By RICK BOSTON
Staff Writer 

A Mother's Grief: Claysburg Woman Loses Two Daughters to Addiction

'If you have a child that has problems, try everything you can ...'

 

April 11, 2019

Rick Boston

Peggy Miller of Claysburg holds a photo of her daughters Moe (bottom left) and Missy. Both women lost their battle with addiction.

Editor's Note: "A Mother's Grief," written by Herald Staff Writer Rick Boston, won Honorable Mention in the 2019 Professional Keystone Press Awards.

Peggy Miller of Claysburg exists in two places.

""Half of me lives in heaven, and the other half is here going through the motions," she said.

While her body is here on earth, Peggy said her heart is in heaven with two of her three daughters, Marlene "Moe" Holland, and Erma "Missy" Childers, both victims of a drug overdose.

Moe

Marlene Holland passed away on Aug. 26, 2004, of a heroin overdose. Known as Moe, she was just 31 years old, a mother with two children.

Peggy said that as a child, Moe was a good kid. A graduate of Central High School where she played softball, she was a popular girl who was always trying to help her friends.

"Moe was anti-drugs in school," Peggy said. "If one of her friends had a drug problem, she would drag them here and ask me to help them."

After graduating high school, Moe got a job at the Seton plant in Saxton. It was there she would meet a man who would lead her down a path that would eventually kill her.

"She met this guy who was supposedly a bodybuilder," Peggy said. "Moe had said to me one day that he takes steroids. That threw up a red flag for me and I told her I hoped she wasn't doing them because she had recently started working out with him."


Peggy said as time went on, she noticed Moe began to lose weight rather quickly. When asked about it, Moe said it was because of the working conditions at the plant.

"She told me it was because of the hot factory. At the time that made sense, being hot and sweating off the weight," Peggy said. "The thought of drugs did run across my mind, but at that time her excuse did make sense to me."

Peggy then noticed that Moe was starting to look even worse, with dark circles under her eyes.

Eventually the truth came out. Moe's boyfriend had begun shooting heroin and Moe followed.

"I found out her boyfriend was shooting up heroin, and because she was in love with this guy, she got into it," Peggy said.

Peggy said it was through Moe's friends that she found out her daughter was shooting heroin.

"Her friends started backing away from her," she said. "I started asking them why they haven't been reaching out to Moe and they said it was because of the drugs."

What followed for Peggy was a 'five-year nightmare," of trying to help her daughter.

"It became a five-year nightmare for me," she said. "I tried everything in the world to get her straightened out."

Peggy said she put her daughter in rehab, but after four days her boyfriend took her out.

"He was very controlling of her," Peggy said. "He had his thumb over her so bad she wasn't allowed contact with her family. She would sneak to call me."

Eventually Moe was able to leave her boyfriend. She was on a methadone treatment plan and in August 2004 had reached 17 months clean.

Peggy said Moe was finally looking forward to the future. She had enrolled in cosmetology school and was due to start classes that fall. But it was not to be.

On Aug. 26, 2004, Peggy and Moe were talking on the phone, planning Moe's daughters birthday party. At 9 p.m. there was a knock on Moe's door. She told her mother she had to go. They exchanged "I love you's" and hung up. It would be the last time Peggy would hear her daughters voice.


At around 2 a.m. Peggy's phone rang. On the other end was her middle daughter Missy screaming, "Moe's dead, Moe's dead."

Missy told Peggy that the coroner had called her and told her that Moe died of a drug overdose at her house.

After meeting with the coroner and detectives, Peggy called Moe's probation officer to inform him that she had passed away. He was shocked because he said he had just been to her house at 9 p.m. the previous evening to collect a urine sample and that it was clean.

It turned out the knock at her door when she was talking with Peggy on the phone was her probation officer. It was what happened after he left that would end one life, and forever change another.

Peggy said that Moe's ex boyfriend showed up at her house sometime that night and was able to convince Moe to forgo her 17-month sobriety.

The combination of heroin and methadone proved fatal.

"Everything was going good. She had 17 months clean and then this guy shows up out of the blue and she's dead," Peggy said.

Peggy said the ex-boyfriend was never charged in connection with Moe's death because she was told prosecutors wouldn't be able to determine whether it was the heroin or the methadone that proved fatal that night.

"That kind of killed me," she said. "Now I have to deal with the fact that he is still out there."

Missy

Peggy said her middle child, Erma Childers, was "kind of a backwards kid." Known as Missy, she was a shy kid who would rather stay in her room and read than go out.

Peggy said she had some medical problems when she was young, she kept getting sore throats and wasn't growing. It turned out her tonsils were grown together, and once they were removed she started putting on weight and growing at a normal rate.

Peggy said Missy came out of her shell in the seventh grade and began to make friends. And at 16 she met and fell in love.

Missy got pregnant, but her relationship with the baby's father didn't work out. It was then she met a new man, one who Peggy said was very good with children and was into social work. But he also had a drug problem.

Like her sister Moe, Missy got swept up in her boyfriend's drug activities and soon began abusing pain medication, but after her relationship turned abusive she left.

Missy then entered into a seven-year relationship with a man who Peggy said put her daughter through hell. She was diagnosed with "battered wife syndrome" and was being treated through UPMC Altoona's Behavioral Health Services.

By the time Missy escaped the abuse and sought the safety of her mother's home, she was living in fear.

Peggy said she would go five days in a row without sleep as her mind just kept replaying tapes of her boyfriend beating her.

Missy was prescribed xanax and Peggy discovered that she was taking more than she was supposed to.

"What I found out she was doing was taking a handful at a time because she knew how many to take that would knock her out so she could actually pass out to sleep," Peggy said.

When Peggy confronted her daughter she said she cried and said "Mom, you don't know what it's like to be in your body and be up for five days. After a while you think you are going crazy and can't take it."

Peggy convinced her daughter to go back to behavioral health, but because Missy was afraid Peggy would tell them to take away her xanax, she refused to allow her access to her case.

After her discharge from the hospital, Missy continued to abuse her xanax, taking a handful at a time to help her sleep. But then she went to far.

Peggy said she took a handful and they didn't work fast enough for her so she took more and overdosed.

Missy was taken to the hospital and while her daughter lay in the emergency room Peggy went to the behavioral health department to tell them that her daughter had just overdosed on xanax and that they needed to stop giving them to her. She was told they could not talk to her about it without Missy's consent due to the Hippa laws.

Peggy said her daughter was prescribed three different pills, xanax, ritalin and ambien. She said she tried calling Missy's doctor to beg him not to keep giving her these pills but they refused to talk to her, again citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Peggy said that in January 2016 Missy joined a support group through Senior Services and was doing well until she started hanging around with a girl from the group and "doing things" together.

Missy was ordered by the court to serve thirty days in the Cambria County Prison for failure to pay fines, a move Peggy said was fine with her because at least she knew she was clean while in there.

Upon her release, she was ordered to check into Behavioral Health to continue working on her issues.

Missy was released from Behavioral Health on April 5 with a prescription for xanax, ritalin and ambien. Four days later she was dead.

She had taken methadone that someone had given her, and mixed with the other drugs in her system it caused her to go into cardiac arrest.

Peggy said that in the hours following her daughter's overdose, miscommunication and false information led police to clear the scene before securing any evidence.

"The police investigated because she wasn't at her own residence," Peggy said. "But while one cop stayed at the scene, another went to the hospital and was told they were going to pump her stomach and that she would be fine. But while one doctor was saying that, another doctor was putting her on life support."

Peggy said because the police were under the impression that Missy was going to pull through, police left the scene, leaving Missy's cellphone behind. A move Peggy believes could have led to someone deleting any texts that could show who provided Missy with the methadone.

As Missy lay in a vegetative state, doctors told Peggy there was no hope for recovery.

"They told me that what is lying there is all we will ever have. That she will never speak with us again," Peggy said.

Peggy lay beside her daughter and told her she loved her and she would give anything to be able to bring her back. Peggy said in that moment her daughter's foot moved and tears ran down her face.

"I believed she was hearing me, but they said it was involuntary," Peggy said.

Missy passed away on April 9, 2016, the second daughter of Peggy Miller to fall victim to a drug overdose.

"She was just so ill of life," Peggy said. "She just couldn't get past the sleep deprivation."

Talking Helps

Peggy said talking about her loss helps, even if it is difficult.

"I want people to understand that when they go through this, they don't have to go through it alone," she said. "There are other people who have been there. Talk about it."

Peggy said it took her a long time before she felt she could talk about it.

"When Moe died I spent one month at my kitchen table and never moved," she said. "Before I knew it it was night time and I hadn't left the table all day."

Peggy said the years following Moe's death were difficult, but with her family's help she was able to start moving forward.

"I had just started getting used to not having Moe and knowing she's not coming back, and then I lost Missy. It killed what I had inside," she said.

Peggy said keeping her grief bottled up for so long made it nearly impossible for her to come to terms with her loss, but now wants people to understand that nobody has to go through this kind of tragedy alone.

"I just want parents who lost children to know that they need to talk about it, they need to get it out," she said. "Even if we could start a social club or something where we can all have a chance to talk."

Peggy keeps Missy's ashes in an urn under her picture, where every day she talks to her daughter.

"One day I'm telling her I love her and the next day I am so mad at her for doing what she did," she said. "It's a battle."

Peggy hopes that by telling her story people will see that addiction and loss can happen to anyone and not to give up trying to help.

"What I am trying to get out there is if you have a child that has problems, try everything you can to help them. Stay with them, hold them close, hold them tight. It is a battle and their addiction effects the whole family," she said.

 

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