John Waters

John Gerard Waters

Shy, funny, kind, witty, empathetic

Battling anxiety and depression for most of his life, John often struggled to see his self-worth. To anyone who met him, however, there was no question: hardworking, good-humored, and always ready to help, John was the genuine article. His classic “All-American Kid” good looks drew the attention of admirers, but it was his radiant personality that kept them.

John was a quiet child who shied away from the spotlight. School was a challenge for him, but he made plenty of friends with his warm, open-minded nature. Only one factor determined who his friends were: kindness.

“John was like that his whole life,” his mother Liz said. “Race, sexuality, disabilities–he never saw them as identifying factors. It was always ‘they were nice’ or ‘they weren’t.”

Though he never saw it himself, his kindness cemented him as a leader amongst his peers. Later in life, it would shine through his interactions with his coworkers, clients, and the people he met at AA meetings. Offering rides and a place to sleep, buying meals, and sharing his experience with Substance Use Disorder, John was an ever-reliable friend.

John was the oldest of three siblings, though it often felt like more. When they weren’t at the swim club, the “Waters’ Kids” entertained the neighborhood children who stopped by the house. Following John’s passing, one of his brother Danny’s friends left a message for the family saying, “I want you to know he gave me the greatest childhood. I was lucky to spend so much time at your house with John. He made my childhood so much fun. Danny was lucky.”

John decided against having his own children. Instead, he and his girlfriend Caitlyn rescued two dogs, Bruno and Chee-Chee, and he took on the role of “funcle”–the fun uncle–to his sister Jessica’s children. He filled his days with teaching himself guitar and writing music, acting, collecting graphic novels and action figures, going to the beach, and being with his family.

Although John worked towards becoming a certified electrician, his true strength lay in working with people. Mentoring students with special needs as a high school junior ignited this passion, and it never faded. He held many jobs throughout his life but always returned to working with students with special needs. Wherever he worked—whether it was as a paraprofessional at an elementary school or as a cashier at Whole Foods—his coworkers and supervisors overflowed with his praises. They never could understand why he resigned. John often resigned when his SUD began taking over.

Genetics worked against John, despite his family’s swift action to get him medical attention. He struggled with addiction for over half his life. He continuously worked towards recovery and tried to keep from affecting his loved ones, but the unpredictable nature of SUD made it impossible.

The day before John died was Mother’s Day. He and Caitlyn took their dogs to the beach to spend time with his parents. After they left, Liz sent him a text telling him how much she appreciated them stopping by and how proud she was of him. The next day, he was gone.

John’s mother continues to work with organizations that combat stereotypes of SUD and support those recovering from addiction. She began a group called People Empowering People (PEP) in which volunteers with lived experience coach families through navigating this disease. When asked to sum up her son, Liz offered, “He was more valuable than he ever realized.”

John’s mother, Liz Waters, provided the information for this narrative.

November 1, 1981-May 11, 2020-Age 38

Portrait Artist: Shawn Faust

Narrative Writer: Angela Day

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