Mallory Maher

Mallory Maher died last month on her 28th birthday, after a nine-year struggle with drug addiction, her family says.

Photo provided by Maher family

It really wasn’t a tough decision for Mallory Maher’s family to tell the truth in her obituary last month, to say she “passed away due to a drug overdose ... hours after her (28th) birthday. A high school honor student, Mallory was beautiful, young, and had all the potential in the world; and she had a drug addiction.”

That public honesty wasn’t hard because “everybody knew it who knew her,” said her mother, Debbie Maher, of Mays Landing. But the next paragraph of Mallory’s too-short life story helps show why it’s such a tragic story.

“Her life up until nine years ago was filled with her love of acting, drum corps, drill team, music, singing ... Halloween, holidays ... writing poetry, love and laughter. Mallory graduated from Egg Harbor Township High School in 2003,” the obit went on.

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Nine years ago, her mom said, is when Mallory started doing drugs as a college student — the first time with an acquaintance who offered her something he swore wasn’t addictive. Nine years ago, Mallory was also pregnant with her son, Aidan. Debbie, 57, is now raising him.

Almost as soon as Mallory got into drugs, the whole family’s life became hell. She was arrested, jailed, went through several rehabs, witness protection and more, worse.

“She would be good for a few months, and then you could tell she was using again,” Debbie Maher said.

An aunt first discovered Mallory’s needles. But her mom had known something was wrong — Mallory was “nasty, she just wasn’t herself.”

Cindie Duberson, of Egg Harbor Township, has known the Mahers since about 1990, when Mallory was in a Brownie troop with Duberson’s girls. The moms led the troop, and the families bonded.

“Mallory was always happy, she loved to goof around,” Duberson said.

The families liked doing Halloween in group costumes. One year, they were “The Wizard of Oz,” with Mallory as Dorothy.

“She was a born mimic, a born entertainer,” Debbie Maher said. “She was so good at imitating voices.”

Mallory studied acting in Atlantic City, and even got a little movie role at one point. But as the drugs took her over, her mom saw a whole different kind of acting.

“They all become really good actors — you find that with drug addicts,” Debbie Maher said.

She knows a lot of people are in her situation in South Jersey — she keeps hearing from them. Mallory’s tragic but honest obit drew almost 85 comments on The Press’ website, some from people with similar stories who admitted they didn’t have the courage to tell them publicly.

“They didn’t know me, they didn’t know her,” Debbie Maher said. “But they say this might make a difference.”

And that’s why she told the story she told.

“Maybe,” this mom said, “it will help somebody else.”

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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