Anyone’s Son

 

On a cool late October day, Deb Noethe and her husband Tom load dozens of backpacks in the back of a pickup. They’re filled with toiletries, snacks, hats and mittens. Deb hopes they may also contain a lesson or two.

She calls them blessing bags. They’re meant for people struggling with homelessness and addiction in Grand Rapids.

“I hope and pray that they go to the people that really need them,” Deb Noethe said.

The inspiration for the bags, however, comes from pain.

“Every parent’s worst nightmare, and it happened,” she said.

Deb’s third son, Garret Bethke, struggled with addiction for 10 years.

“It started using oxycontin,” she said. “A friend had given him one, and he liked the way it felt. That was how he explained it to me.”

He eventually got hooked on heroin. But he’s not what you would picture when you hear the phrases “heroin addict” or “drug user.” Garret loved music, art, baseball and fishing.

He told his parents about his struggle with heroin about five years ago, in 2011. He was 23 at the time.

“I couldn’t believe my son was a heroin addict,” Deb said. “Any mother that has gone through this or parent says exactly the same thing. I had no clue. I had no clue. That’s what’s scary about it.”

They immediately got him in to treatment, but in this round, he wasn’t going for himself.

“He told me … the only reason I went to treatment was because I did it for you. Because he knew I was so scared. He did it for me,” Deb said.

The treatment never seemed to stick. The longest time he was clean was 60 days during his last stint. He would relapse over and over.

“If the person doesn’t want to go to treatment, what good is it going to do when he gets to treatment?” Tom Noethe asked.

But years later, in 2014, Garret was ready to go. He was living at home, working at his mom’s gardening business and waiting for a bed to open up.

“I thought, Oh, this is going to be the time,” Deb said. “I think he actually thought, I think this is going to work. I’m going to try really hard.”

He knew it would be difficult. He’d been there before. During one clean period, he wrote a letter breaking up with heroin. One line read, “Please don’t try to get ahold of me. I won’t answer to you anymore. We are done forever.”

This time, in October 2014, seemed different. Garret was 28.

Through the years of her son’s addiction, Deb slept with her cell phone under her pillow just in case.

“You’re always in the back of your mind, this can happen,” she said. “But you say, it’s not going to be my child.”

Yet six days after Garret was released from the halfway house in St. Cloud, Deb got that dreaded call in the middle of the night.

“Fifteen minutes later, the police were knocking at my door,” she said. “That’s exactly how I played it in my head. That’s exactly what happened. ‘I’m sorry to tell you your son has died.’ I said, ‘Overdose?’ And they said, ‘yes.'”

Deb said she went numb. But she woke up to a bitter truth that night.

“Drugs don’t care, heroin doesn’t care. They’ll take everything from you, and they’ll take your soul,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”

This October marked the second anniversary of Garret’s death. Friends and family gathered at his grave to remember him. As the song “Dancing in the Sky” played, emotions were raw.

Still, Deb spoke through her tears, recounting the lessons her son has taught her about who addicts really are.

“Most addicts that I know and I’ve had the privilege of calling my friends are the kindest, most loving people you’d ever meet in your life,” she said.

They’re people like Garret’s friends Melissa and Michael Lane. He met the two through using.

“He was the man. Really, he was a cool person,” Michael said. “But I don’t know. They say the good die young, I guess. I don’t really know.”

Deb said Garret would remind her addiction is an illness and should be treated that way.

“He’d say, ‘Mom, they’re addicts just like me. They’re not bad people, they just have a really bad disease,'” Deb recalled. “Hate the addiction, love the addict.”

Deb took that advice. She loves these people she used to kick out. She has welcome with open arms the very people who shared in the drug culture that led to her son’s death.

“It’s just weird how everything happens,” Michael said.

“We adopted her, she adopted us,” Melissa added.

Both Michael and Melissa are now three years sober. Other of Garret’s friends are turning the corner too. A woman at the cemetery on the anniversary of his death announced she’d been sober several months. Deb’s reaction was priceless. She went straight for a hug.

“I’m so proud of you,” Deb whispered to her. “Garret’s helping, he’s pushing you.”

Those moments aren’t easy. She couldn’t save her own son. But Deb has no intention of giving up on the family she’s adopted.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she admitted. “But if you can save one family from this horror, that’s what we’re going to do.”

That explains the backpacks, or blessing bags. The packs were donated by local organizations, and the foundation Deb set up in Garret’s honor, the Garret Bethke Foundation, buys the toothbrushes, lip balm, snacks and water inside.

The group that gathered at the cemetery caravanned to Veteran’s Park. Michael, Melissa and the others who had used with Garret showed Deb which spots would be best to leave her blessing bags.

“It’s pretty crucial to do stuff like this. This is really pretty amazing,” Michael said. “I’d have been happy as hell.”

“I would have been surprised that somebody actually cared, you know? I would have been thankful,” Melissa, who was homeless at one point, said.

This isn’t the conclusion of Deb’s lesson plan, though. She hopes to share her story with children in schools this winter. She also wants to train people on how to administer Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose.

“A lot of things need to change, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Deb said. “But if we can just do this, just do these little kind things, it will help people, I believe.”

She believes addicts like Garret deserve better.

“There’s hope, and there’s help,” she said.

She has resources for families, friends, addicts and whoever may need the help on the Garret Bethke Foundation.com

Baihly Warfield
November 23, 2016 08:28 PM

Father speaks out after losing his son to heroin

BOISE, Idaho – A Boise family was hoping their 19-year-old son was about to turn his life around. Charles Peyton Chambers was a heroin addict but wanted help. But before he crossed that bridge to recovery, he passed away from a heroin overdose in October. Days before he was supposed to leave for a Salt Lake City rehab center, police found Peyton had died from a heroin overdose. His death left a gaping hole in his family and friends.

Growing up Peyton loved the outdoors.  His dad, Charles Senior, fondly remembers spending time together white-water rafting. Barely a year out of high school, the Boise Brave, shot up and overdosed on heroin. Peyton was dead at 19.

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“You’re not invincible. That drug is so much stronger than you, and it doesn’t matter what color you are, what age you are. It will take you down,” said Charles Chamber, Peyton’s dad.

Peyton’s dad says his son’s appetite for drugs was intense. It started with him snorting highly addictive prescription opioids. When that rush faded, he started shooting up heroin daily. According to Chambers, his son was on a slippery slope, and he says Peyton was dead less than 100-days after he first experimented with opioids.

“There was no downward spiral it was like a giant slide, straight down,” explained Chambers.

Doctors at Saint Alphonsus say the time it takes for a person to become addicted varies. But it can happen in just weeks, and then the only thing that matters is their next fix.

“Their euphoria and their feeling of high and relaxation is wearing off and that’s what they are looking for by using so close to again,” said Dr. Kari Peterson an E.R. physician at Saint Alphonsus

Ada County prosecutors charged 29-year-old Tommy Basco in connection to Peyton’s death. Saying when Peyton overdosed, Basco tried to revive him by giving him an ice bath and meth. He’s now facing charges for failing to report his death.  Doctors say what could have saved Peyton’s life is the drug Naloxone. E.M.T’s and many police officers carry it with them; it’s even available without a prescription. But Charles didn’t know about the life-saving drug and neither do many others.

“It’s also helpful when we see patients in the emergency department we know have opiate addiction issues we can be prescribing naloxone to them just to have.  Just getting the word is the biggest,” said Dr. Peterson.

But Peyton, never made it to the hospital, and Charles is wishing Peyton could hear these words.

“I love you so much I was always proud of you, even when you thought I wasn’t. I was proud of you,” said Chambers.

Basco is expected to be in front of a judge on December 1st.  His bond has been set at $100,000.

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