It was a chilly and abnormally silent night on Saturday, Nov. 5, in the town of Waynesburg.
Even the usual bustle of traffic seemed to be paused for the evening. As about 30 people gathered under a large tent in the patch of grass behind the First Baptist Church at 7 p.m., the words of “Amazing Grace” began to fill the air, and the emanating glow of candles began to light up the faces of those in attendance.
The gathering, which was sponsored by the On Eagle’s Wings ministry and the Coalition for a Brighter Greene, was the church’s first candlelight prayer vigil. The vigil was held to mourn those who have died due to the use of heroin, which has been declared an epidemic in Waynesburg, as well as in many surrounding regions in southwestern Pennsylvania. The event was also an opportunity to pray for the healing and brighter future for those still battling against the drug.
Walter Killibruster, a deacon at First Baptist, was there in support of his friend, Tom, who lost a loved one due to heroin addiction. He has seen first-hand how important it is for the members of a community to come together to solve problems like these.
“When one part of the body is hurting, all of us are hurting,” Killibruster said. “We just want the community and the members of our church to know we are here to support them.”
Towards the side of the tent stood a tri-paneled poster labeled “Our Loved Ones.” On this poster, those in attendance were invited to write the names of the heroin addicts they were praying for or remembering at the vigil.
By the end of the night, there were 14 names written on the poster in bright blue Sharpie — 14 lives affected by heroin. Each name was read out loud for all in attendance to hear.
For Delores Haky, June 8, 2016, was the worst day of her life.
She woke up that morning to find her son, Keith, dead in her Mather home. Keith had passed away due to an ongoing battle against heroin addiction.
“It broke my heart,” Haky said, fighting back her tears after the prayer vigil. “It’s very hard to find your son dead and to go to sleep the next night without him.”
Prior to his death, Keith was in the military for five years. Haky said this was meant to help him get his mind off his addiction.
“He had a lot of issues before he went into the military,” Haky said. “He originally joined to straighten out his life.”
During a presentation at a town hall meeting on Oct. 6 that focused on the heroin epidemic in Waynesburg, Keith’s sister, Beth Miller, recalled a phone call she had received from Keith this past February.
“He called me sobbing, telling me that he had relapsed and that he needed to get help,” said Miller at the time.
Because of this phone call, the Haky family turned to Greene County Human Services to find a rehabilitation center for Keith. Due to the many other patients battling addiction, Haky said there were no beds available anywhere.
Miller said the only thing Human Services could offer Keith was a five-day detox program located two hours away from home, and even with this program, she said Keith had to wait a week for a bed to become available for him.
“If addiction were treated like the health issue that it essentially is, the assistance that he needed at that crucial moment would have been there for him,” said Miller, during the town hall meeting.
Haky said Keith was supposed to return overseas for another deployment in September, but he lost his internal battle to heroin before he even had the chance to step onto a plane.
The host of the candlelight prayer vigil, On Eagle’s Wings, is a ministry branched out of the First Baptist Church of Waynesburg. Its purpose is a support group for family and friends who know someone who is battling, or has lost a battle, to addiction. The group was originally started by church members Cathy Held and Dawn Mankey.
Both Held and Mankey grew up in homes and alongside family and friends who battled addiction. Because of this, they know the exact needs of those who are affected by addiction.
“The addict is rehabilitated, but the family and friends are often left with a lot of questions and pain,” Held said.
Because of the heroin epidemic in Waynesburg, Mankey said Saturday’s vigil was desperately needed by the community, especially for families whose lives have been torn apart by the drug. After much prayer, Mankey said everything began to fall into place.
“We have truly been led by God through every process with the candlelight vigil,” Mankey said. “He has been speaking to our hearts every step of the way.”
Five months after the passing of her son, Haky is still struggling.
“I’m still really not OK,” Haky said. “I often walk into work crying.”
Haky often tries to take part in drug addiction awareness events in the area; she wants to help others because she believes that’s what her son would do. This candlelight prayer vigil hosted by On Eagle’s Wings was the first she has ever attended.
More than anything, Haky said she has mostly been relying on her family to help her overcome her loss. She said one of the hardest parts of coping is having to explain to her 8- and 9-year old grandchildren why their uncle is no longer alive.
“They loved him so much,” Haky said.
Despite the graphic nature of his death, along with their young ages, Haky said she is very honest with her grandchildren in hopes that they won’t follow down their Uncle Keith’s path.
“They know about heroin, and they should,” Haky said. “You hear about kids as young as 12 years old getting involved with it.”
Haky is still learning to adjust to life without Keith. But she is hoping that no one else in the community will have to endure her pain and that no other parents will outlive their children due to heroin.
“My hope is that no one else passes away — that they don’t start heroin and they don’t try it,” Haky said. “I know so many people who have been affected by this terrible drug. It’s time for it to stop.”
This article was originally posted on Nov. 18, 2016.