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By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – When Sharon Herring and her family received the news, life came to a complete standstill: they were all frozen, barely able to breathe, even walk.
Herring’s beautiful grandson, Matthew, just in his early 20’s, was discovered on a bathroom floor, having had lost his life to a drug overdose. It was late August, 2017, and it was just days before a riveting, symbolic event: International Overdose Awareness Day, established in 2001, on August 31, to raise overdose awareness while reducing the stigma of drug-related deaths. Herring was “astounded” and comforted to discover such a day existed; last Wednesday, she spoke at an event commemorating one in Poughkeepsie.
“I am honored to be here and speak at this event,” said Herring, who runs the Matt Herring Foundation in her grandson’s memory, as she addressed the attendees at the candlelight vigil service on the front lawn of the First Congressional United Church of Christ in the City of Poughkeepsie. “I wanted to make this (drug addiction-overdose) issue public and speak up; our messages are to love the addict and hate the addiction; stop the stigma, and let people know they are not alone.”
A crowd of people imbibed those heartfelt messages, as they lifted their individual candles, reflecting upon a loved one who had lost his-her life at the merciless hands of drugs.
Attendees also had the opportunity to sign a long, with a visible black banner, inscribed with the title, “Remembering those we have lost” inscribed in the middle. Messages such as; “You left us too soon, but we will never forget you,” “Always in my heart, miss you every day,” and “You will never be forgotten, and we all love you, and will keep it moving for you,” filled the paper, while providing some cathartic comfort. The hour service further included several speakers, providing personal experiences as well as available services-such as Narcan training information and an event-day training- to help alleviate-cure this growing, too frequent and painful epidemic.
“We wanted to do an event that had weight and gravity, as well as have people who needed to connect have a place to do so and be a real resource to them,” explained Jay Dewy, Vice President of Marketing, Hudson Valley Community Services who sponsored the event. “We also wanted to make it a more public event-evening one; we have done ones since 2018, but never at night and never in Poughkeepsie.” He added about the nights’ purpose and selected locale, “We found out across the street from our office in Poughkeepsie they do events all month, displaying lawn signs in memory of people who have lost lives to drugs.”
Jean-Marie Niebuhr, Deputy Commissioner of the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health, spoke about that unfortunate and spiking number of lives in the area, something her agency is intent on battling with the implementation of a new facility as well as programs aimed at prevention and rehabilitation.
“There have been 61 overdoses in Orange County this year alone; the Pandemic made it really hard for a lot of folks,” said Niebuhr. “We need to step up our game even more and are hopeful that some of the new initiatives will help out, but it really takes a village; this is something we all need to work on together.”
It’s that united approach that guides Herring each day, as she is determined to keep the flame of her grandson’s memory alive; while spreading critical awareness and tearing down the debilitating stigmas, and silenced voices too often associated with drugs and overdoses.
“Things are beginning to change,” affirmed Herring, who also talked about the grassroots family support group Keeping It Real with G’ma she is involved with, allowing people to pour out their feelings, support one another, forgive themselves and not feel judged.
“Matthew played football, wrestled and was a baseball player who was a talented sailor, better than his grandfather in fact, and adored by his younger sister; the person is so much more than an addict.”
To learn more about the 501(c)3 organization, Matt Herring Foundation, log onto: www.mattherringfoundation.org or find them of Facebook. The Keeping It Real with G’ma Family Support Group can also be found on Facebook.