Bobbie Dyer was getting ready to sit down to dinner with a dear family friend on a summer night in 2019 when the police showed up. She opened the front door with an easy smile, assuming they were following up on a neighborhood watch issue, or something like that.
She had every reason to not suspect something was wrong. She had spent time with her son, Spencer Hertrich Pacheco, just three days earlier and he was in a good place, asking to borrow her car for a trip to Port St. Lucie to attend his brother’s graduation. Work at her mortgage company, Dyer Mortgage, was going very well. Everything seemed to be in its place.
The police were polite, but they did not have good news. Spencer was dead, at 28, the victim of an apparent accidental overdose.
The earth swallowed her, confusion and grief and disbelief conjoining to take her breath and slow her blood pressure. She fainted, falling to the floor of the beautiful home on Riverside Drive that she had shared with her only child, her beautiful boy. Spencer.
What she found out in the days after would both anger her and spur her to action to help other young people in the area.
She knew Spencer had struggled on and off throughout his young years with anxiety and depression. He got help when he needed it and seemed to be moving into a particularly positive phase: he was dating, planning a trip with his mom to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and doing well at his job as Assistant Kitchen Manager at Charlie & Jakes BBQ in Indian Harbour Beach.
But that was the outside of Spencer. Inside, he was struggling and trying to find help. Dyer said that after he passed, she read through records left behind in his apartment that he had attempted to gain admission to multiple emergency mental health providers, but was denied due to lack of space and funding.
“I knew he self-medicated when he was depressed,” she said, referring to the pills he would sometimes take to help numb the pain. “But he seemed to be doing just fine, so I wasn’t even thinking this could be a problem.”
The very week that Spencer died in his mother’s car from cocaine laced with fentanyl, three other young people in Brevard overdosed from the same batch of the tainted drug.
“It was surreal, and so pointless. He made a really bad choice, but he shouldn’t have had to pay with his life,” Bobbie said.
Bobbie recalls the smart young man who loved history and was studying to become a history teacher. She recalls his sweet disposition and amazing work ethic and remembers being told – before his passing – by his bosses at Charlie & Jake’s about how hard he worked and how much he was admired.
When parents hear these things, unsolicited, “it really makes an impression,” she said, “and made me proud. He was very giving, a hard worker and would help anyone. Friends went to him for advice and for help solving problems. He was incredibly smart and would easily help others. But… he could not (seem to) help himself.”
It has taken Bobbie time to learn to navigate the train of grief, which roars in and out of her mind at its own pace.
She knows the memories help sustain her, like the time they spent two weeks at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and myriad other experiences both inside and outside of the country.
“In his short life, he traveled to more than 20 countries,” she said, “and most of them were with me. He was just such a nice kid. A really nice kid, and he was doing so well,” she said.
Finding Purpose by Helping Others
She has found purpose in her loss and is working to ensure that students who attend Florida Tech, of which she is a Trustee, will have access to mental health services for things like addiction, assault, and mental health struggles, whether or not they can afford to pay for it. In Spencer’s name, she has pledged $50,000 towards these efforts over the next five years.
“I want to help eliminate the barriers and stigmas for mental health services for young people, so I’m starting with [students at] Florida Tech. This is a way I can honor my son and do some good to help others in his name,” she said.
“There are things living is supposed to prepare you for,” she said, “like the loss of a parent,” which seems appropriate though the lens of time. But nothing readies you for the loss of a child. There is no getting over or around that.
Somehow, though, a silver lining has emerged from the dark cloud that enveloped Bobbie after Spencer’s death.
From Devastation to Hope
Spencer’s 23-year old half-brother, Charles Hertrich, has become another son to her. He’ll never replace Spencer, but it was only through losing one son that she was able to find the other.
“I met him on the day of Spencer’s service – June 13, 2019, she said.” Since then, the two have spent time getting to know each other. Charles is a nurse in Port St. Lucie who comes up to visit Bobbie often. On a recent visit, she helped him negotiate the purchase of his first car.
“I know this sounds strange to say, but I love him just like I loved my Spencer,” Bobbie said, noting that nothing will bring her son back, but having the love of Charles – and sharing her love with Charles – somehow has helped to smooth the sharp edges of the loss.
“I call him my bonus son, and he calls me his bonus mom,” she said.
“I am grateful for him in my life. He adored Spencer and, sometimes, he reminds me of Spencer so much.”
Though the two came to know each other through unfathomable tragedy, they remain together forged as family, because “the two of us are the only ones what knows what it feels like to lose him.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, including addiction, anxiety or depression, seek help through the National Alliance on Mental Illness by texting NAMI to 741741. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.
Shawna Lucas (formerly Kelsch) has lived and worked in Brevard county for the past 20 years, serving in a variety of jobs and community service roles. She’s a former food and news reporter for Florida today, and was owner/operator of a marketing company that assisted clients and partners such as the Florida Healthcare Coalition, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation for Florida, The Brevard Health Alliance, and Florida Tech to identify and solve pressing community health issues. She has she has dual bachelors degrees in Journalism and Sociology from the University of Miami, and was an inaugural fellow at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.