Kate O'Neill says the attention her sister's obituary has drawn is bittersweet as the family struggles to come to term with the unexpected death
Credit: Courtesy Maura O'Neill

A Vermont woman’s moving obituary has made its way around the Internet, prompting social media users everywhere to think about the painful struggle of drug addiction. But the woman’s sister says the attention is bittersweet as the family continues to cope with the heartbreaking loss.

Madelyn Linsenmeir, 30, struggled with opioid addiction for more than a decade before dying unexpectedly on Oct. 7 in the custody of Massachusetts police. In the wake of her death, Linsenmeir’s oldest sister, Kate O’Neill, knew she wanted to write an obituary that would chronicle her “baby” sister’s life, the disease that stole it, and the love of the family Linsenmeir left behind.

“Her disease was such a part of her adult life and to have omitted that wouldn’t have done justice to her life,” O’Neill, 46, tells PEOPLE of the reason she highlighted her sister’s opioid addiction.

“We had hope until the moment she died that she would recover and make a life for herself. We loved Maddie so much. This disease brings people low, and it brought Madelyn low. The photos of her online with her son, that was our Maddie at her best. We never gave up on her. She was so important to us,” O’Neill says.

Linsenmeir first began using opioids when she was 16 years old, O’Neill wrote in her sister’s obituary. She tried OxyContin for the first time at a high school party after her family moved from Vermont to Florida and “so began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.”

O’Neill says Linsenmeir was itinerant and was arrested in Massachusetts less than a week before her death. O’Neill and their mother were at Linsenmeir’s side when she passed away at a hospital. O’Neill says Linsenmeir was unconscious in the final days of her life. She did not overdose, and an autopsy will determine her exact cause of death.

“It was terrifying and unbelievable,” O’Neill says of her final moments with her sister. “It was unreal and so hard to let her go because we believed until the moment she took her last breath that she would recover.”

Credit: Courtesy Maura O'Neill

Linsenmeir struggled with sobriety several times over the years and, with the birth of her son Ayden in 2014, she worked even harder to transform her life.

“She loved him so much and he loved her. Maddie really loved music and Ayden really loves music. We did everything we could to support her to parent him,” O’Neill says. “She was extremely strong-willed but this disease was stronger. She would have done anything in the world for her son but this is the one thing she could not do. She tried so hard to stay clean after she had him.”

Linsenmeir lost custody of Ayden after relapsing. Her sister, Maura O’Neill, 44, has been raising the now-4-year-old with her partner Tim Painting for two years.

Madelyn Linsenmeir (right) with father Mark Linsenmeir
| Credit: Courtesy Maura O'Neill

“I have a million favorite things about Maddie. I loved her amazing sense of humor,” O’Neill says. “When she wasn’t using she was such a pleasure to be with and spend time with. Even if she weren’t my sister I’d want to know her and be friends with her.”

Now, O’Neill says she hopes her sister’s story can inspire change.

“The hundreds of thousands of people who have this disease, most of them don’t look like Maddie. Many of them don’t. It’s easy to see a photo of a beautiful, young white woman and feel empathy,” she says. “But this disease is happening to so many people. When they see the person it’s harder to feel empathy for, the guy sleeping on the sidewalk … I want them to see those people and see Maddie. That’s Maddie.”