When Kate Ulmer was growing up, her older sister, Christina O'Farrell was her primary caregiver.
O'Farrell, who was 10 years older, was Ulmer's babysitter while their parents worked at their business, a tavern. "She took care of me. She taught me how to fish, we walked and fed geese, and we watched old horror movies and Disney movies," said Ulmer.
O'Farrell also lectured Ulmer about the dangers of using drugs.
But that was advice that O'Farrell preached but didn't practice.
She used drugs from the time she was age 15 and Ulmer was five.
"I knew what heroin was when I was seven. She (O'Farrell) got arrested the first time at age 16. I processed a lot as a kid. It was a constant struggle for me to try to understand her. I would go through her bags to see what was in there," said Ulmer.
Before age 18, O'Farrell entered rehab for the first time. She was clean for as long as five years. She alternated drinking and she was functioning, employed and the mother of a daughter.
At age 33, O'Farrell reached what Ulmer calls "rock bottom". She was hospitalized in a medically induced coma. She recovered, learning to walk and talk again. The family home was made handicapped accessible.
"My sister never believed she could live a normal life. She didn't believe it was possible," said Ulmer. Despite the boundaries set by the family, O'Farrell's life was a cycle of alternating between using drugs and staying clean. In 2013, O'Farrell began living in the woods and using alcohol and drugs. "That was the hardest thing, driving down the road and seeing your sister. She was dirty, she was cold. She was living in Marina Park," said Ulmer. And daily, her family would make sure O'Farrell received her medication, methadone. "We were not living with her, but we were still responsible. She was living in a tent in the woods," said Ulmer. Ulmer's parents, Pete and Glenna Ramey, were raising O'Farrell's daughter.
On July 5, 2015, O'Farrell, 36, died of organ failure from years of drug and alcohol abuse.
"I started having dreams of her funeral six months before she died," said Ulmer. "People judged her. I was the sister of a heroin addict."
There had been an endless cycle of rehabs, hospitalizations, and binges.
"In April 2015, she was home. She was probably using drugs and alcohol. She did what she had to do," said Ulmer.
"My sister told me not to use. She did my homework with me every night. She told me not to do drugs," said Ulmer. "My sister was very smart. She started drinking at a young age. She told me it was because a teacher told her she was stupid."
Ulmer, of North East spent the last three years working as a science teacher at Perryville Middle School. This year, she has a new job, Drug Education Prevention Educator for grades three through 10 with the school system.
Now, Ulmer will be spreading her sister's message of not using drugs to hundreds of school children. "I think she'd be proud," said Ulmer.
Ulmer has also gotten involved in the community spreading the message about drug use.
There are a pair of upcoming events for those impacted by addiction.
The Overdose Memorial Vigil is set for Sunday, August 21 at the Gilbert Lighthouse Pavilion from 6 p.m. until dusk.
This event is for those who want to mourn the loss of a loved one due to overdose. Pictures and memories are welcome.
Voices of Hope Cecil County will host a 5K on August 27 in Perryville Town Park. Registration begins at 4 p.m. Opening ceremony starts at 5:15 p.m. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Cost is ages 0-3 free, ages 4-13 $10, and ages 14 and up $20. For more information contact Kate Ulmer at 443-553-8598.