Penny Legate shares daughter’s story to debunk images of addicts
Three years after her 19-year-old died of a heroin overdose, Northwest media personality Penny Legate said what she misses most is sharing a laugh with her daughter.
“We could talk about anything. We could talk about the world. She was a sensitive, brilliant very highly perceptive girl. She could help me see things that I couldn’t see, and I really miss her sense of humor.”
Since her daughter’s death, Legate has been sharing her experience in attempts to educate and help others. Following a shocking report of six or seven serious heroin overdoses in Seattle during a 2.5-hour span on a single day this week, Legate joined KIRO Radio’s Ron & Don Show.
Her own daughter’s overdose death was unexpected. Legate said her daughter, Marah, had been struggling with addiction for about five years, but had been clean and sober for a year. She had recently moved home to live with her mother and that is where she overdosed.
“I had no idea she had relapsed and she died in my home,” Legate said.
While addicts are often stigmatized, Legate wants people to know that heroin addiction can happen to anyone.
“Addictions, particularly heroin addictions, cross all socioeconomic classes, all ethnicities, rural, urban.”
Legate said they had a beautiful family that didn’t lack for anything.
“We had two loving parents that adored their kids, followed everything they did, every ballet recital, every grade they got, went to every concert,” Legate said. “We were heavily involved as a family and had a lot of very big discussions about this stuff and yet we have one child that goes the road of sobriety the other one that chooses not to.”
Many parents who lose a child to addiction likely second guess what more they could have done. But Legate said you can drive yourself crazy doing that and that in the end, after an intervention and years of counseling and treatment, she feels like they tried everything.
“She was really no longer in denial. She accepted herself as an addict. We worked together. We talked a lot about the kinds of things that were working for her,” Legate said. “She wasn’t always completely honest. Clearly, she didn’t tell me she had relapsed. I could see things were going on with her, but she had eating disorders, she was getting really thin, nothing in her behavior would have indicated she was back on heroin.”
The family and Marah attacked her addiction head on. They all knew it would be an ongoing struggle. Legate stresses her daughter was not a weak person.
“She fought really hard for her sobriety,” Legate said, adding that they didn’t avoid talking about the potential for a relapse. She shared with Ron & Don a frank conversation she and her daughter once had in the car.
“She said, ‘You know Mom’ – she brought this up out of the blue – ‘I could go out anytime.'”
Asking her what she meant, Legate said Marah explained that it meant at any time she could go out and use again.
“I said, ‘Why? Why would you do that? You’ve been clean and sober all year and you’ve worked so hard for it – would it be like a breakup with a boyfriend, would it be losing a job? What would make you do something like that?'”
Her daughter told her it wouldn’t necessarily have to be any particular reason. She told her mother, “‘All I know is my addict-self is doing pushups outside the door of AA every day.’ She said. ‘They’re always lurking, always waiting.'”
Those involved in Marah’s treatment had informed Legate it was a disease of relapse.
“It’s not a matter of morality. It’s a behavioral and a brain disease,” Legate said. “This is why we have to stop judging people and putting stigma on family and kids who are dealing with addiction and learn to help them.”
She said just about everyone probably knows someone dealing with some form of addiction and people need to stop judging addicts.
The statistics are alarming, but she said it’s hard to get your head around it when you’re just looking at the numbers. To understand the devastating impact, Legate said you need to put a face to it.
“We need to see a person like Marah – with this beautiful face, this long blonde hair, big beautiful eyes, incredibly gifted girl who could sing and dance and play softball, and who was hysterically funny, had everything going for her in so many ways – and put that face on the word ‘addict,’ because I think we judge.
“People go, ‘I don’t want to go downtown, that is where all the drug addicts are.’ See what we’re saying and how we talk about people like that.”
Legate said we need to stop judging addicts so the path clears for them to get help. She also urged parents to not be ashamed if their child has found their way into addiction.
“Parents need to stop hiding and be ashamed if they have a child that is an addict. Ask for help,” Legate said, even offering herself as a resource. “Call me. Find me on pennylegate.com or The Marah Project on Facebook and I’ll send you to resources. We can talk.”
She said there are ways to get well.
Learn more about The Marah Project: