In Memoriam: Marissa Collett 1985 – 2013
I’m following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard him call
I turned my back and left it all
I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work or play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way
I’ve found that peace at close of day.
If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered Joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,
Ah, yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I savored much,
Good friends, good times a loved one’s touch
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief.
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and share with me.
God wanted me now; he set me free.
On Monday November 25, 2013 we had an impromptu memorial service at The Brentwood House for alumna Marissa Collett. She was found dead of a heroin overdose on November 23rd by her parents at their home in Maryland. Word spread quickly through the community. It seems Marissa was loved by many, maybe more than even she imagined. 50 of her best friends came to the memorial service – some knew her from treatment, others from Sage Transitional Living and AA. Her sponsor China Isler. Her therapist Dr. Katya Techentin. Even her boss came (she worked at a children’s clothing store in Brentwood).
Everyone held tightly to a poem that Malibu Beach Recovery Center Chef Sergio Galvao found to honor Marissa. We think it rather perfectly sums up what Marissa might have wanted us to know.
Our program director Liana Unger, always wise beyond her years, tells me that at other treatment centers where she has worked, it is not uncommon for clients to relapse and die. To my knowledge only two of our alumni have died from drug overdoses in the more than six years since we opened our doors. The first was Austin Klimusko who came to treatment in November 2009. He died in January 2012. We had lost contact with him, but checked in on him from time to time with his mother Susan, a nurse. To cope with his death, she channeled her grief into activism, turning “Not One More,” an organization founded by another Simi Valley mother, into an anti-addiction fighting force in Southern California and beyond.
Like many of those who came forward to speak about Marissa at the memorial, I remember her thick mane of hair, the sparkle in her eyes when she was sober, her marvelous laugh. When she was sober, it was hard to believe life had failed her. She was a magnetic personality.
But she had no profession, no real goals or ambition. She thought real estate might be interesting, each house being different and each prospective buyer having specific needs. We talked about this literally two weeks before the end. She was enroute to LAX, having relapsed yet again — this time in a low-end treatment center which her HMO insurance plan covered — and was out of options other than going home.
Liana wrote me this about the memorial service:
“Marissa’s friends who said she wanted this (recovery and life) and her friends who said that she was in bad shape and couldn’t hang on much longer were both right in their own way. Many people who suffer from addiction and die because of their disease don’t want to die — they want recovery and they fight for it the best they can as long as they can. But they also don’t know how to live, struggle with being alive and are overwhelmed by living. So in a way they don’t want to die but they also don’t want to live either because they don’t know how, or they feel burdened by the task. Sobriety requires a lot and living a life free of one’s addiction is a tall order for many but this doesn’t mean they didn’t try, didn’t fight and didn’t want it.
“Both things are true: They didn’t want to die or live and so they find themselves in a purgatory here on earth and sometimes the trying to hold on to life gets to be too much and so we have to let them go because their addiction and disease has progressed and neither we nor them could bring them back. That is where grief and regret and what if’s come in but sometimes it just is all they can do to hold on as long a they did and what we have to do is let their journey be what it was… A mix of wanting and not being able to achieve and now we are left to let go and grieve and with that accept how complicated this disease is and how painful it is to accept the power of the disease and our powerlessness because of the toll it can take on those who want to believe that motivation, determination, strong will, and hope are enough.
If that was the case Marissa would still be with us fighting alongside us for her life here on earth with the many people who showed up last night to share how much she meaner to them and how much they wanted to believe that she would make it against all odds, despite the disease and because of her strength.”
To watch portions of the memorial service click on the link below: