BANGOR, Maine — Brent Singer didn’t want the drug overdose death last year of his former wife and friend to go unnoticed, but the honest and heartfelt obituary he wrote for Coleen Sheran Singer has created a stir in social and mainstream media he didn’t expect.
As of 2 p.m. Friday, the obituary had been shared on Facebook from the Bangor Daily News website more than 12,000 times. Stories about the obituary appeared Friday in the Portland Press Herald and on boston.com, an online product of the Boston Globe.
Coleen Singer, 32, died of a heroin overdose on the morning of Dec. 25, 2014, in Lewiston, according to an obituary published Thursday in the BDN. No notice of her death was announced previously.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do and I tried to be honest about her life and her conditions,” Brent Singer said Friday in an email about why he wrote what he did. “She obviously was no angel and no saint, but she was a remarkable person with some real talent and good qualities, too. I wanted people to know that, I guess, and not just think of her as some junkie, or have her die without even the sort of public tribute that most people receive.”
The number of overdose deaths in Maine increased 18 percent from 176 in 2013 to 208 in 2014, according to a previously published report. It could not be confirmed Friday if Coleen Singer’s death was included in those statistics.
Brent Singer, a lawyer with Rudman Winchell in Bangor, told the Press Herald that he wanted to publish the obituary before her birthday on Aug. 31 but had to wait for the results of an autopsy and toxicology reports to confirm her cause of death. He and Coleen Singer were married for a brief time in 2008.
“Coleen had literally hundreds of acquaintances here and it just felt wrong to me that there was no public notice of what became of her,” he said in the email.
In the obituary, Brent Singer criticized Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to veto a proposed Medicaid expansion. Singer said his former wife wanted to “get back into a methadone clinic,” but couldn’t afford to pay for the opiate replacement therapy herself.
“It is no stretch to say that but for LePage’s veto of the Medicaid expansion, Coleen probably would not have shot the heroin that ended her life, and probably would not have had the serious recurring infections that ravaged her limbs the past couple of years,” Singer wrote in the obituary.
The attorney said in his email Friday that he is “not interested in leading a social cause.”
“There is obviously political commentary in what I wrote, and I firmly believe in the opinions I expressed,” Singer said. “I was very sad when Maine continued to block the Medicaid expansion since I knew Coleen, and others like her, would not be able to get medical and dental care they needed, and would just go without until it was acute and they literally show[ed] up on the steps of St. Joseph Hospital. Not to mention her inability to pay for the [methadone] clinic with the loss of MaineCare.”
LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Friday in an email that the state has increased funding for addiction treatment during LePage’s administration. The governor addressed the issue in his weekly radio address released Wednesday, she said.
“For those who [are] addicted to deadly opiates like heroin, there is help — even if you don’t have insurance,” LePage said. “The liberal media claims that reductions in welfare eligibility for able-bodied young adults have reduced drug treatment options for addicts. This is false.
“[The Department of Health and Human Services] has money available for drug treatment, even for those who don’t have Medicaid or private insurance,” he said. “In fact, we have hundreds of thousands of dollars left over every year in this program. We have the resources to help those who need it. The state has increased funding for addiction treatment from $7 million to $17 million since I’ve been governor.”
David Sorenson, spokesman for DHHS, said Friday in an email that “uninsured individuals may access these funds through DHHS and they do cover the cost of methadone treatment.”
Since LePage became governor, Maine has made cuts to and tightened eligibility requirements for MaineCare, dropping tens of thousands of people from the program, according to a previously published report. Most recently, effective Jan. 1, 2014, the state removed 7,439 childless adults and 14,661 parents who earned more than the federal poverty level. The vetoed expansion would have restored coverage to those individuals.
In the obituary, Brent Singer conceded that even if Coleen had been able to continue her methadone treatments, she might not have lived “happily ever after, since there were other significant problems.”
“While in recovery, Coleen travelled extensively and did many wonderful things,” the lawyer wrote in her obituary. “She was particularly fond of an avant-garde theater in Washington, D.C., called the Woolly Mammoth. Coleen loved to pick flowers, shop for jeans, dance, work with crafts, and drink medium iced coffees with eight creams and eight equals.”
Singer ended the obituary simply: “Coleen, rest in peace.”