Families and loved ones across the country are taking part in the growing Black Balloon movement which memorializes lives lost to addiction.
Diane Hurley, a Peabody, Boston resident, lost both her son-in-law, Greg, and her son, Sean, to overdoses. Hurley wanted to find a way to both memorialize the two men and remind people that drug addiction is a crisis.
Hurley, her son, and her two daughters hung black balloons outside of their homes on the first anniversary of Greg’s death. Greg was a father of four and 38 years old at the time of his passing. “I thought of death,” Diane Hurley told The Daily Item. “And then I thought of black.”
The simple gesture turned into Black Balloon Day, a national movement every March 6th. Hurley and her children spread the word online about displaying black balloons in 2016, and over 42,000 people responded and joined the memorial.
Every year on the 6th, families around the country send photos of the black balloons they have anchored to float outside, alongside the hashtag #BlackBalloonDay.
“I had this vision that you wouldn’t be able to escape the balloons, just like you can’t escape this epidemic,” she told The Salem News, explaining how addiction doesn’t discriminate and touches everyone.
“In one way or another, I feel like everyone I talk to has dealt with this pain,” Hurley said. “I work in a nursing home and, including myself, there are seven or eight women who have all lost a child or a sibling to addiction.”
And this year, Hurley tragically lost her son Sean to addiction, after being sober for five years. The recent death of a friend had unmoored him and although he was doing well, according to Hurley, he overdosed and died at age 30. He’d had a second child on the way.
Hurley wrote her son’s obituary transparently, hoping to spread awareness. “When he used to tell me he had a disease, I would tell him not to say that and not to compare himself to people who actually have diseases, like cancer. I never really understood it.”
“I learned that it wasn’t a choice, it’s a disease,” said Hurley. “When people say: ‘They made this choice, it’s their problem,’ most of them do not understand that many people who suffer with addiction have some sort of underlying health issues.”
Hurley and the Black Balloon movement are now a nonprofit organization and will be raising money to put Narcan in public bathrooms, one of the most common places for overdoses to occur.
“We can’t be ashamed about addiction,” said Hurley. “We need to talk about it. It’s killing a whole generation of people and we have to do something.”