He was too big for this life.
“Here is something that says a lot about my son,” said Sam’s mother Angie. “He never pretended to like someone he didn’t.”
At ﬁrst glance, it seems like a harsh statement—but Sam was anything but unkind. It was as if he had a sixth sense for reading people, though he never let his opinions of people change how he treated them. He was never rude to people he didn’t like, just quietly declined their company. Honest and unafraid to defy the norm, Sam valued people who said what they meant and were true to themselves.
Sam’s family loved him for his forthrightness, his unique perspective, and his big hugs—and he loved them just as much in return. As a child, he eagerly waited for Terrance, his older brother, to return from school every day to play with him. He and his younger brother, Spencer, always had each other’s backs but never hesitated to call each other out. And while Sam had to watch his baby sister Lauryn grow up from afar, he vowed to protect her.
Sam could think up stories using nothing but a cardboard box and his rich imagination. As he grew, this creativity contributed to a variety of hobbies. He designed his own tattoos and wrote his own music; he loved reading, writing, and diving into introspective discussions about life. It was easy to lose himself in his thoughts, but Sam never lost sight of the world around him. An avid lover of the outdoors, he spent time ﬁshing, hunting, climbing, and exploring. He also paid attention to social issues and was at once direct and eloquent with his opinions. He was a deep thinker, a keen observer, and wise beyond what his age suggested.
After a while, however, it all became overwhelming. He grew frustrated with society, the world, and himself. “He was overwhelmed with thoughts of how to get where he wanted to be,” Angie said. “He had no idea he was supposed to get there just like anyone else: one step at a time.”
Sam began using drugs at ﬁfteen. He dropped out of high school and moved between treatment, jail, prison, and halfway houses for the next eight years. His experience with addiction forced him to grow up quickly, but didn’t stop his learning. He earned his GED and nurtured friendships in all situations.
As his substance dependency deepened, he began to lie and steal. He grew delusional and paranoid, withdrawing from his family even when he knew they would do anything for him. The toughest part, they shared, was “knowing how likely we were to lose him. It was feeling like we had so much love to give, and it wasn’t enough.”
Angie is an advocate for honest and vulnerable conversations about addiction. She is writing a blog about her experience and is preparing to launch a podcast to keep Sam’s memory alive.
On Sam’s obituary page, a friend commented on one of the many profound ways he touched her life. When a family member was dealing with addiction, he gave her this advice:
“Be supportive and try to be understanding. Try not to make someone choose between you and a substance. Both paths are bad. Love unconditionally, but also love yourself. Promote honesty and prove to them that they can be honest with you.”
Sam’s mother, Angie Kennedy, provided the information for this narrative.
May 16, 1999-November 4, 2022–Age 23
Portrait Artist: Jeremy Hebbel
Narrative Writer: Angela Day