Updated: Mar 17
Kevin Michael Kurisko
Hamilton, New Jersey
Many lives were changed forever – parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, friends, co-workers – when my son, Kevin Kurisko, died four years ago on March 7, 2013, at the age of 28 from a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose. Even in the subtlest of ways, he touched so many.
If you asked anyone what their memories of Kevin are, they would all include that he loved, he cared, he helped, he laughed, he smiled, and he struggled. His struggles were all too common as a person with a substance use disorder. Kevin’s death was as tragic and heart-wrenching as those of other people with substance use disorders.
Kevin wrote poetry that screamed of his demons with addiction:
Addiction is the friction between being submissive to a substance that listens
and resisting a drug-filled existence.
Persistence and resistance just not enough
It’s tough, it’s rough and land you in cuffs.
Itching under your skin, waiting for you to give the “OK” excuse,
you try to fight it but there’s just no use.
Truth, I don’t know why it’s captured my eye
It’ll make your brain fried while you’re walking the fine line.
You’re sittin’ in the middle digesting this riddle
of why I don’t stop, it’s playing my life like a fiddle.
Why must I do it? Why can’t I stop?
I swear I am going to… well maybe just one more pop.
More importantly and profoundly, I want to share with you how Kevin lived or wanted to live. After his death, we found an unfinished Bucket List of 68 items, written three years before. The list whispered his hopes and dreams, and some fears. He only had one item checked off - unfortunately, it wasn’t Item #1: Quit taking pills (this obviously was written before his progression to heroin). The rest describe a young man, not unlike others his age, who saw a future full of promise - Item #7: Get married; Item #23: Have children; Item #42: Trick or treat with my son (he didn’t have the chance to have children); or Item #6: Own a house (with) 3+ bedrooms.
Kevin loved playing and watching it soccer – Item #50: Coach a soccer team and Item #34: Go to a World Cup game were no surprise. He loved traveling, and when he was 21 years olf, he and I had an amazing cross-country trip from Colorado to New Jersey, where he picked all the music (turned out to be much of my old rock favorites from the 70s, and he couldn’t believe I knew all the words); this was before he gained a love for Doo-Wop music. On that trip, I taught him how to drive a stick-shift, we got caught up in Hurricane Katrina passing through Memphis, and the car broke down in Kansas – Item #10: Drive cross-country w/Mom (again) and Item #64: Go back to Beale St (Memphis).
He was also training to become a chef and often cooked for the family and planned holiday meals – Item #32: Own my own restaurant. And there was his fun and surprising side – Item #57: take part in a nude marathon, Item #41: Have a go at an ice cream eating contest; and Item #51: Learn how to swing dance. That’s my Kevin!
But there are at least two items on his list that I can check off for him: Item #48: Show my family how much I love them, and Item #39: Have someone thank me for saving their life. You see, we always knew how much he loved us; we knew it was within him even at his worst. He exuded love with his family and friends: he was love. And as far as Item #39 goes, I can thank him for saving my life. He saved my life when I was at the very edge of not wanting to go on. I may grieve Kevin’s death from the absolute depths of my being, every minute of every day, but it is because of him that I now strive to be a better person, live a better life that includes service, helping others however and whenever I can. It is because of him that I love deeper, experience nature with all my senses and have gratitude for many blessings. He lives on within me and in all those who knew him. Kevin, thank you for saving my life.
There’s no doubt that addiction is a disease, that the brain is wired differently in those with substance use disorders; that their pleasure sensors react differently than others. Addiction is not a moral failing – it affects everyone because it steals the lives of people, who beyond their addiction, are also poets, teachers, chefs, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, and other contributing members of the community. We all know someone or know someone who knows someone with the disease. We all need to be a part of the solution. We need to stop the over-prescribing of opioid drugs, ensure access and coverage for treatment. 144 deaths a day in the US, and the cause of most deaths under the age of 50, is not acceptable.