COLUMN: Wallingford has seen over a hundred overdose deaths in a decade

COLUMN: Wallingford has seen over a hundred overdose deaths in a decade

“Hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams”. S.A. Sachs

Wallingford has endured another long opioid winter. This blizzard, instead of ice, wind and snow consists of now familiar words, heroin, fentanyl and opioids. The toll in Connecticut for 2016 totaled 917 overdose fatalities.

The New Canaan Patch’s interactive map lists Wallingford for 15 overdose fatalities. The Record-Journal in its’ coverage lists 14. But why quibble? Wallingford has now seen well over a hundred overdose deaths in a decade. These fatalities are listed as numbers, devoid of context, devoid of the intense grief, of the struggle and loss suffered. We hear the numbers and we shake our heads in fleeting sadness or in indifference to the overwhelming numbers lost to violence by guns, war, disease or hunger that leaves one numb.

Fourteen or 15? Well, it does make a difference. Each one was a person. Each one had a life that touched others in our community. Each had family, was loved and loved back. It is far harder to be detached when there is a name, a story and shared grief. Far too often an obituary appears, most often a young person, cause of death listed as “passed unexpectedly.” The grief quietly held by families, silent to the larger community.

One family in Wallingford in 2012 decided otherwise. Taylor Renee Short was a young vibrant woman. She was loved by her family and friends and she loved them back. She loved to dance and had her life before her. She could have been my daughter, the reader’s daughter. On the night of November 26, 2012 — a night like many others — a party to attend and a decision that tragically ended Taylor’s life with an overdose. Her family was devastated. Grief and loss brought an already close family closer. They determined that their loss should be an affirmation of Taylor’s life and by affirming her life they could bring hope, support and relief to others.

So for every winter there is a spring and Jennifer Short with her husband Ken Welch planted seeds. Seeds of hope that brought in Carol Renna, Wayne and Mary Liversidge, George Ryan, Ernest Mrazik and many more, nurturing seeds that took root and grew into the fabric of Wallingford’s community as The Coalition for a Better Wallingford.

The Coalition may be better known, but another seed that branched off became The Taylor Short Foundation. This year the Foundation will celebrate its fourth year of scholarship fundraising April 29 at the Elks Club. Its theme this year is a Hawaiian Aloha dance. Each year the theme is a reflection of Taylor’s interests and passions. The emphasis is fun, with raffles, food, drink and music.

Underlying this fun and community building is the very serious intent of encouraging character building. Taylor in her brief life was willing to take on a cause and make a difference. The recipient of the scholarship has to demonstrate in essay form the ability in life to take a stand, a stand that might separate you from your peers while possibly changing a life. Specifically it emphasizes community service and an awareness of substance abuse.

The Coalition for a Better Wallingford and the Taylor Short Foundation has dual purposes and goals. One purpose is illumination, illumination of the substance abuse that plagues our community by bringing awareness out of the shadows. This means talking openly about the losses, having our institutions not only acknowledge but act specifically to address our substance abuse problems. Since Taylor’s death, Wallingford now has a Hope and Support Group, Bereavement Group, a police station that acts as a drug drop box, a trained police force equipped with naloxone, alliances with Wallingford PTAC, Project Graduation and a reinstituting of the Risk Survey.

Along with illumination, is community building. Families are at risk, lives are at risk when communication is broken, community connections isolated. The Coalition has partnered with the YMCA, Ulbrich Boys and Girls Club, Craig Turner of Wallingford Youth and Social Services, among many others. The key is involvement. Family involvement, participation in sports, in school and in community. An open mic night at the Coalition storefront every Tuesday evening at 6:30 welcomes all.

All of this grew because darkness was rejected. All of this grew because arms were openly extended and not withdrawn. All of this grew because Taylor was and is about life. Our long opioid winter is far from over. Too many are still at risk. Do not turn away. Remember Taylor, and remember that the 15 lives lost this year had names, lives and loves. Do not turn away from the 100 lost over a decade, they had names too, they were part of us, part of our community. Let there be life and light, do not turn away.

Larry Morgenstein lives, writes and participates in the civic life of Wallingford.


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