Madelyn Linsenmeir’s family wants people to know the real person behind the addiction.
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49,000 people 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. ——————————————— There’s a link to Maddie’s obituary in my bio if you’d like to read it; a memorial service for her will take place Sunday, October 21, at 2:00 at the First Unitarian Universalist Society sanctuary at the top of Church Street in Burlington.
As People reports, Linsenmeir died on October 7 at the young age of 30. In her brief life, Linsenmeir was many things — an athlete, a beautiful singer, a mother — but her family knows that her struggle with drugs defines her in the eyes of others.
In a candid and heartbreaking obituary published in the Burlington Free Press, they wrote:
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.
Linsenmeir was first exposed to drugs at age 16, soon after she and her family moved to Florida. After trying OxyContin at a party, the teen, “began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.”
Four years ago, Linsenmeir gave birth to her son Ayden. Her family wrote, “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.”
Losing her son launched the young mom into a dark period. And in the last two years, it only got worse. There was a brief respite for 12 days during the summer when she was home and sober … and her family began to believe that she could beat her addiction, but it didn’t last:
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.
Linsenmeir’s family used her obituary to spread a direct and powerful message, both to those struggling with addiction and those who are watching the opioid crisis from the sidelines.
Happy 68th birthday to my wonderful father. I couldn’t ask for a better man to spend my evening with. Happy birthday dad!
To those trying to fight addiction they say, “that every breath is a fresh start.” They point out that every family who knows this pain is rooting for them to succeed: “Know that we believe with all our hearts that you can and will make it. It is never too late.”
For those who dismiss and look down on addicts, they have a very different message:
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.
And while they are thankful for everyone who works with addicts (whether in rehab or the justice system) and treats them with compassion and respect, they wrote, “If instead you see a junkie or thief or liar in front of you rather than a human being in need of help, consider a new profession.”
The obituary concluded: “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.”
The moving words of Linsenmeir’s obituary caused it to go viral. It has been featured in news outlets around the world. And that left one police chief with a problem.
Brandon del Pozo, Chief of Police in Burlington, Vermont shared his concerns on Facebook. His post was then reprinted by the Burlington Free Press — the same paper that published Linsenmeir’s obituary.
As del Pozo explains, Linsenmeir deserved the moving and viral obituary. But he wants to know, “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?”
He continued, writing: “Did readers think this was the first time a beautiful, young, beloved mother from a pastoral state got addicted to Oxy and died from the descent it wrought? And what about the rest of the victims, who weren’t as beautiful and lived in downtrodden cities or the rust belt? They too had mothers who cried for them and blamed themselves.”
Del Pozo wants readers to know that Linsenmeir’s story is repeated over and over all around the country. But we don’t know most of the stories because they don’t come with a moving obituary and photo. His wrote:
[I]f Maddie was a black guy from the Bronx found dead in his bathroom of an overdose, it wouldn’t matter if the guy’s obituary writer had won the Booker Prize, there wouldn’t be a weepy article in People about it.
The police chief states that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, can find a story like this, nearer than they might expect. He wrote, “Ask the cops and they will tell you: Maddie’s death was nothing special at all. It happens all the time, to people no less loved and needed and human.”
As a law enforcement officer who’s desperate to make a difference, del Pozo doesn’t resent Linsenmeir’s obituary. He’s grateful it went viral. That’s because he hopes it will let him do his job more effectively by changing attitudes and allowing officers to use the tools and protocols to prevent overdose deaths and get addicts help. As he wrote:
“Maddie’s gone. She can’t feel your sorrow. 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.”