After Jack and Nick died, we never slept another night in the house where it happened. I couldn’t do it and had no interest in trying. We would hang out there during the day and do what needed to be done, but when night came, we packed up and drove the 20 or so minutes to our lake home.
We’ve had that lake house since the boys were little, spending every possible moment of our summers there. By default, it became the place where we privately grieved and eventually began to piece our shattered lives back together. It was almost like an oasis. I could breathe there. I could think.
Since the boys died – four years ago – we’ve continued our lake house summer tradition, eventually selling our old home and buying a new one a few miles down the road. During that time, the lake house was the one part of our lives that stayed exactly the way it’s always been. The boy’s favorite room in that house was always what we called ‘the bunk room.’ All four of them slept in there, hung out with friends and did whatever else boys do when they’re together. Mike and I always slept upstairs in the loft.
But this year we decided it’s time to change things up a bit. We’re moving the bunk room upstairs and our bedroom to the main floor… essentially swapping them.
To prep for that, I found myself alone at the lake house a couple weeks ago, cleaning out the bunk room. And it unexpectedly wrecked me.
So many memories from summers past. Each of our boys had a dresser in the bunk room with their own clothes. Jack and Nick’s little t-shirts they wore when they were in grade school were still in some of those drawers. I found pictures they drew, books Nick read and saw the little sailboats they used to float in the lake.
I also found cards from both boys’ high school graduation parties – some of Jack’s remained unopened – since the last time we’d all been at the lake together was for his graduation party, only a few days before he died. I laughed (and cried) out loud at a post-it note my sweet Nick left inside one of his brother’s cards: I took $20. I owe ya.
Most kids, let alone brothers, wouldn’t leave a note or intend to pay someone back. But Nick was thoughtful like that. He definitely would have reimbursed his brother that $20.
As I sorted through what seemed like a mountain of happy but also deeply painful memories, I kept trying to tell myself it’s all just stuff. But unfolding and refolding those little t-shirts with SpongeBob on the front brought back vivid memories of the boys sitting around the bonfire with friends on a cool summer evening. Seeing their old bed sheet sets brought back their voices, talking all night long, and me walking down the hallway to tell them to quiet down. Again… and again.
And right there, I fell apart. As grief often does, mine snuck up on me on an unexpected day at an unexpected time, inside that cozy bunk room with dark brown, knotty pine walls and two sets of twin bunk beds (four beds in total) where my boys used to sleep. That is the thing with grief… it is with you all the time. Sometimes it is a quiet uninvited guest and sometimes it is loud and in charge. I was so frustrated not to be able to get through those old drawers - the drawers nobody even used anymore - but SpongeBob got me…
I told myself their lives gave us memories too beautiful to forget.
I told myself the tears were just love that was overflowing from my heart
I told myself painting a few walls doesn’t erase the memories.
I told myself change can be good… even though it’s difficult.
Maybe I haven’t touched that room for the past four years because I’ve been busy. Or maybe I subconsciously wasn’t ready. Either way, I told myself it was ok… I’m grateful for that day in the bunk room, and happy memories that strangely allowed my heart to heal just a bit more.
When I first noticed them, goosebumps rippled from my neck down to my feet. Buttercups....Of course there were Buttercups. I hadn’t requested that particular flower for our second fundraising gala for 525 Foundation – the non-profit organization my husband and I created to remember our two late sons – yet, there they were, sweetly tucked into the table arrangements.
The boys used to call me that… “Buttercup.” And during Nick and Jack’s viewing nearly four years ago, I kept telling myself, ‘Suck it up, Buttercup,’ so I could continue greeting the hundreds of people who showed up to pay condolences.
Out of the darkness of losing our oldest sons, Mike and I have found hope in the shape of making a difference in the lives of others by sharing our tragedy.
We are inspired by the legacy of love we feel for our boys and inspired by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, educators, coaches, community leaders, celebrities and kids who continue to tell our story and – as a result – save lives.
We are also inspired by our two surviving sons, Justin and Matthew, knowing we must do everything we can to make this world a safe place for them. We’re inspired by the communities we’ve touched and, in turn, the way they touch our hearts with their stories, emails and cards.
I realized a while ago… when we focus on what we can change and quit worrying about what we cannot change, change happens!
525 Foundation is putting our energy into a fight we can win and change we can bring to life. We can make a difference... YOU can make a difference!
In the past year, we created Drop 2 Stop™, a way to properly dispose of prescription drugs, partnering with Martin’s Supermarkets to launch the program at three Martin’s grocery stores. Since last August (8 months ago), Drop 2 Stop™ collected 2,000 pounds of pills. Think about how much one prescription pill weighs…and that one pill can kill someone. Wow. That’s a lot of lives potentially saved because of YOUR efforts with safe disposal!
I’m so proud to share that by the end of this year, all 18 Martin’s stores in our area will have a safe, convenient way to dispose of prescription drugs. Beacon Health System also committed to installing permanent Drop 2 Stop™ boxes at several locations in Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph Counties. This program is expanding to other communities soon.
This fall, we’re launching WISE-UP – a program 525 Foundation developed through parent feedback. WISE-UP is a series of one-sheet “lessons” to help parents and educators tackle issues teens struggle with on a daily basis. The goal is to encourage conversations and communication.
In the past year, 525 Foundation has shared our story face-to-face with more than 90,000 parents, students, educators, lawmakers and anyone else who will listen.
And we’re only gaining momentum.
So to see faces of our dear friends and supporters – including Tammy and Terry Bradshaw, Mo and Jim Dorgan, Brian and Paqui Kelly – in the crowd at our gala, continuing to stand by our cause so loyally, we are humbled and encouraged.
To see local and national businesses stepping up to sponsor and help with our work, we are energized and grateful.
To see 32 students and a handful of chaperones from eight local high schools joining us at the gala to learn and take our message back to their peers, we are excited and honored.
To see continued love and support so many of you show our family and our mission, we are simply blown away.
Oh, and the Buttercups.
To see a sign of our sons appearing at the most unexpected but perfect time reminds us to keep pushing for change and to continue telling their story. Of course there were Buttercups.
The little ornaments they made are still so perfect. All these years later, their tiny glued-on faces and pipe-cleaner reindeer antlers are still in place. Well, for the most part.
One by one, I unboxed those decorations and hung them on the tree, reliving 23 years of memories all at once. It’s a strange rush of emotions… painful because two of my sweet boys who made those ornaments for me are gone forever; joyful because I had the privilege of so many happy Christmases with them.
Then the stockings.
I hate this part.
Do I take out and hang all four? Or just two? What’s the right thing to do? Does it even matter? This is our fourth Christmas without Nick and Jack and I still don’t know what to do with the stockings.
Oh, and Christmas cards. I love receiving them. I find so much joy in seeing how our dear friends’ families are growing and succeeding and changing the world. But since our boys passed, I haven’t sent any Christmas cards from our family. I just can’t do it.
This is the so-called ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ I see it on my Instagram and Facebook feeds and in overflowing shopping bags at the mall. But while everyone else is looking forward to family gatherings and putting the perfect gifts under the tree, I am aware of the two faces missing from my family pictures, Christmas gifts I won’t be buying and the two empty seats at our table.
There’s not a day I don’t think about losing Nick and Jack. My heart and soul changed forever the day they died, as did my reality of a “happy” life. The new reality is a heartache that will always play a prominent role in who I am because it’s now woven into the fiber of my being and it will stay there – even during the happiest of times.
But here’s the thing. Life is not all darkness and devastation, nor is it all sunshine and roses. I’ve learned it’s a balancing act. And at times, that balance is exhausting.
Yes – this will probably always be a difficult time of year for me. I’m not asking you to understand or to try and relate, but here’s what I want you to know. As time goes on, I’m getting better at not wallowing in the sadness. I have accepted the fact that this is simply my normal.
I’m also able to find periods of clarity when I can reflect and be truly thankful for all the blessings in my life – there are many. It’s a mindset and a choice. We can choose to focus on all we’ve lost and everything we don’t have, or we can focus on what’s in front of us today and the moments we’re blessed to share with the people we love. It’s a conscious effort we make every single day.
I truly feel that, in some ways, our loss opened doors to blessings my family may not have otherwise received. And by refocusing our outlook, we’ve realized those blessings. For example, I am so thankful for the opportunity to share our story with the hope of rewriting someone else's story - saving lives in the process. I’m thankful for each new friendship that has been nurtured out of darkness, because our lights shine brighter together than they ever could alone.
I’m grateful for realizing my purpose. Had I not suffered this loss, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit schools across the country and meet the people I’ve met and speak to over 90,000 kids in more than a dozen states. Each person I have met along the way… has been a blessing in one way or another. Then there’s the invitation I recently received to be part of the Survivor Advocate Network with the National Safety Council. Get this: pairing our story with their connections could potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people across the country. That’s a chance for Nick and Jack's story to save more lives!
I share all of this because I know I’m not the only one coping with a loss during what is supposed to be such a happy time of year. I know there are others out there like me because they send me messages on Facebook and via email. Their hearts are also aching. They too don’t know what to do with their loved ones’ stockings. They also can’t bring themselves to send Christmas cards.
Just like mine, their families will never fully be the same. We’re different now… trying to navigate our new normal.
For us, that means creating new traditions. We’re finding new ways to celebrate the holidays, discovering new traditions where joy is present. This Thanksgiving, for example, I slowed way down and spent the entire weekend with my boys. I didn’t go into the office, didn’t check emails and existed in the moment. I enjoyed those moments more than I ever did before and it felt so good. My boys are a true blessing in my life and I do not take that for granted.
If you’re struggling with a loss of your own this holiday season – death, job loss, divorce or something else – I want you to find hope in knowing joy can exist hand-in-hand with pain in this chapter of your life. I encourage you to appreciate every second you have with the people you love most. Find the beauty in those relationships.
And if you’re still struggling to see the good, look harder. Find it. The pain is real and raw. But joy is waiting for you on the other side…
Have you ever been to a grocery store or gas station and left there feeling like you just had a moment or a chance encounter with someone you know will forever impact your life? Well that's exactly how I feel as I reflect on how the past month impacted me.
I experienced moments that brought me into strangers' lives, to touch them (and possibly change their direction) in a way that also helped me reap so many benefits as well. There were moments in front of hundreds of wide-eyed high school students who were shocked by the words coming out of my mouth. I shared a moment at the front of a room full of tearful parents who showed up to hear my story and learn something from me.
I had a moment in Iowa, when a teenage boy bravely raised his hand in an auditorium full of other students and asked me, “Can you die from just trying it one time?”
That one sent a shiver down my spine.
I feel called to share our story with anyone who will listen and every time I do, it’s an awesome and fulfilling feeling. There are so many people who, like my family, are just trying to figure it all out... the grief, how to heal, how to exist after losing a loved one. There’s something to be said for that bigger plan for our lives and the people we meet along the way.
After spending time with students and parents the past couple weeks in Florida, Connecticut, Iowa, New York and North Dakota, I am more sure of my purpose than ever before. I’m more aware of myself and so energized about the work our foundation is doing.
As I told my story in front of a large crowd in a teeny tiny town called Dickinson, North Dakota, I found myself continuing to make eye contact with a woman in the room. She had such a familiar face. I looked at her several times throughout my talk, thinking I must have seen her in the airport or at a dinner a local group organized in memory of Nick and Jack. Then at the end of the event, she approached me and introduced herself. It was one of Jack’s best friends from middle school. Her family had moved away to Indianapolis and then to Dickinson but she’d followed our story. When she and her husband saw the Facebook event promoting my talk, they decided to come. How cool is that? I believe there’s a reason they were put in that audience.
Then there was the kid from a prep school in Connecticut who approached me after my talk, saying he’d lost a friend about a year ago and wondered who he should talk to about his grief. He’s still having a hard time coping and that young man came to me for help. Me! Wow.
As I stood in front of a room of very affluent parents in West Palm Beach, I didn’t feel judged for the choice Nick and Jack made the night they mixed alcohol with prescription drugs. Instead, I felt supported and loved. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I felt a connection with them, and that’s what we want. We want parents to leave feeling empowered to have tough conversations with their kids. Most importantly, we want them to go home and clean out their medicine cabinets so our story doesn’t become their story.
It is so incredible to me to think that, in the past month alone, 29,000 people (parents, students, grandparents, lawmakers, community members, etc.) heard our message. That's insane! It also shows me we all have an opportunity to touch lives every day, just by starting conversations. Human interaction is such a powerful thing.
Through sharing my story, I’ve realized there’s so much good out there. We’re all just ordinary people looking for connections and searching for ways to support and lift each other up. As you navigate through the rest of your day and your week, I’m asking you to do two things.
First, CLEAN OUT YOUR MEDICINE CABINETS. Safely get rid of old, unused prescription drugs. It’s easy and the life you save could belong to someone you love.
Second, think about who you’re lifting up and helping to be better. Be kind. There’s enough bad out there in the world... I’m challenging you to be the good. Even if it's just for one person. You may never know the difference you're making.
A couple weeks ago while I was shopping at Lowe’s, a young woman approached me and said, “I just want to thank you. My husband is a heroin addict and I’ve been following 525 Foundation on social media since the day you started it. I read everything and it all hits home for me. Every time. I also want you to know how much you’ve inspired me… I recently passed my nursing boards and am getting my life together. Thank you for everything you’ve done and are doing. You’re making a difference.”
Her kindness left me speechless. By now I’m used to people approaching me with an, “I’m sorry” or a “I don’t know how you do it,” but this? This was so new and made me feel so good - it made me feel like the work we're doing really matters.
It’s also exactly what I needed before hitting the road for a whirlwind fall blitz to share our story with thousands of new kids and parents from coast to coast. And we are pumped! We’ll be in 9 states over the next 5 weeks. NINE STATES, you guys!
Last week was the South Central Opioid Summit in Bloomington, Indiana.
Right now, I’m in West Palm Beach prepping for tomorrow’s talk with students at a school assembly. Then tomorrow evening, I get to tell my story to parents of those same students.
This is what it’s all about, right? We share our story with the kids and then with the parents to help foster a full-circle discussion in their home, in the car on the way to sports practice or, if that’s too difficult, maybe even through a simple text conversation. Whatever works, we’ll take it. When our story can get parents talking to their kids (and vice versa) about the dangers of prescription drugs, it’s a WIN. If we can save one life, it’s a WIN.
After Florida, I’m headed to New York for Walgreens’ We Day. Ever heard of it? WE is a movement that believes when we come together we can create an even better world. We Day 2018 in New York features world-renowned speakers, A-list performers and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate the past year of action that transformed communities and changed lives.
And guess what? Our story is part of that movement! Earlier this year, representatives from Walgreens approached me and asked if 525 Foundation would join their #itendswithus campaign to educate teens nationwide about the opioid crisis. We jumped at the chance to touch more lives and I am now an #itendswithus ambassador! It’s so wonderful to have our story shared on this national platform.
From there, I’m hitting several more schools in Connecticut and North Dakota and then heading to an event in Des Moines called Inspire Iowa’s Future. This is another really cool one, thanks to the energy and excitement surrounding it. The organization focuses on reaching middle school, high school and college students, as well as those who interact and do life with these young adults. Through this particular event, students and their mentors – parents, teachers, coaches, sponsors – get to hear uplifting, encouraging and thought-provoking messages from local and nationally recognized individuals. How exciting is it that I’m the prelude to the event’s keynote speaker, Michael Jr.!?
After Iowa, it’s more school talks in Minnesota and then the Utah Summit on Opioid Awareness. This three-day event will address the opioid crisis and bring together community and state leaders to work toward solutions to the epidemic. A special thank you to Utah Senator Mike Lee for inviting and involving 525 Foundation!
Then at the end of October, we’re being honored with a really cool award in our home city… we’ve been named “Playmaker of the Year” by the Kelly Cares Foundation. What an honor. This non profit has championed us from the very beginning. The love, support and “get it girl” attitude they give 525 Foundation (and me) is immeasurable and means the world to us. We are incredibly humbled!
It’s been strange, uplifting and, at times, overwhelming for me to navigate through this journey of education and awareness. I am so touched that people care. I am honored that you are taking time to read this post about our impact and then keep the conversation going. Together, we are pushing forward in the fight against prescription drug abuse.
The work we put into telling our story is exhausting and never ending…. in the most rewarding way possible. We’ve chosen to immerse ourselves in the problem – the opioid crisis – by increasing awareness and by educating kids, parents, lawmakers and anyone else who will listen about the dangers of prescription drugs.
On June 15, 2015, we became a statistic, as did Nick and Jack. While our circumstance of losing two of our sons in the same night is unique, our overwhelming feelings of grief and loss are not. We’re now part of a community of people who had loved ones taken much too soon (and are fighting to keep their loved ones alive) because of dangerous prescription drugs. But knowing we’re not alone and that the problem persists is one thing that keeps us going.
Here are just two of the stories submitted through our website from people around the world who find 525 Foundation and feel compelled to share their own experiences.
My son hunter
My only child, Hunter, accidentally overdosed on a mixture of MMDA (ecstacy) & Xanax on the morning of September 5, 2014 at 18 years of age. Hunter was an extraordinary young man who had his whole life ahead of him. He deeply cared about others, loved his family, friends & his dog Juno, but unfortunately made a fatal choice by consuming some pills. He went to sleep & never awoke the next day. I saw the story about losing two of your boys and I wanted to share Hunter's story with all of you. My heart goes out to all of you in the Savage family & I pray for your peace of mind and serenity that I know it takes on a daily basis for you all to keep moving forward. Many blessings to you all.
Small Town, Big Crisis
My name is Neeley and I know all too well what can happen to a family when opioids come in the picture. My story is a little different though. In 2010 my husband was in a car accident and was life flighted to a hospital. From there many doctors prescribed in pain pills. He had never had an issue with pain pills until then. They kept giving and giving until he couldn’t stop. Almost 8 years later, he is finally in a faith-based rehab getting help. I have sat and watched him struggle for so long. He came near death and almost didn’t make it. While today I am thankful he finally doesn’t want a pill, I worry about all the other families affected by this crisis. Our small town is swarmed with people selling pills and feeling off someone else’s addiction. I would love to know how to get this message spread to our community without getting shut out. I want my voice to be heard that it can happen to anyone. The picture uploaded is on Easter Sunday. I am thankful that God has helped us thru this terrible crisis. Thank you for allowing me to share our story!
Last Friday was overdose awareness day….EVERY overdose is someone’s loved one. Unfortunately, overdose and addiction are becoming part of everyone’s story. THIS is why our story and every story we hear about is important. THIS is why we will continue to share until the opioid crisis no longer exists. What can you do to help? Keep sharing and keep talking about the problem. Educate yourself and talk to your kids about the dangers of misuse and abuse. Talk to your friends about what’s in their medicine cabinets and how they can get rid of it safely. It takes a village!
Happy National Nonprofit Day! Today is a day we celebrate those who volunteer for nonprofits, those who donate to nonprofits and those who support nonprofits in any and every way possible. We could not do what we do without the people who believe in our cause just as fiercely and faithfully as we do.
Those who support 525 Foundation financially are helping Nick and Jack live on and touch hundreds of thousands of lives each year. But how? And where does the money go? Here are just a few examples...
The point is, every little bit helps. We’re talking about an hour at a fire station on a Saturday collecting pills or making a commitment to donate money so 525 can keep doing what we’re doing. We are so grateful to our tribe and all of the exciting outreach in our future!
Whoa… what a whirlwind summer it’s been for us! We know we’ve been a little quiet on our website and social media lately, but that’s because we’re plugging away, getting more organized and continuing to spread our message.
First things first: many of you might not know that I resigned from my full-time job as a nursing instructor earlier this year to put more of a focus on running 525 Foundation. I quickly realized that this is a full-time commitment, but also where my passion lies. I continue to be humbled and at times, overwhelmed, by the inquiries from schools, media outlets and other organizations who request speaking engagements because they want to hear our story. I was even invited to speak to a U.S. Senate Committee about the opioid crisis… and I’m scheduled to go back to Washington, D.C. when the new legislative session begins in September.
We’re also working on a permanent pill drop program with Martin’s Supermarkets (more on that very soon!), and we had our very first fundraising gala this past spring which included major support from Terry Bradshaw, his wife Tammy, Brian and Paqui Kelly with Kelly Cares Foundation and numerous community supporters! We are so grateful for all of the support to help us pull off such an incredible event!
Over the last year our foundation has grown and continues to grow... so much so that we have out grown my basement office! We are so happy and thrilled to announce that we have a real office, located in Innovation Park, near Notre Dame and Eddy Street Commons in South Bend.
Being able to work out of my house is great, but trying to be a mom, wife, friend, daughter and all those other hats we all wear left me feeling unaccomplished and unfocused. This beautiful new office gives us space to focus on current projects, future projects and planning. It also allows me to leave home at home, ultimately accomplishing more at both places.
That said, we’re also growing! We are interviewing potential candidates with the goal of bringing on a paid position in the office to help with some of the workload and continue to expand our reach. If you know of anyone in the South Bend area who would be a good fit, send them my way!
Along those same lines, one of the goals of the 525 Foundation is to have some input from kids. We get many emails from kids asking us how they can get involved. Knowing that kids know how to communicate with kids, we are exploring ways to get them involved in our future outreach endeavors. We’re still hashing out the details on that one, but it’s on our radar.
Lots of you still ask regularly how we’re doing personally and emotionally, which we appreciate more than you know. But that’s sometimes a tough question to answer because the answer changes from day to day. Yes, it’s been just over three years since our world shattered into a million little pieces, but we’re still working to put ourselves back together. And sometimes it all still feels very fresh. Waves of grief still hit all four of us out of nowhere from time to time and while we continue to live our lives, there’s still an emptiness and an ache that will probably never go away. For example, this week I did a TV interview about the opioid crisis in Indiana and the reporter’s questions took me right back to the day my boys died. But those vivid memories and feelings fuel my fire, reminding me why it’s so important to keep talking about it. Our family didn’t ask for this tragedy, but we refuse to sit back and do nothing when there’s still so much more work to be done.
Thank you all so very much for your continued support!
Below is a family story that was sent to us. It is so impactful… while reading it you can feel how the drug addiction of one can affect so many others. There are thousands of stories like this one unfortunately… so many parents watching their children suffer.. children watching their parents struggle …and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors helplessly watching on the sidelines. The sense of helplessness is overwhelming. What can one do to help? That is the million dollar question… I think we can all start by cleaning out our medicine cabinets and practice proper disposal of un used medications. 96% of prescription drug abuse starts out of our medicine cabinets… Support community efforts with education and awareness efforts and addiction support. And support each other…
It is hard to even imagine that we do feel grateful and blessed, especially after losing 2 pieces of our hearts, but we do. We are grateful for so many things…. but just this week we were given a national platform (Megan Kelly TODAY) to tell the story of Nick and Jack. Grateful because thousands more people have heard their story, conversations were started and lives saved. We are blessed that we are able to have Nick and Jack be a part of so many peoples live and making a difference every day! We have received hundreds of messages from all over the world, and each one has a common thread, awareness! Some of the families have posted their story under the SHARE YOUR STORY tab and we will be sharing those with all of you weekly!
Becky Savage’s two teenage sons – Nick and Jack – accidentally overdosed on a deadly cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs on the same night in June 2015. Becky and her husband Mike turned their unimaginable grief into a powerful message: educating students, parents, lawmakers and anyone else who will listen about the dangers of prescription drugs. The couple created 525 Foundation (the boys’ hockey numbers were 5 and 25) with a goal of preventing another family from experiencing the pain the Savage family still struggles with every day. To date, Becky has bravely shared her story with more than 60,000 high school students from Indiana to Texas to Oregon and presented at conferences across the country. She’s spoken to members of a United States Senate opioid crisis committee, serves as an ambassador for the Walgreens #ItEndsWithUs campaign and participated in countless interviews for podcasts and news media.