Grieving family of Madelyn Linsenmeir discuss viral obit

Published: Oct. 18, 2018 at 5:25 PM EDT
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A grieving family's wake-up call has sent a message to Vermont and the rest of the nation that opiate addicts need more help. In their first television interview, the family of Madelyn Linsenmeir tell Channel 3's Darren Perron why they shared her personal story about her death from complications with drug use, and why they think it went viral.

Kate O'Neil loves to tell stories about her sister Maddie. "She wanted to be an actress and a broadway star," O'Neil said.

Her little sister had a big heart, and bigger voice. But she never imagined she'd be writing Maddie's life story in an

. "She was this bright, beautiful woman, and this disease brought her to such darkness," O'Neil said.

At 30, Maddie died from opiate addiction after wrestling with the disease for the more than a decade. She tried Oxycontin at a high school party at 16. "She took it, not understanding what would happen next," O'Neil said. And she was hooked. By 18 she was shooting heroin. "She tried to stop so many times. We've lost track of the number of times she reached out for help."

But middle-sister, Maura O'Neil, says Maddie never got what she needed. Numerous stints in rehab and dozens of relapses. And the young woman -- described as smart, energetic, caring, and so funny -- couldn't fight it anymore.

She leaves behind the love her life, her little boy, Ayden.

"She loved him so so much. It breaks my heart he's not going to know her," O'Neil said.

Addiction was a big part of Maddie's life, so O'Neil wrote about it in her obituary. The family posted it on social media really to just let people know details about the memorial. But the honest and heart-breaking look at the disease resonated with people and went viral. It's been shared tens of thousands of times. Even the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, tweeted about it -- "Rest in peace Maddie."

"She did not want to die. She was frightened of it, and I think that her death has this meaning would mean so much to her," O'Neil said.

The family is using Maddie's death to bring awareness to a lack of help for addicts, long-term recovery facilities, and access to medication-assistance treatment. And they recognize Maddie's story is not unique.

"Those pictures of her are Maddie at her best, when she's sober and successful. Maddie is every addict. Addicts who don't resemble her, who aren't a beautiful, young woman with a son. The faces of this epidemic are myriad and many and I want people to know that," O'Neil said. "Everybody knows somebody, or knows somebody who knows somebody who is wrestling with opiate addiction. People don't typically talk about it in this way either."

The family can't count the number of people they've heard from. Families of addicts, people in recovery, so many people affected by addiction. It's Maddie's final gift -- giving those struggling with addiction a voice.

Reporter's note -- Darren Perron:

Normally we don't do interviews with people close to us. I didn't know Maddie. I never met her, but I do know her sister Maura. We're friends, and that's why she talked to us on camera first. Maura and her husband, Tim, are adopting Maddie's little boy, Ayden.