Michael Joseph Burgess Jr.

Michael Joseph Burgess Jr.

Energetic, adventurous, curious, kind-hearted

Michael was “100% boy” according to his mother, Christine. From the time he could walk Michael was an energetic, rambunctious little ball of fire. He was curious, determined and had a mind of his own. He lived life on his own terms. Michael spent time with his younger brothers, Garry, Cole and Jacob, dirt bike riding, hunting and fishing. “Nature was therapeutic to Michael. In fact, his headstone reads; Huntin’, Fishin’ and Luvin’ Every Day, from a Luke Bryan song that describes Michael to a T. When Michael was younger, he and his dad, Michael Sr., loved fishing together, but hunting was a challenge, as Michael loved to be in constant motion. His mom suspects he had undiagnosed ADHD.

In summer the family went crabbing and to see grandparents in Lynchburg where the boys roamed their six acres doing outdoor activities and looking for bears. Domestic animals loved Michael, especially cats. His future plans included getting a blue-eyed Huskie.

Michael loved tattoos, liked to draw and loved music. Fishing was his saving grace; it calmed his mind. Michael made the most of each moment, he was fearless, confident and always smiling. “He made an effort to look his best. He wanted to be that person with a good job, and a girlfriend,” Christine said. ‘And he had a unique chuckle that just made your day.’

Michael was smart, but unfulfilled in school. The school nurse routinely called to say Michael had a stomach ache and needed to go home. Once home, Michael magically felt better. At about 15, Michael was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the system. It didn’t have to happen, as the infraction was minor. That experience caused him to lose trust in law enforcement and the court system. Michael spent time in jail among criminals. “That is when I truly lost my Michael,” Christine stated, ‘and where the system and society needs to change.’ “He couldn’t steady the boat after that, no matter how hard he tried.”

It was one impulsive decision to try opioids that sent Michael spiraling into a heroin addiction. He became withdrawn and depressed, and lost zest for life. When he asked for help, there were so many excuses by the professionals; insurance, paperwork or other reasons for delays. He was in crisis and he felt like no one was concerned about his well-being, like he wasn’t worth it. This caused him to hate himself and feel beaten down. When he did get into treatment, “it was not nearly long enough for his brain to heal,” his mother said. In time, he would relapse. He was let down by those who should have helped him. He asked his mom, “Why can’t anyone fix me, why doesn’t anyone care?”

“Michael was a loving, caring, kind and compassionate person, and a good son. We had a special bond. We cried and laughed together,” Christine shared. ‘Michael’s last words to me were “stay strong.” He knew I loved him and didn’t give up on him.’ Christine is determined to change the system that failed Michael. “I will strive to convince those in health care, courtrooms, law enforcement, and others that people who have a substance use disorder are still people with potential. Yes, they may have made poor decisions at times, but that doesn’t mean they can’t rise back up. Instead of putting them down, help them realize their worth,” she said. ‘My Michael mattered.’

Michael’s mother, Christine, provided the information for this narrative.

January 18, 1994-November 24, 2016-Age 22

Portrait Artist: Theresa Clower

Narrative Writer: Barbara Francois

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