submitted by his daughter, Haley Bender

He loved movies and had thousands in his collection

Mike on the water in Wisconsin

Dad loved movies, fishing, hunting and working at his workbench. He loved going up to our cabin in Wisconsin and taking the boat on the water. He would go up many times for deer and mushroom hunting when in season.

There were so many times when I was little that he would help me make something on his workbench, like a table for my Barbies, or I would spend my time drawing on his workbench while he would work on fixing or making things. 

My favorite memory from when I was little

When I was really young, he would pick me up from the babysitters when he got off work early every Friday, and we would go to Wendy’s and have lunch together.

He was great, funny and goofy

I want my dad to be remembered for the person he was and not what the disease of addiction made him to be. He was a great, funny and goofy guy. He was always picking on me and trying to embarrass me. He spent way too much time fixing or making things for the house, and he loved Tarantino movies, like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. I’ve started watching some of them now that I am grown. We didn’t really watch children’s movies. One Christmas we watched The Shining together, though. 

His geatest pride

I think my dad was most proud of his kids. He said he always wanted a boy and a girl, and that’s what he got.

How Dad became involved with drugs

Around the time I was born, my dad was working at Sara Lee. The lift of a delivery truck broke, and he got hurt. He had several surgeries for herniated discs and was prescribed hydrocodone for the pain, and he quickly became addicted. I remember many times where I now know he was sick from withdrawal and was always asking other people for some Vicodin. It was just life, the way I grew up. My brother was 20 years older than me and was on the same journey. He was in and out of jail. My dad was always there, so it never seemed so bad. 

Things might not have always been easy, and he may have made mistakes in the past, but they shouldn’t define him. He tried, and to me that’s what matters. He really didn’t make the choices. He was prescribed the pills that started his addiction. Later, he had many hip problems and needed many hip replacements, which only added to his pain.

How Dad fought opioid-use disorder

Mike and Haley

He struggled with this disease for my whole life, so for about 19 years when he died. He had told me many times he wanted to go to rehab for pills and alcohol, but sadly he never made it there. He had tried to go clean again a few days before he died. 

When he died

On February 7, 2016, I had decided to go to church with a boyfriend of mine. When it was over, I checked my phone and had some notifications from my cousin messaging me saying I needed to call her. This was not normal, as I don’t talk to my dad’s side of the family, and when I didn’t respond within a half hour (because I was in church and didn’t have my phone on), she sent another message: “Your dad died this morning. If you have any questions feel free to call.” I walked as fast as I could to the bathroom and collapsed in tears. I just remember crying a lot. Soon after, I called my mom. My cousin had called and told her already, so we met at home and picked up my sister then went to Rockford to see what happened. When we got there, we found out that he had been addicted to heroin for the past year or two. At first, we thought he had overdosed on Valium because he had been trying to get clean. We later found out it was an overdose on heroin.

When my dad died, we hadn’t talked in almost three months. I know now it was because of the drugs and the problems he had going on. I was angry, at first, that he had gone from pills to heroin. Now I am angry at the disease. 

If I could say one thing to him now, it would be

I wish I could tell him how much he is missed and loved. I want to share his story so others can understand and maybe even learn from it, too.

He deserved a better ending

My dad was great and gave me everything I could ever want when I was younger. He deserved a better ending. I want people to see that this is a disease, and it does affect everyone and could happen to anyone. I want people to see that just because someone is an addict does not mean they are a bad person. The stigma of addiction is terrible and needs to be invalidated.