Dying Alone

Rebecca Woolington: The obituary ran six days after the death of Madaline Christine Pitkin. It recalled the sunny early October evening she was born. It told stories from her childhood, the time she wanted to jump rope like the older girls, the way she loved all animals except spiders.

It said she spent her time taking black-and-white photographs. It described her as spunky, candid, independent.

It didn’t say how or where she died — only that she “passed away unexpectedly.”

Her parents didn’t know much more then.

On the afternoon of April 24, 2014, a chaplain and deputy had come to the door of the family’s tan-and-brick bungalow in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood. Mary Pitkin was alone, cleaning in the dining room. Russell Pitkin was at work, so the deputy met him at his office, told him the news, then drove him home.

The Pitkins’ 26-year-old daughter had dropped dead inside a jail cell earlier that day. No one could revive her.

The parents remember thinking: There had to be a mistake. How could this happen?

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