Two moms who lost adult children to drug overdoses organized the first Augusta event marking International Overdose Awareness Day on Friday evening at Mill Park.

They had gone to last year’s event in Portland and decided the capital needed a similar commemorative and educational event as well.

Sharon Bailey, whose son Matthew was 20 when he died in Jefferson on Sept. 7, 2012, and Louise Atkinson, mother of Jessica Thayer, who was Matthew Bailey’s fiancée and who died Dec. 1, 2012, both spoke to the two dozen attendees at the vigil.

They talked of the massive toll overdoses have taken, and Bailey cited the 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, a number listed on the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and one that is twice the number from 2007.

While attending a grief support group following the deaths of their children, the women learned about GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, and started a chapter in Augusta. It meets 6-7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

The organization’s website says it “was created to help provide sources of help, compassion and most of all understanding for families who have had a loved one die through drug use.”

Among the attendees at the overdose awareness event was Mary Rodimon of North Yarmouth, who works in Augusta, and who lost her son, Maxwell Rodimon III, 25, to an overdose on June 11, 2018.

Rodiman came to talk to other people who’ve experienced similar losses. “It helps with the healing,” she said, “knowing there are other people going through what you went through. It’s also helpful to help people.”

She made a paper bag luminary, writing a message to her son on it: “I love you forever and always — Mom.”

He had been in treatment and recovery programs both locally and then out of state — programs Mary Rodimon praised — for some 31/2 years.

But then a friend relapsed and died.

“He went off the deep end and relapsed himself,” she said. He died at home.

“Parents are so scared as to what to do,” she said, fearing that confrontation or tough love will result in relapses. “It’s awful. When you’re going through the rehabilitation part, you’re so proud of them; it’s unfathomable that they could die.”

Friday’s event had a table of information from MaineGeneral about various opioid treatment recovery programs and harm reduction programs in Kennebec and Somerset counties and about substance misuse and abuse.

Another table offered brochures listing symptoms of overdoses from various drugs and what to do about them.

Ann Bennett-Cookson, right, of Gardiner, holds a book she wrote about her daughter, Sarah, who died as a result of a drug overdose. She attended a grief support event Friday at Mill Park in Augusta with her granddaughter, Tierra Cromwell, of Gardiner, left. Photo by Elise Klysa

At another table, Ann Bennett-Cookson, of Gardiner, sat behind copies of her book: “Secrets: A story of Addiction, Grief and Healing,” which she wrote after losing her daughter, Sarah Cookson, 30, to a heroin/fentanyl overdose on Dec. 16, 2016. The book is available on her website.

“I wrote it because I had to,” Bennett-Cookson said. “I wrote it because I wanted to give her (a) voice. I wrote it to end the stigma. I wrote it to raise awareness. I wrote it to help with healing and grief.”

Bennett-Cookson said it didn’t start as a book, but it ended that way.

As Bennett-Cookson spoke of her daughter and her story, another daughter, her grandchildren and friends surrounded her, giving support.

Bailey and Atkinson, who wore gray T-shirts with purple ribbons with their children’s birth and death dates, spoke of working to end the stigma attached to substance use and abuse.

They also spoke of others they knew who died. “We’re all connected,” Atkinson said. “At least 10 of my daughter’s friends have died since she did and I’ve watched their families suffer. It’s such a horrible epidemic and the stigma around this is horrible.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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