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In a solemn tradition, families gather and reflect at the annual Vigil of Remembrance for those killed in impaired driving crashes

Two people light a candle

Family members of Michael Coty, whose life was cut short by an impaired driver, participate in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

PITTSFIELD — Joyce Wrend has been attending the Vigil of Remembrance for victims of impaired driving crashes since the 1990s in memory of her daughter, Allison, who was 18 when she was killed as a passenger in a drunk driver’s car.

Over the years, she’s seen it change and evolve. The list of names read and candles lit has grown since she first began coming. Many of the people she used to see every year have passed away themselves now, or moved out of state. She was close with many of them. She’s glad to see that it’s still going.

For Wrend, the vigil is a fitting ceremony — and it gives her an opportunity to slow down, and remember.

“There’s no tears,” Wrend said. “Just thinking.”

People hold candles in a church

Family members of those who lost loved ones to impaired drivers participate in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

Borrowing a phrase from another attendee at the vigil, Wrend said, “This is my reflection time.”

The Vigil of Remembrance is an annual event organized by the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office. It has been ongoing since 1988. It was held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on East Street.

District Attorney Andrea Harrington delivered remarks at the beginning of the ceremony, noting that prosecutors and police officers tried to honor the memory of their loved ones every day by enforcing the laws and seeking justice in the court system.

“We hold people accountable and we demonstrate to the community that there are consequences to those who make the decision to drive under the influence,” Harrington said. “But that does not replace the void that is left in your hearts and in your lives.”

Harrington also thanked the families present for sharing their stories and bringing awareness of the issue to the community.

Harrington speaks at the podium

District Attorney Andrea Harrington speaks during a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

“We know these tragedies are preventable, and your voice is a strong deterrent to keep others from getting behind the wheel while they are impaired,” Harrington said.

Fifty-five names were read at the vigil, each a victim of crashes caused by impaired driving. Harrington noted that there were two names added to the vigil this year. Family members of the deceased came to light candles in memory of their loved ones.

If no one was there when a name was read from the list, the candle would be lit by either Massachusetts State Police Capt. Steve Jones or Detective Lt. Tom Forest. The state officers also helped those who struggled to use the lighters provided at the vigil get their candles started.

Before the names were read, Lisa McCue, director of victim witness assistance for the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, offered perspective on grieving in the wake of a violent loss.

“As you know, time does not fill the void in your hearts,” McCue said. “But I do feel time helps replace the traumatic memories with the good ones. The times when you were together with your loved ones and you were happy.”

For Linda Sirois, those good memories come around the holidays. Since the death in 2006 of her sister, Lisa Cooney, Sirois has gone out of her way to recreate things that she did for the holidays, such as Easter, for her niece and nephew.

A state police officer lights a candle

In the absence of a family member to light a candle in remembrance of their lost loved one Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Tom Forest, left, and Capt. Steve Jones, not shown, took turns lighting candles in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

Sirois’ children were around the same age as Cooney’s children at the time of the accident.

“I couldn’t imagine them losing me at that age,” Sirois said. “We had talked about either one of us taking our kids under our wings after the other died, so I’ve tried to do that.”

Trista LaBonte, Cooney’s daughter, was 25 when her mother died. She remembers the little things her aunt did, and still does, to keep the memory going.

A board of photos

A board of photos of some of the 55 people in Berkshire County whose lives were cut short by an impaired driver are remembered in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

The vigil provides an opportunity every year for the growing family to see each other. Young second cousins met each other for the first time in a back room of the church. Relatives that hadn’t seen each other since last year’s vigil embraced and caught up. Those living out of state in places such as Florida and Wyoming will be calling to see how things went today, Sirois said.

The younger generation, a group of children who never met Cooney, also get a chance to see what she looked like in a picture provided for the vigil and hear more about her, LaBonte said.

A state police officer lights a candle

In the absence of a family member to light a candle in remembrance of their lost loved one, Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Tom Forest and Capt. Steve Jones took turns lighting candles in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

“It’s a good reason to bring us all together,” LaBonte said. “It’s a whole tradition.”

Having the vigil every year is key for those who have lost someone, Sirois said, because that pain can linger.

“It still feels like yesterday,” Sirois said “This doesn’t hurt for a day or a month or a year. It hurts for life.”

The vigil is often about more than just pain, though. In the case of Cooney, it’s a celebration among those who knew her.

“It’s the message that we’re sending that ‘you’re thought of’,” LaBonte said. “We’re keeping the memory alive.”

People hold candles in a church

Family members of those who lost loved ones to impaired drivers participate in a candlelight Vigil of Remembrance on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield.

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

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