“Every single one of us could use a little mercy now.”
—from Mercy Now, by Mary Gauthier
On the day of Elisif’s memorial service, after it was over, hundreds in the lobby, I hugged tight every person who came near me (a pre-COVID world).
When she fell, I fell.
More than two years later—channeling her heart; imagining her words—I wrote this:
Take my hand here.
Take my hand in our forever hearts and fall.
We are safer than you know.
I am fallen.
I am with you and in you and all.
I am pain and love.
I am immense.
I am where fear does not show up.
I am the other side of the fire.
I am your all-white painting: anything but empty.
I am everything is possible, and all is.
The period at the end.
The pure, round dot, full of wonder and surprise.
When your daughter dies, it changes you.
In 2014, the year my daughter died of an overdose, 47,054 others lost their lives in this country the same way she did.
It gets worse. In 2018, 67,367 people in the United States died of an overdose—345 of those in Maine. The following year, Maine saw 380 such deaths, a nearly 10% increase. And thus far, for 2020, with COVID creating more isolation and less easy access to help, the state is on track for worse: 127 people are reported to have died of an overdose in the first quarter of 2020 in Maine, and second quarter numbers are projected to be 132.
In three months, just about as many deaths as the state has experienced from the coronavirus pandemic in total.
The opioid epidemic is not new. It has not gone away. It has been with us for years, and it still is. It still is.
Each home. Each heart. Each day. Each breath we take.
COVID. Economic insecurity. Climate change. Social injustice. Physical discomfort and emotional distress. We are in pain.
So many use substances as self-medication—to seek some relief from what is unbearable otherwise; too often, drugs are the solution before they become the problem.
Nobody asks to have substance use disorder.
Those of us who use and those who fall from it are neither weak nor immoral—we just hurt. We are people—you and me. No different, whether or not we have a disease.
We need love.
We do not deserve blame. We ought not be judged. We need not feel shame. We all are better off in a world without stigma. We all deserve mercy.
For me and for you—for Elisif and all—a little mercy now. A little love.
This piece is written in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, held on August 31 each year to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. 132 Candles is an event to mark the day taking place on Boothbay Common in Boothbay, Maine, from 5:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.