The anguish of opioid addiction
Family of victim starts bereavement group
by Rory Pasquariello
Reporter staff writer
Oct 04, 2017 | 3036 views | 0 0 comments | 249 249 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Franca Kirsch and her sister Aurora Chiarella  are creating kindness rocks for family members of grieving loved ones who died from addiction.
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The opioid epidemic in New Jersey took the lives of 1,901 people in 2016, with 12 from Bayonne. One of those victims was Christina Kirsch, who died of heroinoverdose at the age of 28 in March of 2016 after a five-year struggle with addiction. Kirsch broke her ankle when she tripped on a skateboard while babysitting, resulting in a cast and a prescription for opioid painkillers.

“It was all downhill from there,” said Franca Kirsch, Christina’s mother. “She was a giving, kind, and intelligent person who, for no good reason, was taken from us.”

After Christina’s death, Kirsch and her sister, Aurora Chiarella, had to cope with the heavy burden of loss on their own, and the stigma from “neighbors who talk.”

“You don’t just wake up and say, ‘I want to become an addict,’” said Chiarella, Christina’s aunt. “Addiction is a disease. It’s oftentimes out of the addict’s control.”

As more people die every year from opioid addiction, support networks for grieving families are slowly building. Since Christina’s death, Kirsch and Chiarella have been traveling to other parts of the state to attend bereavement groups where they can share feelings of grief with others who have lost loved ones to addiction.

No such group existed in Hudson County, to their knowledge, so they are starting one of their own, a Healing Heart. It will meet the third Thursday of every month from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at St Vincent dePaul Roman Catholic Church on 979 Avenue C.


“You don’t just wake up and say, ‘I want to become an addict.’” – Aurora Chiarella


Kindness rocks

When one of Kirsch’s’s friends, who was also a grieving mother, told Kirsch about a beach she came across on Cape Cod filled with rocks painted with messages of empowerment for grieving people, she saw a sign.

“Christina visited Cape Cod every year, and I never told anyone. I knew it had to be a sign,” Kirsch said. She and her sister then painted their own rocks and started her own plot of kindness rocks on a beach in Lavalette, NJ, in August.

“Everybody started taking them and reading them,” said Kirsch, who was delighted that, of the dozens of rocks she brought to Lavalette, she brought back only 15 which she will give to members of the bereavement group. They are planning to put a bed of kindness rocks outside of San Vito Ristorante & Pizzeria at406 Broadway on October 21, Christina’s birthday.

The emotional trauma of losing a loved one to addiction, especially a child, can be crippling.“The rocks are a sign to move forward with your life,” said Kirsch, who noted that returning to some semblance of normalcy is one of the most challenging steps of grieving. About a dozen half-painted rocks sit on Kirsch’s kitchen table, next to Christina’s room, which she has kept unchanged since Christina’s death.

“People need to talk about these things,” said Kirsch, who is planning to start giving talks on addiction at elementary and high schools in the area. “You will never find peace if you don’t,” she said. Kirsch and her sister could talk forever about Christina’s accolades and accomplishments; their faces light up when they do. She attended Holy Family Academy, where she was president of her class, then went on to graduate from Pace University in 2009 with honors. She later became a teacher’s assistant at A. Harry Moore School in Jersey City for seven years in hopes of one day becoming a special education teacher.

“We need to remember how good she was. Every family needs to remember their loved ones in a positive way,” said Kirsch.

“A Healing Heart provides a safe place to share the many emotions experienced with grief, especially the additional emotional layers associated with an addiction death,” said Chiarella. “There was no support group in Hudson County to address this specific type of grief. Anyone is welcome. No one should walk this journey of grief alone.”

For further information, contact Franca Kirsch at (201) 577-8264, or Chiarella can be reached at (917) 696-7935 or

Rory Pasquariello can be reached at

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