Every day in the United States, more than 115 people die from opioid overdoses.
Madelyn Linsenmeir, or Maddie, to her loved ones, is just one person whose decade-long struggle with opioids lead to her untimely death. To honor her, Maddie’s family published a heart-wrenching obituary in “The Burlington Free Press” that sheds new light on what it’s like to watch someone you love battle addiction. Their story urges others to look beyond the addiction to the soul beneath that is suffering and to practice compassion rather than pass judgment.
Maddie grew up in Burlington, Vermont. Her family describes her as a light-hearted person who loved to sing, dance, and swim competitively. It wasn’t until her family moved to Florida for a short time when she was 16 that things started to go wrong.
At a high school party, Maddie tried OxyContin for the first time, leading to a poisonous lifelong relationship with opioids that eventually cost her her life.
As an adult, Maddie became a single mom to son Ayden in 2014. She threw herself into motherhood, working harder to stay sober than she ever had in her life. She spent countless hours taking her son on walks, singing to him, and swimming together.
Sadly, her addictive tendencies soon resurfaced, and she could not resist the lure of drugs. After she relapsed, she lost custody of her son and spent the next two years spiraling.
In the wake of her death, Maddie’s family is trying to make sense of it all. Like mental health issues, drug addiction still has a social stigma attached to it that makes it difficult for loved ones to overcome the loss. It’s hard enough to lose a child, but to lose a child in a way that is shameful in the eyes of others is especially arduous. Maddie’s family hopes to remove that stigma by revealing the human being their daughter was. She was much more than just an addict.
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. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay. In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders, and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her till the end. She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.
If you are reading this with judgment, educate yourself about this disease, because that is what it is. It is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support.
In spite of popular opinion, science has proven that addiction is not a choice; it’s a deadly disease like any other. Think of it this way: every day people choose to overeat even though they could get diabetes or other ailments. They made a choice — do they deserve the disease? Others choose to sunbathe or smoke cigarettes even though they know both cause cancer. They made the choice — should we shame them for having cancer?
In closing, the family threw out a lifeline to any addicts who might be reading Maddie’s obituary, offering them hope and encouragement to get clean and stay that way.
If you yourself are struggling from addiction, know that every breath is a fresh start. Know that hundreds of thousands of families who have lost someone to this disease are praying and rooting for you. Know that we believe with all our hearts that you can and will make it. It is never too late.
Maddie’s family hoped to put a face on addiction, and they did so admirably. What’s more, with their honest words, they immortalized her in a beautiful way.
We take comfort in knowing that Maddie is surrounded by light, free from the struggle that haunted her. 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.
Even in their grief, they saw an opportunity to help remove the social stigma and encourage empathy towards those who are fighting every single day. Let’s all honor Maddie and the countless others who struggle with addiction by extending the hand of friendship and reserving judgment.
Rest in peace, Maddie. Please share this message.