731…the number of days we have survived since the death of our son, Isaac Nicholas Herrera. Day one, April 17th, 2015 forever changed our lives. The devastation began at 9:41 am, the second that trigger was pulled, and one bullet shattered our entire world. Our family of six, would physically become 5, the second he took his last breath here on earth.
Our little town was erupted by this moment; a young 18-year-old high school senior, dead, by suicide. Nothing this devastating had ever happened at Seguin High School, and our community was changed by the chaos of that day. Frightened students and teachers went into lock down as the code red was announced over the intercom. Worried parents gathered at the school to get answers, or the assurance that their children were safe. Media outlets showed up on location to report the details of this tragic news. Word spread like wildfire over our small town with the who and what and how. But 2 parents, Carlos and Cassie Herrera, were informed that it was in fact, their son, that fired one self-inflicted gunshot, and the outcome was grim. My husband Carlos, headed to training that morning, heard the call over his police radio. He arrived to the high school, driven by his Corporal who had a gut feeling need to know more. Immediately, they stopped the ambulance in route to the hospital. The doors opened to the back of the bus and he saw the Converse shoes, the socks, the chain, (in a state of denial), until the scar on the right eyebrow (that he got from his bicycle accident at 8 years old), forced him to confirm to the emergency responders working diligently to save his life, that it was our son, Isaac.
I was at work that morning, when Carlos mistakenly texted me instead of Isaac “Are you ok?”. When I responded questioning why, he tried to play it off, nonchalantly. Of course I went to FaceBook to check out what people were saying. There was no mention of names, other than the typical status updates asking the same thing I was thinking. Within minutes, as I was talking to my work friend over the phone about some of the ludicrous comments on social media, I looked up to see our friends/brothers in blue; 2 officers, Corporal and Lieutenant. Honestly, I didn’t put two and two together at that precise moment. Stupidly, I said, with the phone receiver in my hand “Whoa! I gotta go, the po-po is here!!” I laughed as I hung up the phone, unaware that the life I had known would be forever changed. The tremble in their voices and somber look on their faces when they said “It’s Isaac…”, is branded in my mind.
Walking into the hospital and witnessing the horror of Isaac lying in that emergency room, watching as he was rushed out by the medevac team and air lifted to San Antonio Medical Center are haunting visions. The crushing sobs of pain that we cried when the doctor said us, that Isaac did succumb to the injury, brings a deafening ring to my ears. The minutes we held and caressed our son’s deceased body, begging and pleading for this all to just be a nightmare, sends a cold shiver down my spine. In the aftermath of death, our hearts were filled with intense agony. My very best friends, showed up, ready to do whatever was necessary to comfort me and I thank God for giving them the strength to be by my side in those immediate hours.
The sudden and tragic loss of a young life, softens even the hardest of hearts. When the loss is by suicide, people often question the why’s and what’s, even the who’s. Why would this young man feel this is the only option? What would make him do such a thing? Who are the parents? What did they do/not do to help him? It’s crazy to hear what assumptions people will come up with. “Was he bullied? Was it abuse at home? Was he on drugs?” The experts, the “perfect” parents, the judgmental opinions, do everything but ONE thing, bring him back. Those that know my family, know that we are average people. Perfect? Hell no. But loving, YES! I can’t say that we were completely oblivious to Isaac’s struggle. We knew he was going through something. We tried therapy, we tried one-on-one conversations, meetings with teachers and counselors. His actions weren’t screaming suicidal ideation nor were there any previous attempts. From our position, we believed this was typical teenage behavior. Disobedience, defiance, attitude…that was what he displayed; and we thought it was “just a phase”. We enforced discipline and consequences in our household, but above all else, we loved and praised this boy often. We never imagined that he, would be so lost, emotionally, that he wanted to die.
I write this, not because I feel ashamed by the actions Isaac took to end his life; mental illness is often undiagnosed due to the range of emotions and hormonal changes happening in young adults. Many times, I’ve read that help comes too little, too late. I can’t answer why Isaac chose to take such drastic measures to end his suffering. When I hear the phrase “don’t make a permanent decision for a temporary problem”, I shutter with discontent. The truth is, in hindsight, that Isaac’s emotional state had been strained since his middle school years. The emotions he felt were not temporary. He had a sensitive soul and naturally would put others before himself. He had good and bad days. Sadly, he did not say to us that he was thinking of ending his life. He did not ask for help. For whatever reason, he could not find the light in the dark place that was slowly taking over. He did not think there was a way out of the torment he struggled with silently. Some of you reading this may be struggling now, and it’s been a life-long disorder. You can get treatment for depression and mental illness. The fight is a daily one. There are great resources to help you cope with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, etc. I encourage you to find help if you need it. Sadly, society has placed a stigma on such illnesses, and people, especially young people will not reach out because they feel judged or shamed. If you are in a crisis, I will promise you one thing; if you ask for help, it is there! The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.
Since day one, the love and support that we, as a family, receive is beyond measure. From thoughts, prayers, condolences, to phone calls, text messages and donations; this community has embraced our family and allowed us to grieve with honor and respect to our child’s name. In the first year following our loss, we were fortunate to receive help from the Hope Hospice Grief Center. I cannot say enough how wonderful these healing angels on earth have been to us, especially my boys. It took work, but together with them, our family found the tools to help us communicate our grief with each other in a healthy way. Last year we were fortunate to hold a community event to celebrate Isaac’s love for music and art while remembering his life. This year, at my husband’s request, we are taking the day to be with each other, just the 5 of us and Isaac in spirit. Our Pastors will be by our side as we pray and reflect by the tree at Seguin High School. We have been blessed by our amazing friends, family and co-workers. The love that each one of you continues to send us, including strangers, is overwhelming (in a good way). It says to me that good people still exist in this world. With each act of kindness, I sense the spirit of my son, who was very giving. His kisses, hugs, and snuggles that he gave almost every day are deeply missed. So when one of you reaches out, I know it is somehow a nudge from him saying that he still wants to love on us from heaven.
The same can be said about our faith. The relationship that our family has developed with God over the last 2 years, has taken our sorrow from brokenness, to the path of restoration. It is only by His name, that we have salvaged the remaining pieces of our hearts and they are mending back together with mercy, grace and peace. We don’t understand why this happened to our son, and to our family; but, we trust in God to lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death. We rest in the comfort of His love for us and for Isaac until the day we are reunited with him again. Our Pastors and church have been pivotal in guiding our focus to the Lord. We also know the work is not over. Each day, a conscious effort is made to stay on the positive side of grief. Are there moments of despair? Sure. I won’t say that all is healed and there is not a day without suffering. Tears still fall, sadness creeps up; missing Isaac is, and always will be a part of our lives here on earth. For now, we can only take life one day at a time, one moment at a time.
Each day since April 17th, 2015 has been a new one. I read this quote: “Grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” -Vicki Harrison. There have been many days that the sadness is overwhelmingly deep, like the ocean and my son feels so far away that I am drowning in heartache. But, I also acknowledge the days of calm and peace; when Isaac is near, sending me heaven winks from above. I remember what was lost, with the hope to make a difference somewhere, somehow, even if it’s only within myself. Along with my husband, and remaining children, we take heart in the purpose of this life as survivors of suicide loss, knowing each step will be worth it all.
I share the story of this day with you again because I pray that if one person finds it for the first time, it will have an impact on their life. To every single one of you that have prayed, loved, donated, thought of, encouraged and supported us: It is with the deepest of gratitude, I say, that you have made a positive impact in the life of the Herrera Family. We humbly ask for continued prayers as we journey through another year of grief, with Isaac on our mind and in our hearts, forever.
Love and Blessings,
pictured below: Carlos Jr, Ryan, Myself, Carlos Sr, Jacob & Isaac