It starts like any other love story. For Valerie and Rick Albee of Easton, their daughter, Mariah Albee, was the apple of their eye. Their only child, they raised Mariah with love and support. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, the family relocated to Severna Park, Maryland when Mariah was three. They enrolled her in Montessori School where she was a high achiever. Her mother, Valerie recalls, “She was very artistic, self-confident, and although shy, she had many friends. It was a happy childhood.”
As her interests grew, Mariah competed on the swim team and participated in cheerleading. She took private flute and ballet lessons and by the age of 10, she was the youngest member of the Anne Arundel Community College Concert Band and in the All County Middle/Jr. Band. She also performed with the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis in several Nutcracker productions.
In the middle school years, however, Mariah began to experience bullying by her peers. She went on to attend Severna Park High School and by age 14, she began suffering from anxiety and depression. Her mother recalls the trips to the therapists, who at different times diagnosed Mariah’s behavior as either acting out or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
During high school, Mariah began self-medicating with alcohol and prescription drugs to deal with her anxiety and depression. Even though she was experiencing these conflicting emotions, she still managed to be a cheerleader, football manager, and a member of the Maryland Youth Symphony Flute Choir. She also found time to help the poor and the homeless. Eventually, the debilitating effects of her emotions required her to be homeschooled to complete her senior year. In 2000, she was ultimately diagnosed at Johns Hopkins Hospital with having bipolar disorder.
Although Mariah was capable of acquiring several jobs, she was unable to sustain them due to her emotional conflicts. During this time, Mariah was slipping away. By 2003 she attended drug rehabilitation for the first time. By this point she was using heroin, prescription drugs and alcohol. The addiction continued through the next five years, with repeated rehabilitation stays. In 2008, she was able to “get clean” and was married in 2009, only to have the marriage dissolve in 2010. During that time, Mariah was happy and worked as a manager for approximately two years. Her employer commented how she was loved by everyone for her organizational skills, her great attitude, her giving personality, and most of all, for her enthusiasm.
By 2012, Mariah had moved home and was again trying to get her life together – attending Anne Arundel Community College to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. The family took a two-week vacation to visit Valerie’s sister Eileen and her family in Michigan. Everything seemed perfect. Then one week after returning home, the unthinkable happened. On September 7, 2012, Mariah died of a heroin overdose at her parents’ home at the age of 29.
For Valerie and Rick Albee, the effects were devastating. Their only child was gone. Valerie turned to grief counseling to try and deal with her loss and eventually found solace in a bereavement group of parents in Pasadena. The members were like her, having lost children to substance abuse. She recalls, “I wouldn’t be alive today without their counseling help.”
It has been two years since her daughter’s death and Valerie has been searching for meaning in it all. She comments, “I don’t want drugs to define who Mariah was. These kids don’t want to be drug addicts.”
In November 2013, the Albees moved to the Eastern Shore for a new start. While living in Easton Village in Easton, Valerie met a group of women who have embraced her and want to get involved in making a difference with the issue of substance abuse on the Eastern Shore.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported in July 2014 that the number of heroin-related emergency department visits for Marylanders has more than tripled, with 1200 visits in 2013 – up from 871 visits in 2012. Two age groups showed large increases in heroin deaths between 2012 and 2013, one of which was individuals ages 25 to 34 years of age, just like Mariah. The State reported that there has been an 88 percent increase in heroin-related deaths in Maryland since 2011.
Encouraged by her group of friends, Valerie approached the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and established Mariah’s Mission Fund. The purpose of the Fund reads: “Mariah’s Mission Fund has been established to honor our beloved daughter, Mariah, who lost her life to heroin. The mission is to provide resources for worthy organizations that support families who have lost loved ones to drugs and/or alcohol. We will use our struggles and experiences to empower the community through awareness and education.”
Valerie adds, “I recently decided to tell my story to gain support for services to help families struggling with the issue of addiction on the Shore. By establishing the fund at Mid-Shore Community Foundation, I hope to support the development of these services and make them available to the community here.”
Buck Duncan, president, Mid-Shore Community Foundation, states, “We are thrilled that the Albees have decided to start a fund of this kind. It will provide resources to help families in our region who are trying to cope with the stresses of substance abuse and increase awareness of this important community issue.”
Valerie’s friends are helping her fundraise for Mariah’s Mission Fund, meeting monthly to plan fundraising activities. Currently, the group is planning to hold a silent auction in the spring of 2015. Valerie is also working with the bereavement staff at Talbot Hospice Foundation in hopes of creating a support group by next spring on the Eastern Shore to help parents who have lost children to substance abuse. In the meantime, she is encouraging any parents in need of these supportive services to attend a bereavement group for parents at the Chesapeake Life Center in Pasadena, MD. The group meets on Mondays once a month from 6 to 7:30. For further information on meeting times, call 410-987-2129, ext. 1271.
Sharon Huseman, Executive Director of Talbot Partnership, comments, “I am reminded of how courageous it is for parents to share their experiences like Valerie has after dealing with the pain of losing their child to addiction. Addiction is like the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Parents often feel a stigma in having a child who is suffering from substance abuse problems.”
Donations to Mariah’s Mission Fund are tax-deductible and can be made by contacting the Mid-Shore Community Foundation at 410.820.8175 or by visitingwww.mscf.org. For further information about helping with the spring silent auction for the Fund, contact Valerie Albee at [email protected]. For parent resources in dealing with teen substance abuse, visit the Talbot County Parent Coalition at parentscoalitionoftalbotpartnership.org.
by Mariah Albee
(Written to her parents while she was in rehab in 2007)
When I was little my dreams were so bright.
I never imagined my life wouldn’t be alright.
Like any little girl, I played and went to school.
Taught to always live by the rules.
My mind was filled with dreams and hope.
Unaware of the nightmare of dope.
Somehow, somewhere, my dreams went up in smoke.
With real life I could no longer cope.
With drugs and danger I began to flirt.
After all, who could I hurt?
Whenever there was pain or anger to feel.
It was stopped and stifled with little pills.
Oh, but I made some progress didn’t I?
I found stronger drugs to get me high.
My dreams turned to hallucination.
My world was empty of imagination.
If my visions were to become real
There was always another pill.
Slowly, all my hopes and dreams were destroyed by addict schemes.
My morals and values were tossed aside
As I deserted my hopes and dreams
My childhood lullabies were replaced by bent spoons
I woke to the nightmare of looking through bars
I knew I could no longer reach for the stars
I finally had to face a scary reality
No one could change this situation but me.
I have learned it’s ok to think and feel.
To go through life without the needle
Now I can reach for the stars.
ONE DAY AT A TIME!
(Postscript: Maybe you can understand me a little better now. I love you mom, dad and grandpa! – Mariah)