Memorial headstones created by local residents who have lost loved ones to drug addiction will be part of the National Trail of Truth in Washington, DC on September 24.
The live performance art event in DC will honor those who have died of substance use-related causes and raise awareness of drug-related deaths. The headstones will serve as both a memorial and a public art installation.
Families United for Change and ArtsAltoona Blank Canvas partnered with area families on Tuesday to create local headstones.
Families United for Change’s Marianne Sinisi created a headstone for her son, Shawn, who died of an overdose in 2018.
“It’s quite sad to do that” she said, noting that some local residents decided against making a memorial because it was too difficult emotionally.
Because everyone involved had lost a family member or friend to addiction, there was a shared camaraderie.
“It was nice to be with people who understand, but it’s still a sad reminder of what we lost,” Sinisi said
Aleisha Albertson, deputy director of Blair’s drug and alcohol programs, made a headstone in memory of her friend, Whitney, who was like a sister.
Raising awareness about drug addiction is important, she said.
About 80 groups across the country are participating in the headstone project, and local coordinators hope the headstones, once erected as part of the art installation, will have a powerful impact on others.
Cardboard headstone silhouettes feature special photos and decorations for each family.
Albertson placed a photo of Whitney on her coin along with a sun, moon, and stars.
“After he passed away, I named a star after him because his smile was so bright,” she says.
While the event was dark, Albertson said everyone was very supportive and it was nice to be in a room full of people who understood how everyone was feeling.
She said the completion of the project brought a sense of loss, but being able to honor Whitney meant a lot.
“Being able to do one more thing to commemorate her is another way for me to recognize that she is still a part of my life even though I can’t see her every day now,” said Albertson.
About a dozen people took part in the project, said Sherry Dilling, program manager for ArtsAltoona.
“It’s a really powerful project, but it’s therapeutic for those who create the tombstones,” she says.
The completed headstones will be sent to New York where they will then be taken to Union Square in Washington.
On September 24, the gravestones of the Blair County group will join the more than 1,000 already collected for display.
When Dilling saw the number of headstones on display in Washington, it made him realize how many families were still grieving.
“It opened my eyes in so many ways, and I think these tombstones send a very powerful message,” she says.
Sinisi is unable to attend the event this year, but plans to go next year.
“My hope is that there will be no reason to attend next year,” she says.
Mirror editor Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.