The daughter looked at her mother from her hospital bed and asked:
“Mom, am I going to be OK?”
Just six months earlier, Marriah Merlyn Valdez, 26, had convinced her mother, Amparo “Amber” Valdez, to go on a cruise with her.
In October 2018, the two toured the Mexican Riviera, enjoying such spots as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan.
Now, on this day — Saturday, June 1, 2019 – Marriah lay in her bed at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, her body wracked by a rare disorder of the immune system, her liver decimated, her blood too diseased for a transplant to be viable.
With no history of a serious illness and a real health and workout fanatic, Marriah’s sickness ran its horrible course in just over seven months. Her illness began after that cruise with her mother, when Marriah began showing cold-like symptoms that lingered, and then worsened.
Amber answered her daughter, the eldest of her four children, the only way a mother can.
“Of course,” she told Marriah. “All is going to be OK.”
They met as cadets at the Anaheim PD.
Jake Seiders was 18 when, in November 2013, he started working the front counter with Marriah, who at the time was 21 and already a cadet.
They were friends for three years before they started dating.
Before their relationship turned romantic, Marriah always told Jake, “Find me someone just like you, but older.”
Marriah’s dream was to become a police officer.
That dream dissolved when Marriah injured her hip in the police academy, and was told she no longer could continue as a recruit.
That devastating news happened to come the same day Jake had arranged to take Marriah to dinner at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim.
Over dinner, their friendship deepened.
A couple of months later, in March 2016, Jake and Marriah, who by then was working as a property and evidence technician for the Anaheim PD, went to San Diego with some friends to celebrate his 21st birthday.
After the trip, they began speaking every day and spending more time together.
On July 19, 2016, Jake took Marriah on their first official date to a sushi restaurant in Belmont Shores, where Jake used to live when he was studying criminal justice at Cal State Long Beach. They walked on the beach and strolled down the pier.
As they continued to date, Marriah would always tell Jake, “I got someone just like you, but older.”
Jake decided to become a police officer, and was hired by the Irvine PD in November 2017.
By then, Marriah was working as a senior office specialist for the APD. She had discovered her niche of working on financial crimes.
In January 2018, Jake began his grueling six-month stint at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy.
Marriah was his devoted supporter as Jake went through the academy and his field training as an Irvine PD officer, which he completed in November 2018 – when Marriah began getting sick.
AN ‘ORPHAN’ DISEASE
Like many diseases, its name is unwieldy: Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH.
The disease, which can strike anytime but is more common in infants, is estimated to occur in only 1.2 cases per million, according to the Histiocytosis Association.
Because HLH affects fewer than 200,000 people, it’s considered an “orphan disease” and, as such, does not receive substantial government funding for research, according to the association.
A severe systemic inflammatory syndrome, HLH’s causes are unknown, but it may be associated with vaccinations, viral infections and other underlying diseases.
Amber Valdez says Marriah started exhibiting cold symptoms and got strep throat late last year. At one point her side hurt, indicating possible kidney stones.
Several doctor visits, including a complete physical, however, initially turned up no serious diagnosis. Marriah got dehydrated at times and got a salivary gland infection, but mostly she kept working.
In mid-May 2019, a frustrated Marriah told her mother: “I’m just so tired of being sick. I just want to feel normal again, mom.”
On Wednesday, May 22, Marriah came home from work to her mother’s house. Her eyes were yellow. The next day, Jake took her to urgent care.
“You need to get to an ER right away,” the urgent care nurse, alarmed by the sickly hue of her eyes, told Marriah.
Early May 24, Marriah was admitted to Kaiser Hospital in Anaheim. Doctors discovered her liver was dying. By May 29, Marriah, now at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, was put on a transplant list. But it was too late.
Her condition deteriorated.
And on Saturday, June 1, Amber told Marriah everything was going to be OK.
Those were the last words they shared.
On Wednesday, June 5, at around 2:30 in the afternoon, and while surrounded by her loving family and some close friends, Marriah died.
She would have turned 27 on June 27.
In addition to her mother, Marriah is survived by a sister, Brittni, 24; a brother, Andre, 21; another brother, Anthony, 20; and several aunts and uncles and other relatives.
A celebration of Marriah’s life was held Tuesday evening, June 18, at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim. Her funeral was held the next day, and she was buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.
Many loved ones spoke at Marriah’s Celebration of Life ceremony.
Anthony, her brother, quoted one of her journal entries:
If you’re unhappy doing something in your life, fix it.
Cynthia Espinoza, a senior office specialist for the homicide detail at the Anaheim PD, was especially close to Marriah.
“Tonight, we celebrate a beautiful soul that was taken too soon,” Espinoza said. “There are many words to describe Marriah: friendly, kind, loving, strong, wise beyond her years, honest, caring and beautiful. She was someone to all of us.”
Espinoza and Marriah had a routine at work. She addressed Marriah in her eulogy:
“I will forever miss our morning ritual where you would come in at 6:30 in the morning and kiss me on the cheek, and while I held you in my arms you would say, ‘Mom, let’s make this a positive day, let’s shut down all the negativity, always know that I love you with all my heart and soul. I will see you at lunch,’” Espinoza said.
“My response was, ‘I love you too, baby girl.’”
Espinoza noted that whenever Marriah would talk about Jake, she always had a twinkle in her eye.
Jake is exhausted after a graveyard patrol shift.
On his drive home early Tuesday morning, June 25, he talks about the love of his life and his plans this summer to propose to Marriah.
Amber, 49, was going to help him pick out a ring for her.
Jake was planning on proposing to her July 19 – what would have been the three-year anniversary of when he asked her to be his girlfriend.
He was going to keep things simple by asking her, “Will you make me the happiest man in the world and marry me?”
And Jake was thinking of playing a favorite song, “Millionaire,” by Chris Stapleton.
After the planned proposal, Jake figured he’d have a huge party with all of their friends and family at their favorite restaurant, D’vine, in Fullerton, where Jake and Marriah shared an apartment.
Since Marriah died, Jake hasn’t been back to the apartment.
For now, he’s living with his parents, Todd and Cathy Seiders, in Rancho Santa Margarita, where Jake grew up.
His grief, he says, comes in waves.
Jake holds onto the memories he and Marriah packed in at a fevered pace.
They travelled the U.S. and around the world, and competed in a lot of 5Ks. They even went on a double date with newlyweds. The bride was Justina Avila, Marriah’s best friend. The four went on a nine-day Mediterranean cruise.
Marriah loved to run and lift weights. She even got Jake to start eating vegan and vegetarian dishes.
“She was super healthy,” Jake says. “She worked out five to six days a week – a lot more than me.”
And now, it’s all just memories. But memories, Jake says, are one of the few things that give him comfort.
So, too, do the words spoken by loved ones at Marriah’s Celebration of Life ceremony, as well as her funeral.
“She lived her life fearlessly and free,” Brittni Valdez, Marriah’s sister, said in her eulogy. “My sister was the most loving person that anyone could ever come across. She never forgot to tell me she loved me or spend time with me. She was the most positive person I knew.
“And, honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do without her.”
Brittni told the gathered that Marriah lived life like there would be no tomorrow.
And she used Marriah’s words to drive home an unmistakable truth.
“Marriah would always say life is too short,” Brittni said between tears, the mourners in the church hushed.
This past Valentine’s Day, Marriah posted a photo of her and Jake at the Cellar restaurant in downtown Fullerton.
A fancy place, the two are dressed up, a single red rose on the white tablecloth.
In the photo, Jake and Marriah are beaming above a favorite line from “Millionaire,” which Marriah quoted, ending her post with an emoji of a red heart:
cause love is more precious than gold
it can’t be bought, no, and it can’t be sold