Jackery-Lin Burgess adopted her son’s twin boys about a year ago, and becoming their guardian has breathed “new life” into her everyday routine.
The twins turned 4 years old in September, and Burgess retired about six months ago, “to give them quality of life, and to make up from when I used to use (drugs) and my sons never have me,” she said.
Burgess, who is now 27 years sober, said she became heavily addicted to drugs at 30 after her stepson from her first marriage died. She was living with her second husband at the time, who she said abused her. The two eventually found themselves homeless living at Makua Beach.
“I just had my rubber slipper and one bag with clothes inside,” Burgess said. “I was homeless for like three or four years.”
When her sisters took her two youngest sons, and her family began threatening to call the police on her, Burgess said she realized she couldn’t continue living the way she was.
“I was lonely, I was heartbroken, I wanted to kill myself,” she said. “I just lost everything. And everything means not material stuff. I lost myself.”
Burgess checked herself into rehab where she did well. There, she divorced her husband and eventually took on an intern position. Her experiences made her well-suited to helping others through their struggles with drug abuse and domestic violence.
Once she realized her calling, Burgess continued working in counseling until her retirement. Some of her work included running groups, counseling youth struggling with drug abuse, and working from home answering calls made on the domestic violence hotline number.
Another challenge arose when she heard that her oldest son and his girlfriend were expecting twin boys.
Burgess said she had dreamed of the twins before they were conceived, and immediately knew that she needed to adopt them. But after a paternity test, the family realized that the twins, who were born only two seconds apart, had separate fathers. She said only one of the twins’ DNA matched with her son’s.
Her son and his girlfriend struggled with addiction throughout the pregnancy, and the twins were immediately put into the state Department of Human Services foster care system when they were born, she said.
Adopting them soon became a test of patience and determination in itself. Being a former drug user, single, over 60 years old and Native Hawaiian all wound up being factors working against her, she said. On top of that, two other families voiced claims to the twins.
After four years of fighting for the twins in court, Burgess was granted permission to adopt them in August.
Now, the three of them live together at her house in Waianae. Her son visits the twins on weekends and they Zoom with their mother regularly.
“My whole goal is to make sure they are happy,” Burgess said. “I get to learn more and more about them. It takes my breath away sometimes.”
The twins’ parents are currently in recovery, she said.
Reflecting on her life, Burgess compared her story to being stuck at sea.
“Many times, I started to fight the current ’cause I got scared,” she said. “But I could see Waianae, Nanakuli. I could see my home, my family, the shoreline, my children, my sisters, my aunties, my uncles, my friends. I can see all the children — the kids that is in domestic violence. … And as I rode out the current, it got me home where I belong.”
Any donations they would receive through the Good Neighbor Fund would help her give her grandsons a better Christmas, she said.
She hopes to buy them a scooter, a tablet, and to eventually buy herself a truck. But regardless of how much they receive, just knowing that there are people willing to donate fills her with hope and gratitude.
“It’s a humbling time for me, but it’s also a blessing,” Burgess said. “And it’s not about what they’re giving, it’s about how they’re giving. … It brings hope, it brings joy and it brings the aloha spirit.”
Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.