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Michael Dennis Sanchez passed away unexpectedly Sunday, October 11, 2009. He was 57 years old.

Michael was born in Westwood, California on May 5, 1952. He moved to Chico with his parents at the age of four and has resided in the Chico area ever since. Michael was the son of Verna Iola Atkins, of Native American descent and Peter Daniel Sanchez, a first generation Spanish immigrant.

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth "Beth" Fisher-Sanchez and his stepson, Austen Fisher. He is also survived by two brothers, Dan and Tony Sanchez; two nephews, Peter Boracci and Tommy Sanchez; and three nieces, Kelly Furtado, Treena Tipton, and Theresa Boracci.

Michael has been active in the Chico community in many different careers over last few decades. Michael attended Chico High School and went on to a Bachelor's degree in Microbiology from UC Davis, and a Master's degree in Psychology from Chico State. He was a Paramedic for ten years and could often be found working in the emergency room at Enloe, in the days when it was known as Community Hospital. He also worked as a volunteer fireman in Chico and in Yuba City. Michael taught courses in Biology and Anatomy at Butte College. He also trained other health workers in first aide, CPR, and wilderness rescue. For fifteen years, Michael worked the weekends as a popular whitewater rafting guide with the River Runners rafting company at the American River. Michael's interest in personal growth and spirituality eventually led him to a career in marriage and family therapy. He worked for Prop 36 in Oroville and Chico for the last seven years, assisting clients with drug and alcohol issues. He also shared a private family therapy practice in Chico with his wife, Beth.

Michael was a man with a deep appreciation of aesthetics, nature, philosophy, and indigenous spiritual practices. Michael's appreciation for beauty and communion with nature led him to buy a modest home in Forest Ranch surrounded by pines and cedars. He spent years lovingly enhancing his home and decorating it with many antiques and collectors items from around the world. He spent four years aboard a ship in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era and took joy in the many unusual things he collected during and since that time.

Michael deepened his spirituality through his connection with Native American spiritual practices. He danced the Sun Dance three times and took part in sweat lodges and other Native American practices. His wolfdog, Keytah, was his constant animal companion for many years and the two could often be seen running together in upper Bidwell Park.

All who knew Michael were struck by his robust zest for life and his passionate and charismatic nature. Michael's masculine, confident presentation, offbeat sense of humor, and genuine empathy for the suffering of others helped provide strong guidance and healing for many lives. For the last few years of his life, Michael struggled with severe, chronic pain brought on by advanced osteoarthritis, a collapsed spinal column, frequent migraines with loss of vision, and various nervous system complications. This was unfortunate, especially when considering Michael's lifelong dedication to daily exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Since the fall of 2007, Michael's health deteriorated with stunning rapidity. This severely limited his outdoor activities and his ability to engage in the simple activities of daily living. This was deeply troubling for Michael, who was newly married and had dreams of becoming an outdoor therapist, engaging couples and families in psychological and spiritual healing in challenging, outdoor settings. Only Michael's closest companions knew the extent and severity of his illness. The exact cause of Michael's death is still unknown. Those who were close to him and witnessed his daily struggles with relentless pain are relieved to know that he is no longer suffering.

The public is invited to send their appreciation and condolences in care of Newton-Bracewell Funeral Home at 680 Camellia Way, Chico, CA 95926. Contributions to help the family with burial, legal, and other expenses related to Michael's passing may be sent to Mary Elizabeth Fisher-Sanchez, c/o Maiada Regher, 1290 Notre Dame Blvd. #49, Chico, CA 95928.

A ritual celebration of Michael's life will be held at the Forest Ranch Community Center on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at 15807 Forest Ranch Rd., Forest Ranch. All are invited to come and bring stories, food, songs, poems, candles, drums, photos or anything else they would like to share in remembrance and celebration of Michael. Please come help us celebrate the life of this amazing man! You may view obituary and send condolences online at nbcfh.com.

Published in Chico Enterprise-Record on Oct. 16, 2009