A family's powerful obituary for a 30-year-old Vermont mother has touched the lives of many across the world, from those who know, work with or are people who have struggled with addiction to those who are less familiar with substance use disorders.
Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir's heart-wrenching story calls for more open understanding of addiction and asks people to view those addicted to drugs as humans capable of love and deserving of compassion.
"It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction. To some, Maddie was just a junkie—when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient," the obituary, published in the Burlington Free Press, read.
Linsenmeir died on Sunday, October 7. Her family honestly detailed her years-long struggle with addiction, beginning with the first time she began using opioids at 16 years old. At that time, the young Linsenmeir, with a "singing voice so beautiful it would stop people on the street," moved with her parents from Vermont to Florida to attend a performing arts high school. She tried Oxycontin for the first time at a high school party.
"So began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life," her family wrote.
Linsenmeir fought to stay sober several times, especially with the birth of her son, Ayden, in 2014. She "transformed her life to mother him," as the family described—taking him for a walk every afternoon, no matter the weather, singing to him and swimming together in the lake or pool.
But the mom relapsed and lost custody of Ayden, a loss that was unbearable to her. The last two years, they wrote, were filled with darkness, pain and shame.
The family hopes that readers who are struggling with addiction will "know that every breath is a fresh start," that all those who have lost someone to this disease are rooting for them. The obituary calls on those reading with judgment to educate themselves on addiction and to offer empathy and support. And for those who work in the many institutions that deal with people with substance-use disorders, from rehabilitation centers and hospitals to the courts and prison, Linsenmeir's family reminds them to treat people battling addiction as human beings in need of help.
"We take comfort in knowing that Maddie is surrounded by light, free from the struggle that haunted her," the obituary ends. "We would have given anything for her to experience that freedom in this lifetime. Our grief over losing her is infinite. And now so is she."
The obituary has prompted others to share their own stories of addiction.
"Like many of the other commentators, I did not have the pleasure knowing your daughter but I am your daughter. I can relate so much and struggle to fight this disease every day. Today, I have a week and a day, and I believe that I read this for a reason. Thank you for helping me with the strength to get through one more day," Amanda Miles wrote in the comments.
"I am so sorry for your infinite loss. After reading this, I am crying at the beauty, the honesty, the profound sadness of your obituary. I lost my brother 13 years ago to addiction; and this finally put into words all the emotions I have felt every day since we lost him," wrote Jilly Peterson Lopez.
Linsenmeir's Facebook has also been filled with condolences and messages of support.
"I read your obituary all the way in Minneapolis while at work today. I am in recovery too, and I’m a public defender. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so connected to and so much love for a stranger and her family than when I read your obituary today," wrote Billy Hamilton. "I promise to forever keep you in my heart. I promise too that, as a public defender, I will never stop fighting like hell for my clients. And I promise you that I’ll never give up on me."