The following is the opinion and personal experience of the writer. This was written as a speech for National Day of Remembrance on September 25, 2021.
Death is a touchy subject, and most people avoid it. Please don’t think what I am about to say will be all dark because I want to share my healing with you, but for you to truly understand my struggle, you need to hear my pain too.
My daughter Rosaura was an amazing vibrant young lady, full of God’s light. She loved and cherished family. We were a very tight-knit family. In the weeks before my daughter was murdered, we had a conversation about death. We talked about death and everything that comes with it.
The thing is, we talked about what would happen if her dad or I were to die. I never thought the conversation we were having would be so meaningful a couple of weeks later when we had to plan my sweet girl’s funeral services.
She cried during that conversation when she asked, “mom, what am I supposed to do if you or dad die? How am I supposed to live?”
I responded, “Saura, you will have to continue. You will have to make memories and find happiness again because you will still be living, and that’s what life is for. To live and do good in memory of those who left too soon. To keep the light flowing amongst our family, because we are like a cloth, and when there is a hole, the others need to pull together to fill the gap and be strong”.
She said, “Ok mom, if you die, I will pull our family together and continue to be happy and make good memories, but you promise, if I die, you will do the same.” I laughed and agreed but said, “my dear, you will live a long life.
The next few weeks of my 18-year-old daughter’s short life were bittersweet, filled with memories of hugs and deep conversations. It was like a part of her knew; she wasn’t destined to be in this world long.
You never think you will see your child being laid to rest. Finding her after she was murdered was devastated us. The foundation we had created was broken. The expectations we had for our lives and our kids’ lives had been an illusion because tomorrow isn’t promised. I laid in bed for weeks, not eating, becoming skeletal at a mere 90 lbs. Not because I chose that, but because my body rejected food.
My soul had been shattered, I was no longer in control, and my mental health was deteriorating. How could I live when I hadn’t even realized my younger daughter was in danger? I had given up without even knowing it. I always had seen myself as the rock in my family. The one who took care of everyone, but in those dark times, I lost my mind. I lost myself entirely in the pain that was crushing me from the inside out. I couldn’t breathe, and there was a weight in my chest. Paranoia was my constant companion.
How could someone choose to hurt my beautiful, amazing daughter?! I now realize I am not the rock of my family; my husband is. Without him feeding me broth every day and making sure I was hydrated, I wouldn’t be here right now. My heart and soul had been broken, as was his, but he kept me physically alive. I was the living dead.
What brought me back was the day my then 15-year-old son came to tell me he was starting school again. I was surprised so much time had passed. I had slept so long, only forcing myself out of bed to attend court then going right back to my dark bedroom to hide from the world. An entire summer had flown by.
As you know, when you lose someone, time changes. It feels like it was just a day ago, but it also feels like a lifetime ago. Time has no meaning anymore. My time stopped the moment I saw her lying on that floor. Hearing the sadness in my son’s voice caused me to awaken from my darkness. He needed me. I am his mom, and I was wasting it away in a dark room while life continued without me.
My husband held my family together, while I couldn’t even hold myself together. He went back to work, made sure our bills were paid, and most importantly, was there for our two kids. I was ashamed of myself; Ashamed that I had been broken. With the help of my family, mostly my husband, I came back to living with a vengeance, not a vengeance to hurt but a vengeance to heal. To heal not only myself and my family, but also our community.
Rosaura’s life focused on family and doing good for others, and I wanted to continue that legacy. And I have been, and as long as I live, I will continue to. When I talk about healing, people assume I mean “getting over her death” or “moving on.” These terms make no sense to me; there is no getting over the loss of someone you love.
There is no moving on.
There is adapting and adjusting.
Learning and living.
We adapt and adjust to a life that is no longer complete.
We learn to live without that person, but we feel their absence in every breath we take.
We see what should have been, amongst the what is.
The world ebbs and flows around us as we live in a haze of loss.
We learn to laugh and smile again, but it will never be as it once was.
There will always be an incompleteness to life.
Though I could get out of bed and eat on my own again, another battle had started; the battle with PTSD and regret. I began having suicidal thoughts. Fear grew in me, and I felt like no one I knew was safe and would be murdered too. I started thinking that my two living kids weren’t safe, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d have flashbacks of sights, smells, and sounds from that day. I’d have intrusive thoughts; regret, doubt, worry, and fear, were my constant emotions. I felt like I had no right to live anymore; there was no joy, only pain. I felt like life was scary.
Law enforcement really couldn’t protect us from anything. Calling 911 didn’t mean help would come. I couldn’t go to the store, I felt as if everyone there was a part of what happened to my daughter, or they were talking about me. Everyday noises became warning signs that made my heart race; the backfiring of a car, a child screaming in laughter, someone hammering. It was all too much.
The noises of everyday life that had once been background noise were now loud and scary and put me into fight or flight mode. I would wake up screaming and crying every night because of the nightmares. My husband Joe, who was battling his nightmares and pain, was there to calm me down and help me find my sanity.
When losing a loved one, not many people talk about its toll on your mental health. I began going to counseling and started medication; this helped stop the suicidal and racing thoughts. I finally felt I had a chance at happiness. It’s been a slow process. But I am at a point in my life where I know it’s ok to continue living. It’s ok to find laughter. And it’s also ok to lay in bed and cry all day occasionally, for we are human, and we lost a piece of our world when we lost our loved one.
Each of our stories are different. Each of our healing will be different. What works for me may not work for you. But do not be scared to heal. Do not be scared to live. Do it in memory of the ones you have lost.
You are loved. You are needed. Be the good this world needs; let that be your loved ones’ legacy. To make a change, we have to be the change. Thank you for listening to me, and once again, I want to thank my husband. Thank you, Joe, for being my strength when I had none. I love you.
In Loving Memory of Rosaura Hernandez
2/15/2000 – 5/06/2018