In Memory Of Keegan

"I can figure everything else out in life, why can't I figure this out?"

This frustrating thought continuously tormented our son, Keegan, throughout his 10-year battle with opioid addiction. A cheerful, intelligent, compassionate young man with a bright future ahead of him, he was a problem solver in every sense, but the one thing he couldn't overcome was his brain's constant craving for this lethal drug.

It started while in college when Keegan injured his back. He went to urgent care, where his doctor met with him for 15 minutes and immediately wrote a prescription for 120 oxycodone pills. From that point on Keegan's life changed completely. He said, "after taking the first pill, it made me feel 100 times more relaxed and happier than I've ever felt in my life." The only problem was, his brain wanted more, and more, and more and more. For the next 10 years Keegan advised people never to take even one pill. "It's like Russian Roulette, you likely won't become addicted, but if you do, your life will be forever changed. It's not worth the gamble." My wife, Jean, fought and won the effort to revoke that doctor's license to practice medicine, but there are so many more.

Despite his addiction, Keegan spent the next 10 years bettering himself and pushing himself to succeed. He completed his Bachelor's Degree, much to the surprise of his counselors and school advisors. He helped open their eyes to the fact that an addict isn't a bad person and that it's a disease. He went on to complete his Master's Degree in Computer Technology and had a wonderful job with a growing IT company. With that being said, it wasn't a completely fun life. Keegan voluntarily enrolled in rehab ten times over those years, trying to find a solution to the cravings. He went through periods of using and periods of not using. He helped dozens of other addicts along the way. He helped one person join the army and encouraged others to go back to school. Keegan was filled with compassion for all people, especially for what he called the under dogs, those whose families and friends had given up on them.

His cravings never stopped. At first, it's easy, but eventually your mind will tell you to do anything you can to get another breath. It was explained at Hazelden Rehabilitation Center that the part of the brain most impacted with addiction is the same part that assures you to prioritize breathing, eating, and drinking, the core things you need to stay alive. Therefore, the cravings never go away for people battling addiction. The brain thinks it's needed to maintain life and it tells you to do anything you can to get more. It's a very sad and devastating disease. Keegan accepted his struggle well. He persisted and was productive, compassionate, and optimistic all along the way.

I vividly remember the day his struggle ended. Jean, my wife, called me at work crying hard, saying "Hon, we lost him!! We lost him!!" I knew immediately what she meant. I fell to my knees. These are the most gut-wrenching words a parent can ever hear. We told our two daughters and Keegan's best friends. Those are the words a parent should never have to share with their children. Their only brother has died. Keegan had overdosed on a new version of fentanyl, called acrid fentanyl. It took the medical examiner four months to discover it in Keegan's blood after his death. That's how new it was. It's 100 times more lethal than typical opioids and is being sold on the black market to unsuspecting buyers.

Keegan's funeral was held in a middle of the biggest blizzard in 10 years. We were concerned few would be able to make it to the church. Our daughters had put together a wonderful tribute to Keegan with pictures of his life, his guitar, and other meaningful remembrances near his open casket in the church lobby. The mass was to start at 11AM. We barely got to the church on time for the 10AM preparations. It didn't look like many would venture into the blizzard, but we would be happy with whomever could make it. To our amazement, by 10:30, the church was 2/3 full! Hundreds of people had come from all over the area and from other states to pay their respects to Keegan. This brought us to tears. His legacy lives on in the impact he had on others.

It was extremely difficult for us to move on after Keegan passed. He was our only son, our daughters' only brother and brought us all great joy. He loved being part of the family and actively engaged in all our lives. The first thing we did two days after his death, as a family, was we went to Keegan's last rehab facility where we and all the residents shared stories about Keegan, especially his generosity, nonjudgmental acceptance, and his compassion. There were many tears and hugs. The kids said seeing our grief in real life was much better than hearing stories and lectures. This was real, raw emotion. It affected others in a way we hope somehow saves at least some of them. After that day, and for the next four months, it was difficult to get through each hour, literally one minute at a time. We all helped and supported one another. The one perspective that helped us eventually learn to cope was something Keegan said two years before he passed, "I want you all to know, if I die from this, you should live your lives to the fullest and be happy. We'll be together again, and in the meantime, the best gift you can give me, is to be happy." He must have known, this is what we would eventually need, to help us live with his loss and for that we're very thankful.

Keegan, you were an amazing young man, son, brother, coworker, and cherished friend. Life will never be the same without you. We miss you immensely. There's a hole in our hearts that will ache continually and never be filled. Yet, you're still very much alive within each of us every day. We feel your presence, see your smile, and hear your encouraging words. You continue to inspire us. Addiction is a cruel disease. You may not have been able to figure it out, but you handled it with such courage, perseverance, integrity, and a mature wisdom well beyond your years. We love you, Keegan, and know we'll be with you again!

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