A heartwrenching and candid obituary for a 30-year-old Vermont mother who died due to complications from opioid abuse has renewed public conversation about the opioid crisis that is tearing through the country — and the need to not dehumanize the crisis’ victims. Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on October 7 from a staph infection that resulted from IV drug use. In an obituary posted to Seven Days, the family said that her addiction had “brought her to places of incredible darkness,” but that she had remained “hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient” and died surrounded by her loving family.
Linsenmeir, who worked as a member of dance and musical troupe FolKids of Vermont and won medals as a swimmer in her youth, began using opiates at age 16 after being introduced to OxyContin at a high school party. Her addiction eventually began to take over her life, but the family said she was “transformed” after giving birth to her son, Ayden, in 2014.
“Every afternoon in all kinds of weather, she would put him in a backpack and take him for a walk. She sang rather than spoke to him, filling his life with song. Like his mom, Ayden loves to swim; together they would spend hours in the lake or pool. And she so loved to snuggle him up, surrounding him with her love,” the obituary read. “After having Ayden, Maddie tried harder and more relentlessly to stay sober than we have ever seen anyone try at anything. But she relapsed and ultimately lost custody of her son, a loss that was unbearable.”
Before her passing, the family said that she was able to spend 12 days sober with the family that left them hopeful “she would overcome her disease and make the life for herself we knew she deserved.” Tragically, she was unable to do so.
“To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them,” the family wrote. “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.”
The family’s words hit home, as hundreds of people stopped to leave messages of support on the obituary page and to share their own stories of struggles with addiction in their lives or those of their loved ones. Amongst all the comments echoed a resounding theme — that addiction is a disease that many will never overcome, and that its victims deserve to be treated with love, respect and dignity.
The story of Linsenmeir and the difficulty her family faced is one that has become all too common in the U.S. in recent years. At the Women in the World New York Summit, Janis McGrory appeared onstage for a confronting conversation about the fallout of opioid addiction. She shared the pain of losing her 23-year-old daughter, Liz, to a heroin overdose in 2011, and how she was powerless to stop her daughter’s demise . McGrory is now an advocate for families and children who have also fallen victim to the fatal pull of opioids. Watch the full discussion below.