As she runs her hand over the 100-square quilt, Terri Dudar stops on certain squares and stares at them.
Each square memorializes a young person from the suburbs who died of a heroin overdose, like her son, Jason, did in 2008.
Overdose awareness events in the suburbs• 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg Campus, 1400 N. Roosevelt Boulevard. More than 300 people, and 30 groups, will honor those lost to overdose and demand state action on overdose prevention. http://odawarenessday.eventbrite.com
• 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Carpenter Park, Maple Avenue, Carpentersville. Speakers, info booths, a purple balloon release, and resources for grief, treatment and prevention. Hosted by Don't Roll the Dice With Your Life -- JA2SOON.
• 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Barbara Key Park, 9191 Pyott Road, Lake In The Hills. Food, games and a candlelight vigil. Bring a photo of your loved one to add to the memorial board. Hosted by Take A Stand and The Other Side.
Some quilt squares are elaborately decorated, with a smiling photo, colorful decorations or a favorite quote. Others just have a name and age, hand written with a Sharpie. A few squares, from families who wanted to keep names private, simply say "Son" or "Mother."
"I look at this quilt and I think, there are so many more. This is just a little bit," Dudar said, her eyes filling with tears. "How many of these lives could have been saved?"
Dudar, of Carpentersville, spent the last six months collecting names, stories and quilt squares to make the Overdose Memorial Quilt, which she'll bring to Saturday's kickoff rally in Schaumburg for International Overdose Awareness Day. She'll also bring it to her own awareness rally Saturday morning, Aug. 31, at Carpenter Park in Carpentersville.
Several overdose awareness events are planned in the suburbs this weekend and next, as advocates use the date to shine light on the heroin epidemic plaguing the suburbs. The local rallies will memorialize those lost to drug overdose, push for greater use of prevention tools and urge government to get more involved.
So far this year, there have been more than 54 heroin deaths in DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties. (Cook County doesn't have 2013 statistics yet, and doesn't break down numbers by drug. However, it reported 458 opiate-related overdose deaths in Chicago and suburbs in 2012).
The situation has been most dire in DuPage County, which has seen 32 heroin deaths so far this year. At one point last month, the coroner said they were averaging almost one heroin overdose death per day. By comparison, the county had 38 heroin deaths in all of 2012, and 27 in 2011.
While some progress has been made in the fight against this dangerous drug, the death toll continues to climb.
It's why people like Dudar stay motivated to do their advocacy work, even if they feel like it's just a drop in the ocean.
"People will say to me, 'My child's an addict, what should I do?' I have no advice. Because if I did, I wouldn't be here," Dudar said. "What I say to them is, educate yourself (about the drug). Then you'll know what's happening, and you'll know what your child is going through. It really opened my eyes."
Dudar got the idea for the quilt after being asked to contribute a square in her son's memory for a St. Louis project. She decided to make an Illinois version, and in March, started seeking out names from friends of friends, local groups, and organizations like GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) to see if they want their loved one memorialized on the quilt. She had no problem collecting names.
Dudar heard from families all over the area, all of whom had experienced the pain of losing a loved one to heroin.
"It was weird, because I'm not like this. But some days, when I was working on (the quilt) ... I felt like I was not alone," she said.
Some days she literally wasn't alone. Helping her on the quilt were her husband, Grant, her grandchildren, Veronica and David, and her friends Judy Wilson, Grace Adiar and Jan Anthony.
Dudar says the quilt contains "names of angels," including her 29-year-old son, Jason. The five-year anniversary of his death is Sept. 8, and Dudar says it's because of him that she ended up on this path and found her mission to help others. She runs a small support group, is active in local advocacy groups, and was recently trained to teach people how to use Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug increasingly used to save lives.
Through her work, Dudar says, Jason lives on.
"His journey's not over," she said.
Each person featured on the quilt ranges in age from 16 to 40, each with his or her own sad story. One square has a father-son grouping. One has three siblings.
"We left a way to add on to it," Dudar said, pointing at the quilt's edge. "But I don't want to."