources.

You likely have a very personal reason for being here. Your intention. Your why. I know you are “supposed” to be listening to me – but take a moment to notice yourself. If it feels right in your body take a couple of mindful breaths. Consider what you hope to get by attending this special gathering… then tell yourself – silently – what that is. 

Your intention can be your touchstone throughout the evening. Some of you are newly bereaved and very raw in your grief. Some of you are many years out, now sharing their life story more often than their death story. Some of you have achieved sobriety, and some are struggling with addiction. And there are many shades in between.

What you need is unique. There is a good chance that some of what I say tonight will resonate with you, and some of it won’t. Your intention will help you discern what you need and leave the rest behind.

No matter what brings you here tonight, my personal desire is that your heart and mine illuminate with a hope that we can carry forward, turn to in our own times of need, and share with others when we are ready. I am so sorry for your loss, your struggles. But I am so glad you came.

INTRODUCTION TO CANDLE LIGHTING

The vigil candle is a sacred symbol of hope, remembrance, and unity. Our first three candles will be illuminated by three families representing the three groups we honor tonight.

 The first candle is for all the people who have died. The second candle is for people who are grieving, in pain, or worried about their health and well-being. The third candle is for the people who light up the lives of others with kindness, compassion, and care.

Each family’s journey may sound similar to your own, and your heart will likely be stirred by compassion. This is the beauty of moments like this. While our individual stories are as unique as a snowflake, discovering that we are not so alone often melts a heart frozen by despair.

As you listen, I invite you to place some of your attention on your body. There will likely be strong feelings there. Whatever you notice, tend to it, knowing that you are surrounded by a loving community.

If you feel anxious and overwhelmed, you are not alone. Tend to that too. Place your hand on your heart (if you wish) and silently comfort yourself, “This is hard, and I am doing my best. This is hard, and I am doing my best. This is hard, and I am doing my best.”

If you feel kinship and connection, place your hand on your heart (if you wish) and imagine radiating compassion out to them and everyone they represent – including you.

LIGHT THREE CANDLES

Tonight, our first candle is illuminated by Sam and Terry Beeghley, bereaved parents of Hayley Beeghley, along with Hayley’s beautiful daughter Sophie. The Beeghley’s are one of the thousands of families struggling daily to try to cope with the loss of their loved one, leaning on others who also have this struggle, and working to try to find solutions to end the pain from touching any more families. We light the first candle to honor loved ones who have died. May this light guide us forward toward healing and peace.

Our second candle is illuminated by Sean and Jessica Nicholson, both individuals in long-term recovery. They fight daily to help those who continue to struggle and support those trying to find a new way of life. They have turned their loss and grief into purpose by sharing their personal experiences with others and working with families seeking recovery resources for their loved ones in active addiction. Both have lost numerous friends and family members to substance use. Witnessing others in pain – and knowing that pain themselves- is what drives their passion for helping others and pushes them to continue within their own recovery journeys. Their sweet daughter Raelynn lights the candle with them tonight as a reminder that even a gift can be found through the grief and loss. We light the second candle for people who are grieving, in pain, or worried about their health and wellbeing. May this light guide us forward toward healing and peace.

Our third candle is illuminated by Kaili vanWaveren and her lovely daughter Harriet. They bring comfort to others with quiet understanding and compassion through their lived experiences, like so many have and will do. Kaili and her colleague Jan Hummer join the many who serve through their work through Frederick Health Hospice, offering compassionate care and hope to those struggling and to those who have lost someone. We light the third candle for the people who light up the lives of others with kindness, compassion, and care. May this light guide us forward toward healing and peace.

INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE

Though you may not be familiar with the term, most of you are familiar with the experience of disenfranchised grief. Coined by my colleague, Dr. Ken Doka, disenfranchised grief occurs all too often after a socially stigmatized death – including overdose, suicide, and homicide. This extends to diseases like addiction, and social losses, including incarceration.  

If you feel a sense of loss that no one else seems to get, sense that you are not entitled to your grief, or feel the need to hide your pain from others regularly, you have experienced disenfranchised grief. 

Some obvious but not always easy antidotes are to share your pain. Talk to a trusted friend, a therapist, or your spiritual guide. Create a ritual to honor the loss. Participate in a public vigil.

When you light your candle, you are illuminating what once was hidden. You are illuminating your right to grieve. You are showing everyone that this loss matters. That your recovery matters. You are preventing more deaths from happening by making it safe for people who are struggling to ask for and receive help. 

Participating in this ceremony is a radical act of self-compassion that has a healing effect on you and the whole community. Self-compassion is the antidote to all kinds of suffering. Of course, it doesn’t change the narrative – it doesn’t reverse what happened or what is happening. But it does make it possible for you to tend to your suffering rather than feel helpless. It makes it easier to bear what feels unbearable.

Self-compassion is not something most of us were taught growing up, but it is something you can start practicing right now. Members of my online grief group, Awaken, are given tools and techniques to boost their self-compassion skills. I want to share this teaching with you tonight, in the hope that it will bring you more peace. It is the teaching that shifted my erroneous belief that self-compassion was selfish and made me realize that treating myself the way I would treat my best friend is not only good for me, but allows me to nurture my relationships with loved ones – living and dead.

 Self-compassion is the practice of making skillful choices that will reduce suffering and improve the quality of your life. It goes beyond creating healthy habits, such as exercise, a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting the right amount of sleep – though these all help with grief and addiction recovery. 

Researcher Kristen Neff defines self-compassion as having three core components – mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. 

Mindfulness in this context is being willing to be with our own pain. Rather than turn our back on our own suffering, we treat ourselves as we would a beloved friend. We take the time to pay attention to the physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings that are present and choose thoughtfully how to respond.

The second element is Common Humanity. We are immersed in this right now. Grief is a common human experience that people have had to deal with for who knows how long. I say this not to minimize your pain but to let you know that we are hard-wired to survive a loss. If you are grieving there is nothing wrong with you, and everything right. It is an artifact of loving another being. Common humanity reminds us that given the circumstances, we are all doing the best we can, and we are not alone.

The third element is self-kindness. Self-kindness simply means caring about yourself and taking wise action when you are suffering. Nurturing yourself rather than becoming your own enemy. If you have a hard time being nice to yourself, focus on the fact that you are a part of a tribe, and that we all matter. 

When you practice self-compassion aim for practice not perfection – you will find the space you need to heal yourself and support those you love. You will find the freedom to love those you have lost fully and carry their story and memory with you as you live your life after loss. You will no longer disenfranchise your own grief, and you will be a beacon of light for others walking the same path. 

Most people would assume that working as a grief professional is depressing. I describe it as hopeful. While I feel the gravity of my clients’ pain and wish they did not have to be separated from those they love, this sadness is balanced knowing from experience that they will not just survive, but will likely experience what researchers Calhoun & Tedeschi call posttraumatic growth. These significantly positive changes emerge after a traumatic event are categorized into five domains:

  • Personal strength
  • Appreciation of life in general
  • Closer relationships with others and oneself
  • A sense of new possibilities 
  • Spiritual and religious growth or change

Naturally, this is not a welcome transaction. I would gladly give back all of my growth to have my beloved family, friends, and pets back by my side forever and ever. But given the reality of the situation, my hope for you is that someday you will know peace and be able to savor the beauty of what remains. Memories. Gratitude. Compassion. Community. Hope. And most important of all, Love. 

INTRODUCE LYNDA

We are grateful for our community’s First Responders, who are on the front line of this epidemic. I invite Lynda Hudmon, mother of Anthony James, and a representative for all mom’s here today.

INVITE FIRST RESPONDERS

With that spirit of gratitude, our first responders are now invited to share the light with all attendees. Once your candle is lit, gently turn to your neighbor, and light their candle. This act is a symbol of strength in numbers. A reminder that you care and are cared for, and that your loved ones are never forgotten. It symbolizes that together we can tend to our heartache and simultaneously spread a message of hope. 

COMMUNITY CANDLELIGHT CEREMONY

MOMENT OF SILENCE/OVER THE RAINBOW BELL CHOIR 

Please join me in a moment of silence (45 seconds, then bell choir)

CLOSING REMARKS

In a few moments, we will extinguish our candles in unison. If your candle represents a specific person in your life, remember that their light is not going out. Your heart is absorbing a light that will be carried with you always. 

If your candle represents hope for recovery or continued sobriety, remember your light is not going out. The light lives inside your heart, and your intention for health and wellbeing is with you always. 

Our candles also represent this community and the fact that none of us are alone. Again, take a look around at your new friends. This is your tribe. The people that get you. Now, you will never be alone. Lean into the support. 

You may now extinguish your candle and close your eyes if you wish. You may take your candle with you and place it somewhere in your home, reminding you of the light inside. 

May we all be healthy. May we all be safe. May we all be free from suffering.

Thank you, and good night.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Mindfulness & Grief. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She is on the Advisory Board for the highly regarded military family survivor organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and is a faculty member of the Portland Institute of Loss & Transition, founded by Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer. She is also the host of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, founder of the Mindfulness & Grief Institute and the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland.

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