Maddie McClendon produced her own concert Thursday as she was laid to rest.
The 18 year Dadeville native returned home last week after a six month battle with ovarian cancer to a hero’s welcome to spend her final days with friends and family she loved. Even though the bell was tolling for McClendon, she was thinking and serving others. McClendon’s mother, Chris, got a surprise delivery Saturday morning — the day before Mother’s Day.
“It was a rose bush and a bag with an unsigned card because she didn’t get a chance to sign it, there was a framed picture in the bag of our family,” Chris said at Maddie’s funeral Thursday. “Some people said Maddie got you a Mother’s Day gift.”
Chris thought some of her family was trying to help make her feel better. The special delivery came just hours before Maddie would die. It would be Monday morning before Chris realized it was her Maddie Mae’s doing.
“I was going through my Facebook messages,” Chris said. “A friend of hers who I didn’t really know, Madison Horn, had sent me a message that Maddie, the week before, had reached out to her and asked if there was anything she wanted her to do for her. (Maddie) said, ‘Will you help me get my mother a Mother’s Day gift?’ Even in the end she was thinking about others.”
Chris said Maddie’s last days were spent surrounded by family and friends — Maddie being the center of attention like she always was. Music was a common thread. Memories of concerts, music festivals and just singing in the rain.
Thursday Maddie’s friends and family filled the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Dadeville, the fellowship hall and more. Even the fifth floor of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where Maddie was treated for a rare form of ovarian cancer for six months and 19 days tuned in for a concert orchestrated by Maddie herself. Music hand selected by Maddie to provide motivation for others to continue life.
“She developed a playlist in her phone called ‘Maddie’s Funeral Songs,’” Chris said. “What 18 year old could do that? She had such grace. We can be sad and well at the same time. We are hurting and miss her greatly.
“I’m broken as her mother, I’m brokenhearted but I’m well because I know she is at her very best and she would want us to carry on with purpose.”
Maddie also helped with many other aspects of her funeral arrangements. Maddie played a role in Harper Grae’s country music video. Grae sang Amazing Grace and “Goodbye for Now,” and like so many others, fighting back tears.
Friend and high school classmate Shaylen Robinson shared a few of the many memories of her and Maddie together.
“Music was our thing,” Robinson said. “Maddie was my concert buddy. We had been going to music festivals for a while together. We would sing and dance as if there wasn’t a care in the world. With the windows rolled down on 280 we were creating our own concert.
“It didn’t matter where we were going, the music was all the way up and the windows all the way down.”
Even birthdays were music with Robinson gifting Maddie a record.
“Something small and simple, but great because we shared the love of music,” Robinson said.
Music may have brought Robinson and Maddie together in the ninth grade but their friendship was much more than sounds coming from the speaker of the Wheezer concert as Robinson and Maddie danced in the third row.
“Maddie was like a firework,” Robinson said. “When you hear about fireworks, you get excited to see them. Anytime I was going to see her or going on a trip with her I had that excitement. Anyone else can say the same. When a firework goes off, it is a beautiful burst of life and sparkles for everyone to see. Maddie had that sparkle.”
Maddie’s family saw the same “firecracker” Robinson did. It is a quality Chris inspired in her and Maddie’s family and should inspire others.
“Firecracker, that is a great term for her,” Chris said. “She was an amazing young person. I always say she was extra, she had that extra bit of stuff — very opinionated. I would say, ‘Maddie, that is not very nice.’ She would say, ‘You always tell me to tell the truth.’ She definitely needed to learn some tact. She would let you know what she thought. She was headstrong, full of adventure and full of life. She had fire in her. She had passion in her life.
It was Maddie’s determination that guided her through her battle with cancer.
“Maddie truly showed us strength, courage and grit,” Chris said. “She was amazing, very strong and had a will to live. Maddie wanted to beat this cancer. The whole time we had she would. Dr. (Joseph) Pressy said she was a trooper, a model patient. She did everything he asked her to do. She fought hard and wanted to go through the treatment as brutal as it was. She wanted to beat that cancer. It didn’t happen. It’s evil. I’ll say an ugly word but it is an evil cancer, but we always had hope and never gave up.”
Four rounds of chemo didn’t work. Immunotherapy didn’t either. It left Maddie with encephalitis, but it didn’t stop her from entertaining her friends or coming home.
“It was scary those few weeks there because she wasn’t our girl,” Chris said. “But she came back. Her brain, her mind healed. I think it was due to the power of prayer because everyone here was praying for her. When she came back, she had that humor. I had her on the phone with her friends on Facetime, ‘I’m back. My brain is better.’ She always kept her sense of humor.”
Robinson and friends could always depend on Maddie.
“Maddie’s spirit was contagious,” Robinson said. “She was unashamed. Maddie was there for her friends and she is the definition of a good friend. If you needed someone to talk to, she would listen. If you wanted to get your mind off something, she sure would get your mind off it. Just being herself she would make you laugh. There is nothing like her contagious laughter. You could hear it from a mile away and when you heard it you would laugh a little yourself.”
Maddie has friends everywhere — in Dadeville, at the First Baptist Church, Lee-Scott Academy, Auburn University and in the last seven months in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Pat Limbaugh was first introduced to the McClendon family in 1992 as she had children attending Auburn. Limbaugh met Chris and the two became instant friends. Years later Limbaugh would be by Maddie’s side as Maddie started at Lee-Scott and became a student who touched everybody’s life, teachers too.
Limbaugh said she realized Maddie would make an immediate impact on the school. Limbaugh informed Maddie she couldn’t be on the cheerleading squad because she had missed tryouts.
“She looked at me with a big grin and said, ‘That’s OK. I’m gonna play softball,’” Limbaugh said “I knew then she would make Lee-Scott a better place and she did.”
Staff at Lee-Scott all have stories about Maddie. She would visit Limbaugh in her office for the secret stash of candy.
“I don’t want that candy on your desk,” Maddie would tell Limbaugh.
“She knew exactly where it was kept,” Limbaugh said. “Maddie brought a lot of joy to me. We had great conversations. We had a lot of conversations where we laughed. We had a lot of conversations where we cried.”
Maddie’s adventures even stretched to the ‘Dadeville Limo’ as she and other students would travel from the area to Auburn to attend Lee-Scott. Maddie was in Mike Jerigan’s first period history class.
“They were often late — most days late,” Limbaugh said. “But he never sent them to the office to get a tardy pass. I think he showed them a little favoritism. Sometimes he would have a student call to see what time they would arrive at school. It became somewhat of a joke.”
The staff of the school even knew Maddie’s favorite food.
“If you asked any teacher at Lee Scott, they would tell you that Oreos dipped in peanut butter were Maddie’s favorite snack,” Limbaugh said. “Not just a snack. It could be her breakfast, it could be her morning break or her afternoon snack. It might even be her lunch. If there were Oreos and peanut butter around you would find Maddie.”
The stories are countless and everyone at Maddie’s celebration of life is sure of one thing.
“Can’t you imagine today, Jesus listening to her stories,” Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh was there when Maddie pledged Pi Beta Phi just weeks before Maddie’s diagnosis of small-cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type.
“She is my angel Pi Phi sister,” Limbaugh said.
Maddie’s mother is sure her daughter is in Heaven not just because of their conversations but the way Maddie lived life everyday caring for others before herself.
“She knew the Lord as her Savior,” Chris said. “She always had faith and never questioned why she had this cancer.
“As parents, we may question it, but she never questioned it. She knew where she was going.”
Chris believes the way Maddie loved others unconditionally can serve everyone.
“Think about the opportunity that you have to serve others, even in small ways,” Chris said. “Serve others and make the world a better place, I think that is what Maddie would want. Maddie is healed and she wants us to carry on. I think we can serve others through our work, through our lives being kingdom kids, kingdom parents and kingdom young people.
“Maddie’s life and journey have purpose. We believe it is for His glory. We believe she led people to Jesus. I know she led Christians to an even stronger prayer life because people tell me that.”
In her last days Maddie was showing everyone how to live life and serve others selflessly.
“When Maddie came home, she insisted she walk down the stairs to greet her family and friends who had gathered in the front yard,” Dadeville First Baptist Church pastor Dr. Ben Hayes said. “She sat down in her wheelchair as if it were her throne and as if she were the queen holding court.
“We all just kind of stood there because we didn’t know what else to do. With that typical #MaddieStrong, Maddie-smile on her face she said, ‘What are y’all waiting for? Come and give me a hug.’”
Maddie is gone but will never be forgotten. Chris said her daughter loved to travel and will accompany the family on future trips.
“The next time we take a trip we are going to put a picture of her on a pole and carry it around with us,” Chris said. “She was always ready to go.”
Hayes believes Maddie knew where she was going and was comfortable with what was soon to come wanting others to follow.
“If Maddie could say anything to us today I think she would say, ‘What are y’all waiting for?’” Hayes said. “She would want nothing more than to one day for us to join her in Heaven.
“This time she won’t be in a wheelchair. She will be standing with her arms open wide wanting to welcome you into that place where she longed to be. The only you are going to get there, is the way she got there, through the grace of God by placing your faith in Jesus Christ.
That is the faith that gave her the strength to be #MaddieStrong.”