Maddie (Madeline Henderson Smith)

Most subscribers to Smartini Life know this, but from some of the contacts I’ve received lately, I know not everyone does, so here goes. My daughter, Maddie, died at the end of January. That’s why there haven’t been any new posts here on the blog – our lives have been rather upside down since then.

Most subscribers to Smartini Life know this, but from some of the contacts I’ve received lately, I know not everyone does, so here goes. My daughter, Maddie, died at the end of January. That’s why there haven’t been any new posts here on the blog – our lives have been rather upside down since then.

One of these days, when the feelings aren’t so raw, I may write more about Maddie, but for now, I’m going to post a modified version of what I read at the private service we held for her. That’s about all I can handle right now.

From February 1, 2017, in Indianapolis
Maddie was a very private person, and she would have hated to have me, or anyone, stand up in front of a room full of people – especially people she didn’t even know – and talk about her. That’s why we’re doing this – Maddie knew all of you, and you all knew her. She was, at one time or another, for various reasons, a part of your life, and vice versa. She probably wouldn’t even like all of us to be sitting around talking about her, but that’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to start, and when I’m done, I know a few of you have something you’d like to say, and then it will be open for any of you to say something, if you’d like. If you want to tell us something you remember about Maddie that helps describe the kind of person she was, or what she meant to you, no matter how small, that would be wonderful.

Maddie was born on the Northwest side of Indianapolis, at the Women’s Hospital on Township Line Road. At the time, we lived in the original Saddlebrook neighborhood, about a mile down the road. We lived there for only her first year and a few months, but even in that short time, we started calling her Danger Girl, after we found her halfway up the stairway to the second floor, shortly after she had mastered crawling. The rest of her life, that nickname would prove to be appropriate, as she never stopped doing things that were potentially dangerous to her, without giving it much thought. It was, in the end, a significant contributing factor in her death.

She was a tomboy almost from the beginning, refusing to wear dresses or anything pink or otherwise girly. Once that started, I’m pretty sure she didn’t wear a dress more than a dozen times the rest of her life. At Halloween, she didn’t want to be a princess or a ballerina, she wanted to be a superhero or a ninja or a professional athlete. She played on the Seventh and Eighth Grade girls basketball teams at New August Middle School – she had a smooth jump shot, and could dribble circles around me in the driveway. She loved to skateboard. For a while, she wanted to be a pitcher, so I’d do my best to “catch” her in the front yard. But she didn’t want to play girls softball – she wanted to play boys baseball – so that didn’t last too long. At Pike High School, she was in the Junior Naval ROTC program, at one point being the only girl on the Armed Exhibition Team – the team that does the amazing stuff spinning the rifles.

As she got older, she started to love hiking, or just walking in the woods, or even just being in the woods. She’s probably been to Eagle Creek Park hundreds of times. That’s where she and her girlfriend Brenna went on their first date – for a walk in the park. We hope to eventually have a bench somewhere in the park dedicated to her memory. She lived in Fort Collins, CO for about six months, to try out living away from home. She loved hiking in the many parks in the foothills and mountains there, and in fact, that’s where her ashes will be scattered at the end of May.

At an early age, she started noticing people who were less fortunate than her, and she developed a compassion for them that never ceased to impress me. In elementary school, there was an autistic girl named Allie who, unfortunately, was occasionally teased by other kids. Maddie went out of her way to make friends with Allie. When we would pick her up from after school care, it wasn’t unusual for Maddie to be doing something with Allie when we got there. In the car, if she saw someone walking on the side of the road, she didn’t see someone choosing to walk, she saw someone who might need help, wondering if something was wrong.

She loved animals, especially her little black kitty, Batman. And she loved little kids, especially Fran’s niece and nephew in Fort Collins, Penelope and Porter – but REALLY especially Porter. If you looked at the hundreds of pictures we have of Maddie, you see a ton of pictures of her with Porter when he was little. In fact, some of the best pictures we have are of her playing with Porter. She is as happy in those pictures as we ever saw her, doing anything, ever. She did NOT want Porter to ever get any bigger!

She had a gift, a true talent, for music. She started taking drum lessons in fourth grade, learning on snare drum. After a year or so, she started playing on a drum set and started to get some competency. But when it was time for Middle School Band, each kid drew a number, and when it was your turn, you picked from the instruments that hadn’t already been picked. Of course, all the Percussion spots were filled early. By the time Maddie’s number 73 came around, there were flutes and clarinets – she chose clarinet. I swear, she never practiced more than 5 minutes a week outside of Band Class, and yet she played that thing like she practiced an hour a day. And still she drummed, at home, for her own enjoyment. One day when she was in 8th or 9th grade, we were somewhere with a piano. As far as I know, she hadn’t ever touched a piano – but she sat down at it, and within minutes, had her left hand playing some chords while her right was picking out a pretty little melody. At some point, she started playing guitar, and of course, she took to it like a fish to water, too. She never took any lessons, and she never achieved any degree of mastery, but she could pick it up and make up stuff that never failed to put a smile on my face. And always, she played drums. A year ago, when she moved into her apartment, she was able to take her electronic drums with her – she could put her headset on and bang to her heart’s content, and her neighbors heard only the soft rat-a-tat-tat of her sticks tapping the electronic heads – if they heard anything at all. But in spite of her love for playing music, and listening to music, and sharing music with Bennett and Brenna and her friends – she never, ever wanted to play in front of people, and except for her drum recitals in 4th and 5th grade, she never did. One of the few big regrets I have about her life is that she never was able to share her music – especially her drumming – with others. She could have made a lot of people smile.

She was fiercely independent. As a little girl, she hated it when her mother or I would try to show her how to do something. “I can do it!”, she would holler. As she got older, that turned into a major resistance to accepting help from people, for almost anything, even from people she knew loved her unconditionally. And it was torture for her to ask for help, so unfortunately, she rarely did – even when she needed it most of all. I wish she had asked. Or maybe I wish that I had been able to see that she WAS asking, but I just couldn’t see it.

She was impatient – if she wanted something, she wanted it NOW. I don’t mean a toy or new clothes or something. I mean like learning something new on her drums, or a new skateboard trick. Or a solution to a problem, even a problem that was huge and complex and was not going to be solved quickly. She wanted it now.

Sometime during high school, she started to suffer from anxiety and depression. If you know almost anyone under the age of 25, even 30, you’re probably familiar with that expression: “anxiety and depression”. It’s rampant among young people, and for some, it’s severe. Maddie was one of those. By the time we really understood how bad it was for her, it had already had a big impact on her – it changed her. It became very hard for her to be happy for more than just short spurts. She started to withdraw from us. In spite of doing the things you do to try to help treat it, it never let her be free of suffering for very long. The pain was so bad that she began to seek other ways to dull the pain. Alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain killers, and eventually – I can hardly bring myself to believe this, or say it – eventually, heroin. We were naive – me, Fran, Terri, Bennett – we didn’t know what a horrible epidemic heroin has become. It’s easier to get than prescription drugs, it’s cheaper, and it’s a total crap shoot what you’re going to get from one time to the next. We all suspected that she was misusing some prescription meds, but we just had no idea what was really going on.

A week before she died, Maddie and Brenna flew to Key West to spend 5 days with Fran and me. It was the only thing Maddie wanted for Christmas – a real vacation for Brenna and her, something they hadn’t been able to do yet. We were supposed to be on Smartini, but that didn’t work out, so we rented a little place just off Duvall Street. On the first night, she finally got to see a drag show, which she loved, and she thought it was so funny that she was watching it with her dad. On the last day, the wind finally died down and we got to go fishing on the ocean – the one thing Brenna really wanted to do. Maddie didn’t like seafood, and didn’t like the idea of killing the fish, but she wanted Brenna to have a great vacation, so she didn’t fuss. The rest of the time we walked and biked and ate and drank, and went to the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, and sunset at Mallory Square, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

One evening at dinner, Maddie told us that she had recently started introducing herself to new people as Madeline. She was OK with everyone who already knew her to keep calling her Maddie, but she was ready to be Madeline going forward.

On January 26, Fran and I dropped them off at the Key West airport. Maddie – Madeline – went to work on Friday. Friday evening, she texted Terri to confirm their normal Sunday afternoon dinner, and she said she was doing fine. Brenna talked to her about 9:00 – Maddie asked her if she had eaten the fish she caught and brought home, and after a short conversation, she said she was tired and was going to go to bed. And sometime later – this wonderful, sweet, loving, caring girl who hated to disappoint people, who couldn’t bring herself to ask for help, and who was obviously still in pain – this too-often careless “Danger Girl” who could never figure out how to love herself the way we all loved her, took some combination of drugs and alcohol that ended her way-too-short life.

We’re all almost certain it was accidental – too many of us had too many close encounters with her in her last days and even hours to believe otherwise. That doesn’t make the outcome any less horrible, but somehow, an accident – even a careless, stupid one – is easier to accept than if it were intentional. She was getting better, even though the progress was slow. She was looking ahead, and I’m sure, at times, had glimpses of what life could be like when she was finally able to put the anxiety and depression behind her. She had a job she loved, working at Posh Petals with an amazing group of women she absolutely adored. She had Brenna in her life, and I can tell you first hand that they made each other happy. She loved spending time with her mother, and with Bennett, and with her small group of close friends. She loved snuggling with her kitty, Batman. She loved so many people, and so many things in life. I think the worst thing about her death is that we won’t ever get to see the happy, healthy person she could have become, and none of the people she would have met and been touched by her will never get that chance.

The next post in Smartini Life will be about a more upbeat topic, I promise.

15 thoughts on “Maddie (Madeline Henderson Smith)”

  1. Your story has touched my heart and crushed me at the same time. I wish you peace and God’s overwhelming love in times of trouble. May God bless you and instill his love and compassion on you.

    1. Thanks, Mike – we all appreciate all the good wishes from so many people. Give your boys an extra hug the next time you see ’em.

  2. Your story about Maddie has touched my heart too. I just wish that I could have spent more time with her and known her better. I’m glad she enjoyed the birthday cards I sent to her every year. My love and prayers are always with you and Fran and Bennett!

    1. Thanks, Mary – she loved getting to spend time with you and Steve the time we came out there. And yes, she loved the birthday cards. 🙂

  3. Oh Brian. I wish I had the good fortune to meet her. What a beautiful, eloquent tribute to a daughter so obviously adored by her father. Peace and grace, my friend.

    1. Thanks, Liz. She was a beautiful soul, and she is missed terribly every day.

  4. Hi Brian,
    Just registered to the site on finding out about your tragic news to send my sincerest condolences to you and Fran for the passing of Maddie. As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine your sadness. May God bless you both and may the memories you shared in the past allow you to remember the happier times and replace the grief. Just wanted to send you both a note from DOWNUNDER to let you know, you are both in our prayers. Take care my friend and your eloquent words will remain in my heart for some time. God bless.

    1. Hi, Fred! So glad you found us, and so sorry your first taste of Smartini Life was the story about Maddie. Yes, we’re heartbroken. But life goes on, and we try our best every day to remember that, while still remembering her. Some days are better than others. Rest assured I’ll be writing more uplifting material soon.

    1. Love you, too, Robin. I’m glad you like my writing – thanks for saying so.

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