Garret's Blessing Bags

Deb Noethe is turning her grief into a mission to help those struggling with addiction. Noethe lost her son two years ago to a heroin overdose and in his memory, she distributed 30 Blessing Bags in the Grand Rapids area. The bags contain items to help homeless people, including information on resources available to help them.

She’s a heartbroken mother and she’s on a mission.

Deb Noethe of Grand Rapids lost her son, Garret Bethke, on Oct. 28, 2014 at the age of 28. Garret had struggled for 10 years with addiction, and six days after he was released from a halfway house following inpatient treatment, he was dead of a heroin overdose.

To honor her son, and try and inspire those who need help to seek that help, Noethe distributed “Garret’s Blessing Bags” in the Grand Rapids area on Friday.

The bags include things that homeless people might need, including toiletry items, food, hats, scarves, mittens, a note about Garret and listings of resources for shelters, mental health and recovery help.

Noethe said they targeted places in the area where homeless people were known to frequent, and thanks to the generosity of area businesses and organizations, they were able to assemble 30 Blessing Bags.

The number of bags is significant. Noethe explained that Garret would have been 30 in July, and distributing the bags on Oct. 28 was in honor of Garret’s second angel anniversary.

The note included in the bags, after telling how her “beautiful, talented, intelligent son, lost his battle with addiction...the day my life and our entire family's life changed forever,” gives the short version of Noethe’s mission.

“In honor of Garret Bethke, we have started a foundation to try and help others struggling with addiction and/or mental illness associated with addiction. I beg each and every person out there, if you know someone or if that someone is you that's struggling, PLEASE get help before it’s too late. I never want another Mother or family to live this horror. I pray for each and every person struggling. Our son was a very generous and compassionate soul and we’d like to honor him on his 2nd Angel Anniversary in heaven by trying to give a little comfort and hope to someone that may be struggling also.”

Distributing the bags is only a small part of Noethe’s mission.

“I’ve learned more about addiction that I ever thought I could,” Noethe said, explaining that addiction needs to be destigmatized.

“It’s a chronic brain disease that’s terminal if not addressed,” she stated emphatically. “We need to get awareness and education, we need to keep talking about it. Don’t be afraid of it.”

Noethe said her son, on the outside, was the life of the party. It was later, after his death when they found some of his writing that they learned of his pain and suffering on the inside.

“What he went through, I will never understand,” she said.

In the 10-year struggle Garret had with addiction, he progressed from pills to heroin. Noethe explained that as the pills grew expensive, he turned to heroin because it was cheap.

At one point, a friend of Garret told him, after an earlier stint in treatment, that “the only thing you have to change is everything.”

Not long before her son’s death, she told him that if something happened to him, “I will never survive this.”

Noethe said that after he lost Garret, it would have been very easy to curl up in a ball. But she had to work, and she also felt driven to do something.

“I have to try to change things,” she stated. “Who’s going to be running this country when everyone’s dead of an overdose?”

The foundation she started in her son’s honor, the Garret Bethke Foundation, is geared towards helping others.

“Born out of a desire to make an impact and a difference in our community, Garret Bethke Foundation is led by people with a sincere desire to help other families struggling with addiction,” the foundation’s website states. “Our focus is to educate people that may not understand this disease. To provide tools for families struggling from a loved one’s active addiction. We believe that the more people understand the disease, the better equipped they will be to help their loved one’s chance of recovery.”

The website includes a listing of resources and websites to help those with addiction as well as those who have an addicted person in their lives.

That desire to help is what led to the Blessing Bags. Last year, on Garret’s 29th birthday, Noethe said they distributed 29 bags, the first time they did anything like that.

She said they had good feedback from the bag distribution, and are planning on doing them again next year.

If a Blessing Bag helps just one person, it will be worth it, she said.

The letter in the bag ends with affirmation.

“God bless you. You do matter. You deserve love, help, compassion and hope. May you seek the help and resources you need.”

For more information on the Garret Bethke Foundation, visit www.garretbethkefoundation.org.

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