When we lose someone we love, we want to remember the very best parts of that person, and want people to know why he or she was so very special. It’s also a time of tremendous grief, which is why one family’s choice to think of others in the midst of their mourning is so courageously meaningful.
For the Lisenmeir family of Burlington, VT, sharing the story of their daughter Madelyn’s life through the words of compassion and honesty contained in her obituary is their final act of love for her. And their powerful words are being shared by the thousands by social media users who are so moved by their tribute.
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When someone passes away at a young age, we want to know why. We want to make sense of it, and assure ourselves in some small way that it can’t happen to us, or our loved ones. We want to avoid the danger, minimize it, or ignore it. In Madelyn’s case, it was her drug addiction & it’s side effects that took her life.
Her obituary details her path down the road of addiction. It states that at the age of 16, she:
tried OxyContin for the first time at a high school party, and so began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.
Does that change your perception of her? It might. And if it does, that’s exactly what the Lisenmeir family is desperate to change- our society’s view that drug addicts are to be disregarded as nameless, faceless “junkies”.
They shared that detail in her obituary. Because it’s honest. And, it’s real. The obituary continues:
While her death was unexpected, Madelyn suffered from drug addiction, and for years we feared her addiction would claim her life.
Madelyn struggled with an addiction, but her addiction was not WHO she was. It’s not what captivated the people in her world. She was a sister. A mother. A talented singer. An accomplished swimmer. A world traveler. A host for international children in her theater program. And she was so much more; according to her family’s words featured on Legacy.com, Madelyn was also:
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.
That’s Inappropriate spoke with Madelyn’s sister, Maura and it was clear that Madelyn was a human being that was loved by those in her family- in spite of her struggles with drug addiction, she was cherished. She was their Madelyn. She was her son Ayden’s precious mom.
Many people view those addicted to drugs as just that- their addiction. They are dehumanized, often by the very system meant to help them. While Madelyn’s family wanted people to know who she was, they were also aware of how some might have perceived her:
To some, Maddie was just a junkie—when they saw her addiction they stopped seeing her.
These are truly the most poignant aspect of the Lisenmeir family’s words. While they bravely acknowledge her addiction in honest terms, they also point out that this is precisely the problem with our society’s view of drug addiction today. An addict is not merely an addict, he/she is a PERSON. With a family, memories, personality, and talents.
Madelyn was hurt by her own addiction, and her family was sometimes hurt by the effects of it as well. But despite that they shared in her obituary,
She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.
Madelyn wasn’t just as drug addict that “lost” to her addiction. She was once a tiny speck of a girl that cuddled with her mother. She was a powerful singer that could belt tunes across the dinner table like no other. She was someone who, in her sister Maura O’Neill’s words, “Never met a Snapchat filter she didn’t like!” (don’t we all?!). She was beautiful, funny, vulnerable, loving, & loved.
Madelyn’s family concludes her obituary with these powerful words:
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.
They truly care. And not just for the addicts themselves, but for those who judge them.
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.
Drug addiction affects too many people for it to always be “someone else’s problem”. Chances are, it may have already affected you or those you love. The Lisenmeir family’s heart-stirring words are obviously having a profound affect on those they hoped to reach, with Madelyn’s Legacy.com tribute being shared by over 17K followers within days.
Madelyn’s sister also shared these words in a Facebook tribute to her sister,
49,000 died in 2017 from opioid overdoses. This number does not include people like my sister, who died a week ago tonight not from an overdose but a staph infection that bloomed throughout her body as a result of IV drug use. The term opioid epidemic has been used to the point of non-meaning, and the response to it has been equally meaningless. But this is what the opioid epidemic looks like. It has freckles and a dimple on its right cheek. It is 30 years old and has a singing voice so beautiful people stop in the street to listen. It has a son, two sisters, a mother and a father. Its name is Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir. This is what the opioid epidemic looks like.
Too many people have been lost due to drug addiction, and too many of those attempting to live within that struggle need support and compassion. Madelyn’s family hopes that by sharing her story, her legacy can induce a surge of compassion for those who need it the most.
You can read Madelyn’s beautiful tribute by her family in her obituary here.