Compassionate, witty, adventurous, friendly, skillful
Matt was a dreamer, a fixer, a dog whisperer, a friend. With a smile that lit up the room, he made friends as easily as he breathed and earned their love with his quick wit, his compassion, and his caring nature.
As a child, Matt was a daredevil. He had a taste for thrills and adventure—whether it was racing his motocross bike in competitions or sneaking through the house in search of hidden Christmas gifts. Sometimes, it would manifest in tricks he played on his older brother Mike. The two brothers shared a close relationship and often boated, hunted, and fished together. They were “just the best of friends,” their mother Marybeth said.
Matt had dreams of owning a house on the beach and opening his own auto repair shop. “Matt could fix anything,” Marybeth shared. “Even as a young boy, he had a skill that was a natural gift. Anything that broke he could repair, making it better than it was before it broke”—even the ripped wrapping paper on those Christmas gifts he found and opened. After high school, Matt attended Delaware Tech and trained in automotive repair. He took his skills and his warm smile with him to Lewes Beach, where he bought his house on the beach and opened his auto repair business.
Matt’s struggle with addiction began with a prescription for OxyContin following back surgery. The dreams he had worked to achieve unraveled; he lost his beach house and moved back home with his mother. Though he made significant efforts to pull himself up and seek help, his experience with the medical community revealed the harmful stigma against persons suffering from Substance Use Disorder. As a registered nurse, one of their visits to the ER appalled Marybeth.“It made me so angry,” she confessed. “I saw firsthand how people suffering from SUD were treated as unworthy, and how society judged them.”
Matt continued to make friends at his Sober Home. After his death, one of these friends shared a story of his incredible kindness and compassion. The friend reached out, distraught after relapsing and wanting to die because he was so ashamed. Matt didn’t abandon him; for the entire night, he stayed with his friend, talking him into going into treatment again. After that night, Matt continued to support his friend through his journey and work with him when he was at home. He expressed a desire to return to school to become an addiction counselor and continue to help those struggling through the same things he was enduring.
His patience and compassion extended to furry, four-legged friends, too. His friends and family called him a “dog whisperer”— taming even the most difficult of dogs, and never giving up on them even when everyone else had. Matt’s passion for rescuing dogs led him to keep four of his own and treat them like his children.
Matt’s memory and dedication to helping others live on in his mother’s work. Marybeth is advocating for parity in the insurance industry regarding SUD. She has worked with Delaware senators to pass six bills related to the treatment of SUD and has shared Matt’s story in Congress. Her book Letters to Matt discusses her life following her son’s death, and her initiative “A Hug from Matt” delivers backpacks to unhoused people struggling with SUD. She hopes that her efforts will encourage others to approach this deadly disease with compassion and empathy instead of stigma.
Matt’s mother, Marybeth Cichocki, provided the information for this narrative.
July 30, 1977–January 3, 2015- Age-37
Portrait Artist: Jeremy Hebbel
Narrative Writer: Angela Day