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Community groups join to support those suffering from sudden loss

Three community groups whose members never had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones have organized a memorial and community awareness event Saturday for people affected by sudden loss and those hoping to prevent the loss.

The program will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church at 400 Main St. in Niantic.

Attorney Chester W. Fairlie, a longtime leader of the local chapter of Survivors of Homicide, said he came up with the idea of collaborating with the two other groups, Community Speaks Out and The Brian Dagle Foundation, after seeing mounting losses in the region. 

Those who have suffered a loss, or are experiencing the "marathon" of grieving, will be able to memorialize their loved ones and make connections so that they can support one another, he said. Others who fear losing a loved one also are welcome to come and seek help.

Survivors of Homicide, with a local chapter based in New London, works with those who have a family member who has been killed by another person. Community Speaks Out, based in Groton, helps get opioid addicts into treatment, educates the public and supports families of those who have a relative that has died from an overdose. The Brian Dagle Foundation of East Lyme is a grief support group that also promotes suicide awareness and prevention.

Fairlie said he was surprised at how much members of the three groups had in common when he and John Aberg, who also has taken a leadership role in Survivors of Homicide, met with the others to organize the memorial service.

Tammy de la Cruz, president of Community Speaks Out, had been working with parents who lose children to drug overdoses for about two years when, in December 2016, her son Joey Gingerella was murdered. She said that on that day, she became a member of a club she never wanted to join and experienced a shock to her system. She has struggled every minute since that day, even with excellent support from her family and friends.

"I'm lost," she said. "I can't imagine living without him and I don't know how to do it and I shouldn't have to."

Those who lost someone due to suicide or drug overdose often don't have the same support due to the stigma associated with those causes of death, she said.

"I don't want any difference that day (Saturday)," de la Cruz said. "I want us just to be parents, mothers, fathers, family members who lost someone."

Ann Dagle, co-founder of the Brian Dagle Foundation, said she hopes people are not afraid to come and that the organizers want the event to be uplifting rather than depressing or sad.

"I want the families affected by this to realize they are not alone in this journey," she said. "So many of them feel isolated and are afraid people are thinking badly of them or their loved one and are afraid to even speak about it." 

Though the service is at a church, it is open to everyone and will not be overly religious, according to the organizers.

People are asked to arrive at the church at 9:30 a.m. to register the name of a loved one to be called at the end of the service. There will be a short presentation followed by a light brunch, during which community resources will be available.

The planning committee includes Fairlie and Aberg, de la Cruz and her husband, Joe, and Dagle. There is no charge for the memorial or luncheon, though those wishing to make donations to any of the groups may do so by check. Any cash donations will be divided equally between the organizations.

For more information contact de la Cruz at Tammydelacruz@aol.com or Fairlie at (860) 443-5297.

k.florin@theday.com

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