Madonna Badger returns to work for first time since tragic fire

Nearly 19 months after enduring the loss of her three young daughters and her parents in a house fire on Christmas, Madonna Badger has returned to work.

Badger is back at her desk at her successful Badger & Winters ad agency in Manhattan, which she runs with partner Jim Winters, according to a report by Women’s Wear Daily. Badger, 49, spent a majority of her recovery time during the past year at Psychiatric Research Institute at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock after having previously been to three different mental institutions. She has tried to find solace in continuing her work at the agency, which counts Avon Products, Living Proof and Clairol Natural Instincts among its clients.

“I really have to do it a day at a time,’’ Badger told WWD. “When I’m in this, right now, I’m great. I know that I’m OK, we’re going in the right direction. I’m taking good care of myself, I’m reaching out.”

On Christmas Day in 2011, a blaze in Badger’s home in Stamford, Conn., claimed the lives of daughters Lily, 9, twins Grace and Sarah, 7, and her parents, Lomer Johnson, 71, and Pauline Johnson, 69. In an appearance on TODAY on Dec. 6, 2012, close to the one-year anniversary of the fire, Badger admitted to Matt Lauer that she had suicidal thoughts in the immediate aftermath and that she sees her children in her dreams.

"I really have to do it a day at a time,'' Madonna Badger told Women's Wear Daily after returning to work after the tragedy. Today

“Once when I was having a level 10, the worst sort of crisis, (where it) feels like blood is coming out of my eyes, Sarah came to me in the mirror and she said, ‘Mommy, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Everything is going to be OK,’’’ Badger said on TODAY.

Madonna Badger: My daughters talk to me in my dreams

This past Christmas, she sought out a “Santa Claus-free zone” by traveling to visit a girls orphanage in Thailand, where she gave them toys belonging to her daughters that were salvaged from the fire. Badger also has created the Lily Sarah Grace Fund in memory of her daughters to support arts education in public schools. Dealing with her feelings regarding the loss of her family has been a crucial step in being able to return to work.

“When I try to run away from them, it doesn’t work,” she told WWD. “But when I invite them and talk to my girls and they talk back to me, I firmly believe they are in a beautiful, wonderful, loving place. I don’t have bitterness."

For her daughter Lily's birthday on Aug. 29, Badger put on a pretty outfit and tried to look her best for the occasion.

“I wanted to show the world that I am OK. I love my children and I am not going to fade away," she said.

Slowly, Badger is recovering. "Every day I get more and more acceptance of what’s really happened and what’s really happening, " she told WWD. "Every day is accepting. I used to wake up every morning and not remember that [the family members] were gone and I’d have to re-remember every day.”

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A strong support group of friends and extended family have also helped her heal, including many of the people she befriended while at the Psychiatric Research Institute. A large group of them held a banner that read "We Love Madonna'' during her Dec. appearance on TODAY.

“These people have showered me with so much love and given me hope,’’ Badger said on TODAY. “I never felt judged. I always felt like they were there for me through a million cards and texts and e-mails and dropping into my house.”

Madonna Badger questions cause of Christmas day fire

During Badger’s recovery in Ark., which included living with friend Kate Askew and her husband for four months, Winters expanded the ad agency. He moved it into a bigger office, grew the staff and added clients.

“We knew there was going to come a moment when she was not only going to want to come back, she was going to come back,” Winters told WWD. “Our job was to make sure she came back to the healthiest, most vital situation possible.”