Young woman with baby

Sarah Michelle Burris, August 13, 1992 -- October 14, 2021

Below this introduction is the obituary for Sarah Michelle Burris, who passed from a drug overdose in October. The obituary was written by her mother who wrote it “early one morning after not sleeping very much. The words are straight from my heart.”

“The love I have for my daughter never changed throughout the addiction,” Rhonda Burris told the Free Press. “I loved her every day the same as the day she was born. I miss her so very much, we all do. She was a beautiful soul.”

Sarah’s obituary first appeared in a London, Ohio, weekly paper, where Sarah was born and raised. We reprint it here because it reflects what we are learning from the “Saint of Sullivant Avenue” – Esther Flores.

Flores works tirelessly at her drop-in safehouse to take care of the “Street Sisters” who travel up and down Sullivant. Esther knew Sarah and used some of the exact same words to describe Sarah as her mother did. “She was a beautiful soul. Kind and polite.”

Sarah’s mother confirmed that her daughter’s battle against addiction was mostly fought on Sullivant Avenue, a long-time hotspot for trap houses.

“People need to stop judging those suffering from substance abuse,” says Esther whose nonprofit is 1DIVINELINE2HEALTH. “No woman should be left out in the cold. We are in a public health crisis nationally and locally with the opiate overdoses and the only solution is loving the hell out of people with harm reduction services like we do.”

By Rhonda Burris the mother of Sarah

Sarah Michelle Burris, age 29, passed away Thursday, October 14, 2021, after a long battle with addiction.

Born August 13, 1992, in London, she was the cherished daughter of Rhonda (Adkins) and Michael Burris.

Sarah was an amazing person with the biggest heart and most beautiful smile. She could light up any room with her energy and crazy sense of humor. Sarah was adventurous and free spirited. She was a member of the track and cross-country teams, the London High School marching band where she was the Field Commander. Sarah loved to draw, crochet, listen to music and twirl her baton. Sarah loved her family deeply, wanted to adopt every animal she saw and would do anything for anyone.

For many years Sarah fought a heroic battle with addiction. She had been in recovery for 4 months, but the addiction had such a powerful hold on her and ended her life way too soon. She successfully completed drug rehab several times, but the fierce battle was more than she could overcome. Hers/ours was a 13-year struggle. Many loved ones did everything they could do to get her to stop, but addiction won the battle. She fought like a warrior every step of the way. 

To the people who do not understand addiction she is just another statistic that chose to make a bad decision; a very uneducated statement but I know it is what will be said along with other hurtful statements. We do not care though. For those of you who do understand, this is our baby, our first-born child, our daughter, our first real true love. She was a sister, a mother, a niece, a granddaughter, a friend, a cousin, a human being with an addiction. She turned to drugs to make her feel normal like everyone else. We wished she had recognized the beauty and strength that everyone else saw in her.

It is not true that everything happens for a reason. The reality of Sarah’s death is beyond devastating. There is no possible reason to justify the loss of this beautiful young woman who had so much to give to the world. Sarah’s struggle has ended. She has finally found the peace she was so desperately searching for here on earth. The day Sarah died a part of us died with her. We will miss her every day for the rest of our lives. Our lives will never be the same, but we will always cherish the memories and time we spent together. 

Sarah is survived by her mother Rhonda (Adkins) Burris, father Michael Burris, sister Kristin Burris, daughter Gianna Burris and grandfather James Delong; many aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. 

She was preceded in death by grandparents Kenneth and Patricia (Fife) Adkins, Grandmother Linda (Hoover) Burris Delong, Aunt Theresa Adkins, Cousins Tara Burris, Robert “Rob” Petee and Nathaniel “Dean” Huffman.

How Sarah was drawn to Sullivant Avenue

She began experimenting with pills introduced to her in high school, said Rhonda.

“She became quite rebellious at age 16 and just did the opposite of everything she was told,” said Sarah’s mother. “She also had an eating disorder that also got worse. My father and his father were alcoholics so there’s a genetic predisposition as well.”

There are too many factors behind Sarah’s addiction to name. Some more obvious than others. Some more mind-boggling and soul crushing. There’s Big Pharma’s role in the epidemic, for instance. Dublin-based Cardinal Health in particular, still denies it’s role even though it’s been fined repeatedly by the US Drug Enforcement Administration for distributing tens-of-millions of oxycodones and hydrocodones to small town America. And then earlier this year the very people who swore an oath to protect and help Columbus “Street Sisters” were arrested for selling huge amounts of “fetty” and cocaine.

Sarah was in a sober living home four months prior to her death, said her mother.

“I want you to know I did every single thing I could do,” said Rhonda. “I never stopped fighting for her. I fought tooth and nail and lost. I even ‘let go and God’ [to let go of things out of your control] but the outcome was still the same. I tried and tried to save her but I just couldn’t.”

Even as she battled addiction, Sarah had a need to help other addicts who frequent Sullivant.

“She truly was one of the kindest, caring people I have ever met,” said her mother. “Since her death I have received numerous messages from people she had helped throughout the years. It was heartwarming.”

Esther Flores keeps telling the community: “Stop judging.”

“The systems have failed because they lack compassion and they capitalize from human suffering, and also are unavailable at the times that are needed,” said Esther.  

“Unless they don’t change their hours of operation they will continue to feed into the genocide. Organizations like 1DIVINELINE2HEALTH are shafted by the so-called experts who focus on incarceration, and that is not rehabilitation.”

“We all know in the trenches drop-in centers are effective, but they are not supported by the Big Wigs,” she continued. “A few leaders in Columbus are trying to support our efforts but there is too much red tape. We only survive by bartering with smaller organizations and we get stronger despite the pandemic which has caused thousands to be homeless, hopeless, and to self-medicate. We will stand for them no matter what because that is what love does.”