Families devastated by addiction remember loved ones at Park Strip memorial

Dozens of white crosses were placed in the ground Friday, mostly by family members who’ve lost loved ones to addiction.
Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 6:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In 2021 Alaska had the fastest growing rate of overdose deaths in the country with a 74% increase from the year before, according to the State Department of Health.

It’s an issue that is impacting more Alaskan families. Some of their grief is on display at the Delaney Park Strip.

Dozens of white crosses were placed in the ground Friday, mostly by family members who’ve lost loved ones to addiction. That includes Stacey Eisert who lost her 41-year-old son Jason in 2021 in what she described as an accidental overdose of fentanyl poisoning. Eisert said her son started self-medicating after a messy divorce.

“He lost everything and the impact it’s had on our family has been devastating,” Eisert said. “It’s a big epidemic, not only in Alaska but throughout the country, and we really need to bring awareness of how it’s affecting families.”

It’s a unique pain, but the temporary memorial at the Park Strip seems to be a safe place to share. That’s one of the reasons Karen Malcolm-Smith gave for bringing the display to Anchorage. She wanted to give families a place to remember their loved ones, share stories and find support.

Malcolm-Smith lost her own son Dylan in 2017. She started a foundation in his honor and said one of the goals is to raise awareness about addiction, and to shed the shame and stigma that surrounds it.

“I was just talking to a gentleman over here whose parents didn’t even do a memorial for their child for fear of the stigma of what people were going to think about his child and about them,” Malcolm-Smith said. “So we need to step up as a community and talk about this.”

Sasha Walden said shame may have played a part in her husband’s death. Christopher Walden was a successful 33-year-old real estate agent who died in 2019 of an overdose after years of sobriety.

“One relapse cost him his life,” Walden said.

Like many people, she said he wasn’t comfortable talking about his addiction.

“That’s where it comes down to the stigma,” Walden said. “He was so worried about what people would think because our society just looks so down upon people that struggle with addiction.”

Walden’s family has now created a nonprofit with the goal of getting more people into treatment.

Malcolm-Smith said a growing awareness that addiction is not only devastating families but impacting the entire community is a first step towards working on the problem. The display at the Park Strip also includes resources and support services for families dealing with addiction. It will be up through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.