Originally published in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune and the Newburyport Daily News:
By Breanna Edelstein Staff writer
CARL RUSSO/Staff photoAnne Marie Zanfagna paints a portrait of heroin overdose victim Daniel Barnes. After losing her 25-year-old daughter, Jackie, to a heroin overdose, Zanfagna began painting these portraits to remember those who have been lost to the epidemic.
PLAISTOW, N.H. — Anne Marie Zanfagna’s passion for painting vanished when her daughter, Jackie, needed help fighting a heroin addiction.
“I found out about (the drug use) and I just stopped painting for a while. I couldn’t do it. It was just too hard,” said the Plaistow resident. “Everything became too hard.”
Now, a year after Jackie’s overdose death, the mourning mother is turning her grief into art by picking up a paintbrush — preserving the memory of her own child, and the children of others.
The endeavor started with church. On the third Sunday of every month at First Baptist Church of Plaistow, an interactive prayer service is held for addicts, recovering addicts and family members suffering a loss. It was spearheaded by Doug Griffin, a Newton, N.H., man who lost his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, to a heroin overdose in September 2014.
“It’s a wonderful service and it’s growing every month,” Griffin said. “It’s such a healing thing for the community.”
Zanfagna and her husband, Jim, now meet regularly at the church with people who have similarly become entangled in the heroin epidemic. There, they feel understood because everyone in the group has a similar story about themselves or a loved one.
For the Zanfagnas, that story began when Jackie was in elementary school and struggled for years with an undiagnosed mood disorder.
“When she was feeling good, she was a very wonderful daughter,” Anne Marie said. “But the bad outweighed the good for a long time. It was very difficult.”
After surviving one overdose, Jackie bounced back and found herself with a job and a boyfriend, her mother said.
For a moment, it seemed like the nightmare may be over. But within two months, on Oct. 18, 2014, Jackie died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25. She had been clean for 11 months prior to her death.
The months after Jackie’s death were hard, but eventually Anne Marie regained the desire to paint. At that point, the only subject she wanted to paint was her daughter.
“I just wanted to do it, so I did,” she said.
Deciding where to begin was easy.
A memory of Jackie with a smile, light in her eyes and hot pink and purple streaks in her hair served as inspiration.
“It took a long time, painting her, because it was a chance for me to spend time with her,” she said.
After finding joy in her own painting, which now hangs in her living room, Anne Marie wanted to spread the same emotion to others.
Her thoughts turned to her support system down at the church. Continue reading