After Tragedy, Parents Say Young People Need 'Hope' More Than Anti-Drug Campaigns

May 6, 2014

Stacey Fekete says she finds pictures healing. Her house is covered with photos of all her children, including 22-year-old Jake, who died March 26th. Stacey and Mike Fekete say their son should be remembered as someone who loved the people around him deeply. He wrote his parents love notes they still carry. He also battled anxiety and depression.
Credit Linda Stephan

  IPR has been reporting recently on reaction in Benzie County after a slew of overdose deaths, six deaths in two years. We’ve talked about everything from drug testing and education to life-saving measures during an overdose. But the parents of one victim say none of this really gets at the root of the problem.

At their Thompsonville home, Mike and Stacey Fekete have family photos everywhere.

On the fridge there are photos of their three now-grown children at every stage of their school careers. Family photos hang in the living room. Picture frames cover an accent table in the dining room. Mom’s favorite is a shot of Jacob at age five or six, holding up a fish he caught on a family trip to the Upper Peninsula. 

At age 22, Jake Fekete was a terrible driver, a musician and a sports nut. He was a student at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City. He was a people pleaser.

“He just loved to be with people,” says his dad, Mike Fekete. “The night he died he was with his grandma and grandpa for an hour and a half, he came home and he died.”

“Out Of No Where”

Mike Fekete says it was a happy visit. In fact, no one who had seen Jake that day saw anything to be concerned about.

“That’s how quick the anxiety hit,” he says.

Stacey Fekete says her son’s mood came in waves, in peaks and valleys.

“Usually we could see it start to happen and we could head it off and get him help. And we could talk it through it a lot and support him through it,” she says. “This time it just, it came out of no where.”

Jake’s parents say their son suffered bouts of anxiety and depression. They think it’s likely he tried to quell a sudden panic attack that night with medication that had not been prescribed for him.

“I think that he was probably trying to calm himself down and just didn’t realize the risk and the effects of prescription drugs,” says Stacey Fekete.

I don't think you're going to have police forces big enough to overcome that battle. I just think that we have to offer hope. -- Mike Fekete

  Drugs Are A Symptom

But as Benzie County grows more concerned about the number of people lost to drug overdoses in recent years, the Feketes say they don’t plan to pour their energy into anti-drug campaigns.

“Education isn’t going to overpower that,” says Mike Fekete. “And I don’t think you’re going to have police forces big enough to overcome that battle. I just think that we have to offer hope.”

Mike and Stacey Fekete say drugs are just a symptom, and Stacey says hope can be hard to find among young people, especially as society tells kids to put their hope and their trust in their jobs and their money.

“College kids don’t have any money,” she says. “That was really one thing Jake had a difficult time with, is how much debt he was getting into with college. You know, kids come out of college in more debt than we spent on our first house.”

Stacey and Mike Fekete pose next to a drawing of their son Jake (far left). As they grieve, they have seen an enormous amount of sadness and support from their community. "He'll be remembered, at least in Benzie County, in a good way," says Mike Fekete.
Credit Linda Stephan

  Loving Deeply

Stacey Fekete says those concerns compounded anxieties first caused by loss in Jake’s life. He began struggling in high school, after his best friend died in a car accident.

“Part of his downfall is that he loved so deeply that he was hurt very, very deeply also,” she says her son had a number of people close to him die.

“That was very difficult for him because he did love very, very deeply. So that’s another thing we want him to be remembered by is how deeply he loved,” she says.

Jake’s been gone little more than a month. He was the kind of guy who would leave “love notes” around the house for his parents. His mom carries one in her purse.

His dad found one tucked away in his Bible. And it’s in that Bible that Mike Fekete says he finds his hope, especially today.

“You know, being a Christian doesn’t fix your life. It just gives you a place for hope in your life,” he says. “And my hope is in the resurrection and that I will be alive with my son again someday, you know? And if we don’t have that we’re pretty miserable people.”

Since Jake’s death Mike Fekete says other Benzie County parents have come to him scared, suddenly aware that narcotics and depression know no social barriers, that anyone is a potential candidate. The best answer he says he has is to mentor kids... to give them something to believe in.