There were 12 unforgettable days.
Twelve days at home with her loved ones. Twelve days watching children’s movies and chatting around the dinner table. Twelve days Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir remained mostly sober after a years-long on-again, off-again relationship with opioids. Twelve days that gave them all hope.
“We believed as we always did that she would overcome her disease and make the life for herself we knew she deserved,” a family member wrote. “We believed this until the moment she took her last breath.
“But her addiction stalked her and stole her once again. Though we would have paid any ransom to have her back, any price in the world, this disease would not let her go until she was gone.”
The details come from a heartbreaking obituary one of Linsenmeir’s relatives apparently wrote earlier this week, opening up about the 30-year-old’s devastating fall into addiction. It said Linsenmeir, from Burlington, Vt., died Oct. 7 while she was home with her family — but it is the raw and emotional way the obituary portrayed the circumstances leading up to her death that has resonated with others.
“Madelyn suffered from drug addiction, and for years we feared her addiction would claim her life,” the obit said. “We are grateful that when she died she was safe and she was with her family.”
According to Linsenmeir’s obituary, family members wanted to share her story to let those who are struggling with drug addiction know “every breath is a fresh start” and to urge those “reading this with judgment” to understand “it is not a choice or a weakness.”
The account depicted a young woman who once enjoyed swimming, skiing and snowboarding. It said she had “a singing voice so beautiful it would stop people on the street” — a voice that took her around the world — and at 16, she and her parents moved from Vermont to Florida so she could attend a performing arts high school.
It was there, however, her life started to crumble.
The obituary said Linsenmeir tried OxyContin at a high school party, igniting “a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.”
“It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction,” it read. “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.”
The family could not immediately be reached for comment by The Washington Post.
After Linsenmeir’s obituary was published — gaining widespread media attention — a police chief in her hometown said he had “a problem” with it.
“My problem with it is that it’s a much better obituary than the rest of us deserve,” Burlington (Vt.) police Chief Brandon del Pozo wrote Wednesday on Facebook, according to the Burlington Free Press.
“Why did it take a grieving relative with a good literary sense to get people to pay attention for a moment and shed a tear when nearly a quarter of a million people have already died in the same way as Maddie as this epidemic grew?”
Del Pozo said many others like Linsenmeir have died as a result of opioid addictions.
“Maddie’s gone. She can’t feel your sorrow,” he wrote. “But others are next. Some aren’t beautiful. Others look nothing like you. Some are like Maddie’s twin, and have little children too. They are all human beings, and they need our help. Go. Get to work. We still need to earn the feelings her obituary inspired in us. We should have felt them years ago.”
Opioids, including fentanyl, heroin and other painkillers, are the main sources for overdose deaths across the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of opioid deaths has continued to climb, with more than 42,000 fatalities reported across the country in 2016, according to the most recent numbers released by the agency.
In Vermont, opioid-related deaths increased 5 percent from 2016 to 2017. Specifically, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, accounted for 67 deaths in the state — compared with 49 the year before, according to data from the Vermont Department of Health.
According to Linsenmeir’s obituary, Linsenmeir began to turn her life around when her son was born in 2014 because she wanted to be a good mother.
“Maddie tried harder and more relentlessly to stay sober than we have ever seen anyone try at anything,” the obituary said. But eventually, it said, Linsenmeir relapsed and lost custody — an “unbearable” loss for the young mother.
“During the past two years especially, her disease brought her to places of incredible darkness, and this darkness compounded on itself, as each unspeakable thing that happened to her and each horrible thing she did in the name of her disease exponentially increased her pain and shame,” it said.