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.
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.