Community remembers Maddie
East Lyme — Madeline Guarraia, a 9-year-old girl whose courage and smile inspired thousands and led to an outpouring of support from the community and beyond, died Wednesday morning after fighting cancer.
Madeline, a fourth-grade student at Lillie B. Haynes, was battling her third bout of cancer. She had received a bone marrow transplant from her younger brother in 2015, but later relapsed.
"....With the deepest sadness imaginable, and shattered hearts, our family would like to share that Madeline earned her angel wings early this morning," a Wednesday afternoon posting on the "Mad About Madeline" Facebook page said.
More than 26,000 people followed the page, with photos of Madeline smiling with her family and friends and poignant posts written by her mother, Amie.
Lawn signs across town and in neighboring communities proclaimed “Roar on Maddie” and “We (love) Maddie.” She inspired bone marrow drives and fundraisers to combat childhood cancers.
In December, supporters and more than 70 businesses and organizations, from Niantic to Rhode Island, participated in “Madeline’s Wish Toy Drive,” collecting items to donate to children battling illnesses at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Hundreds of people also sang Christmas carols on the lawn of the Guarraia’s home in December.
In a letter Wednesday, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton and Assistant Superintendent Donna Gittleman extended their condolences to the Guarraia family and informed the school community of Madeline's passing.
“We ask that you remember and celebrate Madeline’s life as our school community grieves this loss,” they wrote.
The administrators said there are “support teams prepared at every school, and our professional staff across the district will provide the necessary assistance for our Lillie B. Haynes School staff, students, and community.”
A link with resources for grief management also is posted on the school district’s website.
More than 800 people responded to a recent “Mad About Madeline” Facebook post from her mother, who asked if people would like to share “how witnessing her fight and spirit has helped you or changed you in some way.”
“... When I see how brave and strong Madeline has been through this and how she manages to smile during the tough times, I can’t thank her enough for being a teacher to us all,” wrote Elaine Bechard Peluso on Facebook. “She has taught me to be strong. She has taught me to smile more and complain less. She has taught me to enjoy the little things in life. She has taught me the importance of family and friends. She has taught me the importance of community. She has taught me the importance of faith. She has taught me that life, no matter how long or short, is meant to be LIVED. (AND that we need to support cancer research)”
“As an adult, I’m supposed to already know these things, but sometimes it takes someone like Madeline to remind us...” she wrote.
Amy Parulis, a family friend and an organizer of the holiday toy drive, posted last week on social media a letter to Madeline that reflected on the girl's smile, spirit and strength.
"You are, hands down, the most amazing kid I know," she wrote. "You have single handily touched thousands of people's lives, including mine...."