Starting the Conversation- Mari DeGroote Shares Her Tragedy in Order to Help Others

This week’s Starting the Conversation, focuses on a Valley mom, her son’s battle with drug addiction and how she is hoping to use her tragedy to help other families.  

“Things came very easy whether it was sports or school,” Mari DeGroote said.

DeGroote is talking about her middle son, Jacob. He was one of three boys.

“I said, ‘Jake you can do whatever you want to do in life. Whatever career path you choose, you can have it all,’” DeGroote said.

A standout football player at Fountain Hills High School with excellent grades, Jacob had his whole life in front of him.

“Weekly we would get letters from all over the country offering full scholarships — athletic and academic — because his ACT scores were extremely high,” DeGroote said.

While Jacob was at the top of his game, he was also in a downward spiral, battling the demons of addiction during his senior year of high school.

“Jake said he took that one pill and he felt awe,” DeGroote said. “It made him not worry about anything.”

What started out as pills turned to something much more serious, heroin. DeGroote and her husband tried desperately to get him to enter rehab.

“If you continue down this path, you can stop and lead a normal life or you can continue and you will end up in jail or dead,” DeGroote said she told Jacob. “He was like, ‘Mom, I don’t need that and I will stop.’ ‘OK, Jake then stop!’”

The academic scholarships eventually went away as did the athletic ones. Jacob, who was 18 at the time, barely graduated from high school back in 2015.

“He stopped and he would be clean for a while and then I would find out he was using again,” DeGroote said.

It was also during this time that DeGroote and her family suffered a tragedy. Their oldest son, Michael, died in an accident during a trip to Alaska. A loss so unbearable, she begged Jacob to get help.

“‘I see how I’m tearing this family apart. It kills me to see you cry,’” DeGroote said Jacob told her. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be an addict’ and that hurt to even say those words, but he was addicted.”

Jacob went in and out of rehab and finally the 20-year-old was ready to turn his life around.

“He would write notes and text messages and more than anything he wanted to be better,” DeGroote said. “‘I have never been happier in my life. I’m really looking forward to coming home and starting over.’

“He had just got out of rehab and they gave him a white bag of his prescription medications that they had given him in rehab. They were all very safe drugs,” DeGroote continued.

“He took his pills you were supposed to take and he was anxious and he couldn’t get to sleep. He took a couple extra, thinking if one doesn’t work I will just take another one,” she said. “His girlfriend saw him take a few extra pills and he had a respiratory arrest. He was on his back and overdosed and he accidentally overdosed.”

It has been almost four years since Jacob died. DeGroote, who is also a nurse, has been sharing her son’s story to help others escape the experience she and her family had to endure. 

“If I can help anybody, I feel that the best place is to not even start,” DeGroote said.

DeGroote also encourages young people to not be afraid to open up about their struggles to their parents or a trusted adult.

“Share so they can get you the right help because there is a lot of help out there,” DeGroote said.

While Jacob and Michael are no longer here physically, DeGroote’s family and friends keep their memories alive through pictures and sharing stories.

“We talk about our boys all the time,” DeGroote said. “It’s good to talk about them. We can’t not talk about them and hope this nightmare goes away. It’s not going to go away until I take my last breath.”