Marrilynn Arleen Steed passed away in her home in Sequim, Washington at age 29 on May 31, 2020. She was a vibrant woman who blossomed after she escaped polygamy and found a new life full of joy and happiness with her adoptive mom Mary Towns.
She is survived by her brothers and sisters of her polygamous family and her adoptive family of Mary, Sam, and Luke Towns. Mary’s extended family came together and with a “It takes village to raise a child” approach, brought Marrilynn into a whole new world of love and acceptance for who she is and her untapped potential with eyes wide open.
She accomplished many feats in a pioneering spirit of freedom and choice. She bettered herself by graduating from professional schools to practice massage, cosmetology, and master aesthetician. She was taken not just from us too early but for the spirit that she could give to all those around her with her infectious laugh and abundance of joy.
The remembrance of her life will be held on Saturday June 13, 2020 at the South Mountain Community Church, 14216 Bangerter Parkway, Draper, UT 84020 at 3:00 PM Mountain Time. The adoptive family asks that in lieu of flowers that they donate in Marrilynn’s name to the organization that she turned to in her time of need “Holding out HELP” at holdingouthelp.org. She was a great light to all those who knew her and she will be forever in our hearts.
Eulogy from Mary Towns, her adoptive mother:
Hello, Everyone and thank you for coming to this Celebration of Marrilynn’s life. I first heard of the plight of women trying to escape from polygamy when Tonia Tewell came to K2 the Church to ask for volunteers and funding for Holding Out Help.
At the time, I imagined that I would be able to provide help as a nurse practitioner and do health screenings and get people connected with dentists and doctors as they needed them. I filled out the volunteer paperwork and the criminal background check but did not hear anything. After my sons and siblings moved out of my 5 bedroom house, I called HOH back to say that I could temporarily house families coming out as long as they did not require supervision. Tonia called back and said she had a young woman with an urgent need for housing but said “It won’t be a temporary situation—more long term.”
I prayed into the level of commitment required to accept the responsibility of housing someone who was becoming estranged from everyone she knew. As I prayed I remembered the 3 children I had lost at birth. I had named them all to honor them as part of closure. The only girl I had was named Talitha after the girl that Jesus raised from the dead. He spoke Aramaic to her as he took her hand, saying “Talitha kuom” meaning “Little girl, come up.” I had previously envisioned Jesus saying this to my daughter to call her to Himself instead of this life. I clearly heard in my spirit, "Another girl has come up to me and reluctantly agreed to return. She belongs to you now until I call her up again.” The profoundness of the moment caused me to weep.
Later, Marrilynn told me about being life flighted to Primary Childrens from St. George Utah as a 13 year old with intractable seizures and being in a coma for weeks. She told me that she had had an experience of going to heaven and seeing her grandparents who were “young and healthy.” She walked on a field of dazzling bright flowers and told her grandmother “I’m sorry I stepped on them.” She looked back and saw that every flower that she had stepped on had bounced back up. Her grandmother laughed and said, “Nothing dies here.” She did not want to come back but was told she had important work.
Tonia told me that I would have to get a criminal background check and fill out the paperwork but I told her that it was done. As they were moving their office they found my application which had fallen behind a file. Marrilynn and I met and immediately bonded and within a week she was in a brand new bedroom of her own instead of sleeping in a basement hallway on a stained mattress without the privacy of her own room. For the first time in her life, she had locks on the bedroom and bathroom doors. For the first time, she met men who would protect her and never try to force her sexually.
Her very first holiday was a week after she came to live with me. She was very shy and I thought she might want to stay home instead of being hit with the tsunami of my high energy family. Surprisingly, she wanted to come. She sat in the corner of my son Sam's kitchen with my mother and my sister and I and watched in amazement as my 2 sons and my brother cooked all the food while the women sat down and sipped wine. This was a complete reversal of the way she was raised where barefoot and pregnant women wait on the men hand and foot and there were clear distinctions between men’s work and women’s work.
At first, I did not know if I could take the stress of living with Marrilynn. She had severe night terrors and would spend several hours screaming and crying in her sleep and making sounds like a person being strangled or drowned. It was terrible to hear. In the morning, she would have no recollection of bad dreams or crying out in her sleep. She would sit on the couch in the dark with her hair hanging down over her face looking like a dead person. I would leave for work ad come home after a 12 hour shift to find her in the same position as when I left her. Little by little, fueled by unconditional love, my incredible family’s support and the prayers of a powerful spiritual community, she began to come back to life. Eventually, she felt welcome to share my food without asking permission for every morsel. She began to trust me with the story of her traumatic life.
That first year, she miraculously completed her GED after extensive special classes and tutoring. This enabled her to apply to Healing Mountain massage school where she had to take college level classes on anatomy and physiology and other subjects. She also had to become comfortable with being the subject of her male and female classmates touching her during massage clinical training. By the end of her training she had grown by leaps and bounds. She got her first job as a professional at the school she graduated from—Healing Mountain massage.
Her extremely bright mind and penchant for interacting with people in a kind, healing manner lead her to continue her education and she achieved certifications in Cosmetology, then Master Esthetics and finally permanent makeup. Everywhere she went to school she was dearly loved by classmates and teachers. Her contagious laugh and good humor made her an unforgettable part of any classroom. She started therapy with a woman well acquainted with the trauma of living in the FLDA communities and finally began to make good headway with her emotional healing.
We moved from Salt Lake City to the beautiful Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington state in October 2019. She was flourishing in the fresh air and dazzling beauty of the region and again making friends wherever she went. Interacting with all the young men and women who showed up at the organic farm project was another big learning experience for her. She was fiercely protective of her adopted family and did not want anyone taking advantage of our hospitality.
Unfortunately, she experienced a violent assault in broad daylight in a parking lot. This began a dark spiral downward into panic attacks, suicidal depression, and poor health. She was discovered to have a critically low white blood cell count and liver and pancreas inflammation. She felt so ill most days that she said “It’s all I can do to stay alive.” Towards the end of May she began to feel a bit better and we thought she was recovering slowly. Because we were cooped up at home and the internet went down, she began to watch her collection of Don Knots movies and I Love Lucy shows. Once again, out house was filled with her contagious laugh. Her older adopted broth Sam came out for a visit and they had a great time together talking with deep honesty and love about negotiating life during hard times.
They laughed with dark humor and cried together in the raw pain of loss. Sam left to return to Salt Lake City the afternoon of May 30th. On Sunday morning, I went into Marrilynn’s room because I had not heard from her. She was apparently peacefully asleep on the bed with her legs hanging off the bed on the floor. When she did not respond to me, I touched her and felt that her skin was ice cold. She had no pulse or breathing and I realized that she had died in her sleep. After a long morning of visits from the paramedics, the sheriff and the funeral home, she was taken from home as a coroner’s case.
The autopsy showed that she had died of massive internal bleeding from an ulcer in her duodenum. Part of her estranged family came to her viewing in Washington Friday June 5th and returned to Utah with her car and most of her earthly belongings the next day. She was cremated according to her wishes to “never be locked in a dark hole and left alone.” Her brother William took part of her ashes back to Utah the following day, leaving an unceremonious manila envelope of her ashes in a Ziplock on my coffee table.
Marrilynn is not her ashes or her earthly belongings. She is a bright light, a kind spirit and a precious adopted family member who will never be forgotten. She was a brilliant friend to many of you and an incredible inspiration to others of you. She lived life more fully in her short years than most people ever begin to reach. She loved with all her heart. To those of you who reciprocated that love, we thank you.
I believe that if she could speak to us today, she would say “Risk everything for love. You never know how long it will last or when it will come your way again.” To celebrate her life, do something she would do: Kiss a baby, plant a sunflower. Look for big yellow monarch butterflies and little lavender ones. Find a bright yellow goldfinch. Feed some hummingbirds. Give a balloon to a special needs person. Give a flower to someone in a nursing home. Send a “song of the day” to someone you are thinking about. Create beauty. Be kind to a stranger. Most of all, cherish your loved ones and remember her contagious laugh when you think of her. Pay forward the love and friendship she extended to you. This is how we will honor her life.