Zac on the pier
in Santa Cruz, CA
On September 2, 2017, we received a phone call that forever changed our lives. It was a call that no parent ever wants to receive: telling us that our beautiful son Zac was gone. This moment is forever embedded in my memory. The only thing that kept playing over and over again in my mind was that there had to have been some kind of mistake. This could not be real. I literally had just talked to Zac. He was in California, getting on an airplane. He was coming home. His last words to me were, "Mom, I just want to be home with my family. I can't wait to come home. I love you mom."
My husband Chris and I were blessed with 3 wonderful sons. Zac is our middle child, born between his older brother Nic and his younger brother Christopher. We are a very close family, always together. Our house was always full of boys, loud voices and their laughter. Boys constantly wrestling around in any room they happened to be in. Sounds that I loved. Our driveway and yard served as a neighborhood arena for skateboarding, rollerblading, obstacle courses, games of capture the flag, or whatever football, baseball, basketball game was taking place that day. Our laundry hampers were full of sweaty, muddy football and lacrosse uniforms and of course our kitchen was full of a lot of food. Above all, because of our boys and their friends, our house was very full of love.
Our boys were what I consider to be normal boys. They played hard, worked hard and loved hard. They were raised with good morals and virtues, good manners were a must, and unconditional love.
Zac was a kindhearted person from the time he was little. He was "all boy," yet very kind, funny, and always making light of any situation. He was a very determined person and very strong-willed. That's what made his (our) journey with drugs so hard to understand. People say, "just quit," and, because of the stigma and lack of education, people, (including ourselves in the beginning), do not understand the magnitude and the effects opioids have on the brain. Zac made one bad choice. The choice he later told us about: a group of friends together, all good kids from good families, OxyContin from a dad's medicine cabinet, one pill, one bad choice initiated by curiosity, lives changed forever.
Zac was a fighter, and if anyone could fight this battle and win, it would be him. That's how I wrap my head around the magnitude of this chronic brain disease and the control it takes of a person's brain. Because Zac was not a quitter, nor did he lack in character. Zac was a genuinely good person to his core. Ask anyone who had the privilege of knowing him.
During his 5 year battle, Zac had great times. Times when he was "in charge" of his life and thriving. After graduating from college, Zac decided to pursue one of his dreams. Move to California, learn to surf, and work in a surf shop. Thanks to his Indy friend Ollie who was living in Santa Cruz and Pearson Arrow Surf Shop, Zac was able to live this dream. The ocean made Zac happy. Surfing and the ocean were healing for him.
His last battle began after he had to have a tonsillectomy on 6/19/17. Prior to this surgery, Zac was thriving. He had just signed up for classes to become an architect, another dream he had had since he was 5 years old. Enter surgery...Enter pain medicine...
Zac's Football #
Zac suffered immensely from the stigma that surrounds opioid addiction. He was so ashamed of himself. He was so very sad. Thinking back on our daily conversations and reading through his journals, I now understand even more profoundly the depth of his shame and sadness. It breaks my heart. He tried his best to hide his addiction from everyone. He had always been that person who everyone went to if they needed help. Zac was the person his friends and family could always count on.
Because of the stigma, when Zac needed his friends and family the most, a lot of people weren't there for him. Of course Zac noticed this and it crushed his heart, causing depression, anxiety and solitude. He was always good at putting on a happy face and making others feel better. Some days were especially difficult for him. I remember him telling me several times, "Mom, I just want to be normal again."
Christopher, Nic and Zac
The Burton boys
Christopher, Chris, Nic, Jennifer and Zac
5/6/2017 Our last family photo
As we forge forward, our family has chosen to help others in their fight against addiction. We know in our hearts, this is what Zac would want. Zac was genuine, generous and selfless. He was always there to give you a meaningful hug and didn't hold back his "I love you's". Zac was an amazing person and we are proud to honor Zac's true character, his morals, his life and his huge heart.
With the vision of Zac's bright smile, his beautiful blue eyes and his giving spirit leading the way, Zac43Foundation will make a difference. Our hope is to help heal those struggling, put a smile back on their the faces, and help bring peace to the hearts of their families who struggle right alongside of them.
We wish we could've done more for Zac and been better educated for him. Through Zac43Foundation, we continue to fight this battle alongside many others to help end this opioid epidemic that took our son, and has taken so many of those we love.
Zacary Edward Vincent Burton,
You were a joy in my life since the second you were born and your light will continue to shine on forever in my heart. Living without you is not easy. Every day is a challenge. Some more difficult than others. Each morning requires an inner strength I ever knew existed. Some mornings...no matter how far down inside I reach, there's nothing, except a broken heart, emptiness, and profound sadness.
Knowing I can't pick up the phone and call you, not being able to hug you, hear your voice, dance with you in the kitchen, make funny faces with you, hear your laugh, see your face or hear you say' "I love you mom," is heart wrenching. When I need strength, I think of you. I embrace all of the stories that have been told by so many people who's lives you touched. The never-ending"Zac stories" that I welcome with an open heart.
For some reason a revolving door comes to mind. With every revolution a different person emerges from the door and hands us a "gift." A story about Zac. Some funny, some heart-warming, but none surprising. I hope that revolving door never stops, because those "gifts" are priceless to our family. Those stories are what keep us going.
Zac, you inspire me to be a better person, because in your short 27 years, 10 months and 9 days, you were able to open your heart and share your gifts of love, joy, humor and compassion to more people than most do in a lifetime.
One of the best gifts I've ever gotten were the times you told me I was your best friend. An honor I will preciously hold in my heart for eternity. I hope you, Nic and Christopher know just how privileged I feel to be your mom.
I'm so sorry I couldn't help you more.
I will forever be loving and missing you Zac, until as promised we meet again.
Zac and Christopher
Santa Cruz, CA
Thank you to those who have so generously donated your time and money to honor Zac. Giving us the opportunity as we forge forward to help so many others in need of support and education.
We will not stop fighting.