Saving Someone’s Sunshine: A Mother Turns To NOPE To Save Young Lives
Erin shares her tremendous story of finding meaning in life after the death of her daughter. When in front of students, she tell them: “ I want them to know that they have a purpose, whether big or small, and that their lives are so very precious to so many people. I want them to dig deep down and know that they can be brave enough to save themselves and their families from a lifetime of heartache if they could be strong enough to turn away from outer influence and temptation, or they could help save someone else by being brave enough to stand in the gap for them.”
NOPE asked Erin why got involved in our organization and what she hopes students do after hearing her tell her story.
1) Describe how you got involved with NOPE.
My inauguration into the NOPE program came with trepidation and apprehension. I knew I wanted to share my story of the loss of my 20-year-old daughter with young people, but I also knew that came with tremendous responsibility, mixed in with courage and a strong will to not just want to lecture them, but to really reach them in a way that opened their eyes to the emotional upheaval that this had caused not only my life, but my families lives.
The aftermath of a bad decision, and how that has affected so many people that were close to my daughter, Sierra Lynn Bradley. I felt compelled to find a program that was a real-life interpretation, one that was authentic and would serve young people with a life lesson that made them come away with what it might feel like for a mother or father, or close family member to lose their child or loved one. For them, to witness how painful it has been, and where this journey has taken me personally.
I found that real life interpretation in my first encounter with a parent giving a NOPE presentation I attended at the urging of another parent who lost a son and was involved in speaking. It was there that I listened to her painful recollection of the loss of her son, and was subjected to the audience response and the emotional reactions it caused them to see and feel the pain she as a mother had to bear. It was at that moment, I knew I had to participate. It was also there that I met Sergio Lopez, a school resource deputy for Treasure Coast High School, and the current facilitator in Saint Lucie County for the NOPE program. I gave him my contact information, and was put in touch with Karen Perry, who sent me the application and asked me to submit a speech to be approved for speaking in the schools. Once I was approved, I was asked to speak at my first school. From there, I was part of the NOPE program, both in Saint Lucie, and Martin Counties. I have been speaking in the schools for just under a year now.
2) How has doing NOPE presentations helped you cope with your loss?
Speaking in front of young people about the loss of my daughter has helped me cope with my loss by allowing me to bring her to life, in death, and to bring her life to its purpose. By explaining the circumstances of her unfortunate and untimely death, and showing the affects it has had on us as a family, her death has brought meaning to my life. Although that may sound strange, I find it extremely cathartic and healing. Allowing me to talk about her and her Life gives me hope that even if one person is listening, just one, then her death has not been in vain. It has given me a sense of purpose and is my mission to be brave enough to talk about my own feelings and to share my pain in her terrible loss. Also, to remind the students that her death has brought me a lifetime of grief and insufferable pain, but in that pain, and in my tears that I shed in sharing her story, it becomes my hope that by sharing with them they make better decisions. Even if just saving one life, I have had purpose in sharing. Sierra and I shared a very special bond. I called her my Sunshine since the day she was born. In speaking at the presentations, I have come to regard it as “Saving Someone’s Sunshine.”
3) What do you hope students will remember after hearing your story?
What I hope students will remember after hearing my story is how important their lives are. Not just to them, but to all those that love them and are rooting for them. Even to me. I want them to think about what death feels like to those left behind. That one decision could take them away from so many people that they are important to. I want them to feel the pain of loss with me, as I describe in detail what occurs in the aftermath of an untimely death. What a parent feels, and goes through daily. I not only share with them what Sierra was like in life, but I share with them what occurs in preparing for a funeral after her death. I explain to them how Sierra’s death affected the lives of her siblings, and her extended family, and what they are missing out on now that she is gone. I want them to remember that death is final, and so very painful to those left behind.
I also want them to know that they have a purpose, whether big or small, and that their lives are so very precious to so many people. I want them to dig deep down and know that they can be brave enough to save themselves and their families from a lifetime of heartache if they could be strong enough to turn away from outer influence and temptation, or they could help save someone else by being brave enough to stand in the gap for them. I want them to remember my tears, streaming down my face in pain as I describe what it feels like to live without Sierra here with us, because I feel that if they can feel even a small piece of what I am feeling, then maybe they will remember what that might do to someone they love, who loves them back.
4) What advice would you give parents of teenagers as it relates to drug prevention?
I am no expert on advice, as I relive the days leading up to my daughter’s death on a daily basis, and punish myself for not being more observant, more interfering, more aware, more involved. I have to remind myself that I am not in control of everything, as parent’s often mistake control and love. I loved Sierra with everything I had, as I do the rest of my children. I could not control what her decisions would be once the world and its influence was available to her. I did what parents do to prepare her for Life, to the best of my ability. I thought I did enough. Enough by speaking to her about my own choices, and speaking to her about the many dangers of this world. Enough by sharing some of my own experiences and consequences I was faced with after a bad decision that I made.
You never expect that the consequence your child will have from a bad decision is death. Death, after one chance. I have watched many in my lifetime screw up over and over, but still are given chance after chance. I cannot explain this to even myself, as I torment over this daily. Again, I am not in control. Sierra wanted to experience life on her own, and she experimented with a bad decision. She, like all young people, made a decision that I, as her fiercest protector, could not save her from. A decision that took the most precious gift away from me forever.
I can only say that the best thing you can do is love. Give love, and be open and available to your children. Teach them whatever you can about what you have learned, good or bad. Never turn them away from you out of your own fears of failure. There are lessons in everything, even in failing.
If you support NOPE’s mission, consider making a donation so we can expand our programs and get more speakers like Erin Guercio. Donate here: nopetaskforce.org/donations.php