The Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office reports that “at least 187 victims have died from heroin/fentanyl or in combination” in the first four months of 2017, compared to 140 who died during the same period in 2016.
Those sobering statistics were at the root of Pastor Harlen Rife’s decision to hold a memorial service for lives lost to addiction at Pearl Road United Methodist Church in Cleveland (North Coast District).
“We are here to lift up and remember those that we have lost to addiction. Often their struggle with substance abuse, and the way we lost them, can dominate our community’s attention leaving little room for the person underneath,” Rife said at the beginning of the Saturday, July 29 service. “We’re here to reclaim and love those people. We’re here to be with one another, and to remember that those struggling on this side of life are not alone. We have each other, and above all we have God with us.”
People from the community turned out to remember loved ones, pray with parishioners of Pearl Road UMC, and speak with professional grief counselors.
“This was such a meaningful worship service and experience for people who have lost somebody,” said Juan Ramirez of First Hispanic UMC. “I lost my father a couple of years ago and two weeks ago my wife’s uncle’s body was found after one of his so-called friends dumped it in a garbage can after he had overdosed.”
Theirs were two of 32 names read during the service to remember those who lost their life to addiction.
“I never really had a chance to grieve through my dad’s death, I was more angry at the time, and this today gave me an opportunity to actually let go,” Ramirez said.
“Addiction reaches across all parts of society. We are seeing that especially right now with opiate addiction. But there is hope for those who want to break the addiction and that’s what we are here to help resource,” said Kevin Ringer, prevention specialist with Recovery Resources. He spoke with family members and East Ohio Conference clergy after the service about the agency’s services, which help clients break free from drug addiction as well as get assistance for issues of mental health.
“Because addiction is a problem for so many people I felt like this would be a good opportunity to connect with each other,” Rife said. “The people we lost mean so much and so often they get flattened into just being someone who was addicted. This was a chance to say that they were rounded people, complete people with their own lives and experiences and valued by God, and through that to share the message that we’re all part of that community and we’re all valued by God and we can pull together in times of need. It was a good opportunity for folks to find some healing.”
“This is the way that we make people feel welcome by reaching out and letting God do his thing,” said Ramirez.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.