Maggie Brown/Courtesy of her family

Maggie Brown was an intelligent, adventurous and vivacious young woman who fought desperately to overcome her struggles with mental illness and substance use disorder.

Ms. Brown died on March 29 of a drug overdose at her mother’s home in South Portland, her family said. Monday would have been her 26th birthday.

“I have a mixture of relief and grief,” her mother, Susan Joyce, said Friday. “I’ve been trying to save my daughter for 12 years. I’m trying to figure out what my new normal is.”

Ms. Brown, the daughter of Joyce and the late Wallace Brown, grew up in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood. The family moved to Falmouth in 2002.

Her sister, Anna Brown of Phoenix, Arizona, shared fond memories of them riding bicycles with friends, swinging on hammocks on Chebeague Island, and building fairy houses at Mackworth Island.

“When she was young, she was feisty and spunky. We were both tomboys,” her sister said. “We would romp through the woods and catch whatever we could find and roll over logs and find little salamanders. We spent so much time together. It was so innocent and fun.”

Ms. Brown attended schools in Portland and Falmouth. After her parents’ divorce, she went to live with her mother on North Street in Portland. She attended Casco Bay High School but didn’t finish. She eventually earned her GED through Falmouth High School.

Anna Brown spoke openly about her sister’s yearslong struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD and bipolar disorder. She was put on medication at a young age and went to therapy, her sister said.

When Ms. Brown was 14 or 15 years old, she started hanging out with older kids off North Street and at Kennedy Park in Portland. Her sister believes that’s when she began smoking pot. It wasn’t long before she started taking pills and then discovered heroin, her sister said.

“Maggie and I were so very similar, but so opposite,” Anna Brown said. “We grew up in the same household, yet were such different products of that. Maggie was always so much her own person, which is what I really admired about her. You couldn’t fit her into a box. She couldn’t ever quite find a way to shift, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think we just don’t live in a world that allows that.”

An obituary written by Ms. Brown’s family said she loved the ocean and had a connection to animals, especially her dog Mei. She was passionate about music, reading and writing. She was naturally curious and had a strong spiritual connection to nature.

“Maggie was my person,” her sister said. “She wanted everyone to think she was fearless, but underneath it all she had so much anguish. Yet she had such stillness about her. She was deeply intelligent and wise. It’s hard. … Sometimes I have difficulty separating the part of her that was the addict from the Maggie I know.”

Ms. Brown had struggled with substance use disorder since she was a teenager. Her mother shared her own experience with alcoholism, noting both her daughters grew up going to 12-step meetings with their Barbie dolls.

Ms. Brown had periods of sobriety, though she struggled to stay sober. Her mother recalled a day she spent with her while she was living in a sober house in Portland. Soon after dropping her off, her mother received a call from the house manager, who said she had overdosed.

“While I was on hold waiting to hear if my daughter was revived, I was doing dishes,” her mother said. “You live in this world for so long. … It’s a shame that it becomes part of your life in that you’re never surprised. That’s the sad part. As much as she wanted to stop, she couldn’t.”

Ms. Brown was arrested several times on charges including theft, possession of drugs, and operating under the influence. She overdosed at least six times, according to her mother. On every trip to the emergency room, her mother pleaded with the hospitals to admit her.

“I can’t tell you how many times I cried at the hospital and said, ‘Please don’t release her. Please. I’m going to get a call. She’s going to die,’” her mother recalled. “Never mind a wall. Save the ones who are here and need the help.”

Ms. Brown was incarcerated last August and served the bulk of her sentence at Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Her family said she didn’t receive Suboxone or any other medication to treat her opioid addiction during her time there.

Ms. Brown was released on March 21, the first day of spring. She died from a drug overdose eight days later. Her mother administered CPR until the paramedics arrived. They were unsuccessful in reviving her.

Ms. Brown had plans to fly to Phoenix on April 4 to spend time with her sister. From there, she planned to travel to Seattle to live with a childhood friend and start a new life. Her dream was to continue school to become a veterinary technician and work with animals.

Her mother said her only comfort is knowing there was nothing left unsaid between them.

“I know I did everything humanly possible for her,” she said. “I will continue to do that for the rest of my days for other people. Her name will not go down in vain.”


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