Meet Nick! A caring & giving man loved by family and friends yet struggled in silence.
All that We Send into the Lives of Others: The Life and Death of Nicholas H. Guy Acevedo
By: Steve Acevedo, aka “Dad”
If you met my son Nick Acevedo before March 4, 2018, you were blessed. That was the day my son took his life. That was the day that my gifted, funny, empathetic, and talented son made the choice to leave this life. Any untimely death feels like a calamity, and suicide feels the most calamitous of all. Suicide rips a hole in the fabric of the world—Nick’s death affected so many, not just me and my family, but all the people who were touched by Nick’s presence. His suicide created a present absence: if you knew Nick, you will never forget that he is now gone.
This brief biography is an attempt to paint a portrait of my son; it is also an attempt to answer some of the unanswerable—and unbearable—questions that are inevitably asked when suicide occurs. Since Nick’s death, I have learned how disconnected many people are from the reality of suicide. People who did not know my son have asked if he was a drug addict, or if he was a loner, or suggested that he was a “problem child.” Such questions reveal the depth of ignorance in our culture about depression. My son was never a problem child. He was a loving boy, who grew into a compassionate loving man. He was also a man who struggled with depression. In the end, depression won the war. Our family has created this website to educate others about the disease of depression and its potential consequence, the act of suicide . My son did not die because he occasionally smoked pot or because he had attention deficit disorder. Depression robbed him of his life, insidiously and invisibly stealing Nick away from us, until he could no longer bear to wear a sunny mask over the pain of despair. Depression slowly transforms a person’s understanding of themselves until they think the world is better off without them. It can happen before your very eyes, and you may not notice a thing.
I knew that Nick struggled with depression, yet that knowledge did nothing to prepare me for his final action. My world was shattered when an Orange County sheriff’s deputy informed me that Nick had hung himself in his apartment. To compound the tragedy, my son was not found until Monday afternoon, because his roommates assumed he was sleeping off a hangover after a party on Saturday night. It’s impossible not to ask what happened. Was there a note? Weren’t there signs? Was he having trouble sleeping? Was he worried about his studies? About graduation? Girl trouble? I will never know the why, and even if I did, I know that it would seem senseless. Something I have had to learn about suicide is that it does not make sense. I am writing Nick’s story for everyone who has a loved one coping with depression. I pray that telling Nick’s story will lift some of the darkness surrounding depression and the consequences of suicide. You will see that Nick had everything to live for, yet he has left his family and friends with an unbearable burden: the burden of feeling that we should have done something different. We should have been able to save him.
I shed a tear every day. I lost so much when I lost Nick, the hopes and dreams for my son, for a family and a generation that will never be. I long for my son’s presence, the friendship we shared and the love that now only exists as a spirit within me. As a suicide survivor, I have learned so much: the indescribable pain of losing a child; the quick kinship of others who have lost children; how my faith in God has helped me to endure; and of the boundless love of friends who support me and my family. I am grateful that I had my son for 24 years, but I would trade anything to have one more day with my lost child.
Nicholas H. Guy Acevedo was born in Pasadena, Ca on March 25, 1994. Nick was a happy baby—even at birth, he had an incredible smile. But Nick was also born with difficulties: he had a condition known as hypotonia, a condition that causes decreased muscle tone that can result in a kind of”floppiness”. He also suffered from tactile sensitivity or hypersensitivity. This condition can cause a person to feel overwhelmed or overstimulated by touch or chaos. The results impacted Nick early in his life, causing his motor skills to develop slowly. He did not walk until he was two and a half years old, scooting on the floor like a crab. But Nick was a fighter! Through physical therapy sessions starting at 6 months old he began to battle these conditions that impacted his perceptions and being in early childhood. From running on his heels to throwing a ball awkwardly, he managed to minimize his difficulties. I have no doubt that his lack of coordination impacted his status on the playground. Boys are judged by their athletic ability, and Nick was bullied. Such experiences led Nick to develop a capacity to empathize with the underdog. I also sometimes wonder if Nick’s early physical obstacle parallels his emotional struggles later in life: a resistance to pain, feeling overwhelmed, constant tension. These are all terms that well describe depression.
Nick was a fighter as a baby, and he continued to fight throughout his too-short life. He tolerated physical pain with great stoicism. When he broke his leg rock-climbing at a 10-year-old birthday party, paramedics were stunned that Nick was not crying. At the time, I shrugged off the comment, but now I wonder if his tolerance for external pain may have impacted the way he processed emotions. Nick grew up to be a “tough guy.” He was proud of that identity, always putting himself in a position to prove that. He loved his contributions as a defensive flag football player at his grade school St. Junipero Serra Catholic School and his outstanding performance in the pool as the goalie for the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Water Polo team. The water was an equalizer for Nick, a place where he could excel athletically. During his junior year, he wrestled for the school team. I remember watching him in awe: even though he lost more than he won, it was an achievement to see him get on that mat. He never gave up, which makes his final loss even more difficult to bear.
Nick was not the most talented student; however, he plodded his way through his studies, first finishing high school at SMCHS, and then, of course, he came close to completing his degree at Northern Arizona University. His friends kept him going, even when his work load felt overwhelming. His high school friends were his core group. At NAU, he became involved with the Delta Chi Fraternity, which increased his circle of friends and kept Nick motivated to stick with school. I proudly watched him develop into a well-spoken, caring young man.
He wasn’t just a tough guy—he was also a funny guy, and a non-conformist. Known for his one-liners, Nick’s zingers would break up a room. His independent streak showed in his fashion sense: he liked to start wearing something unique, betting his brothers that he could start a new trend on campus. He loved music, picking up the bass guitar in high school. Some of his favorite bands were Foo Fighters and Nickleback; he was proud that he had introduced his favorite band The Weekend to so many of his friends. Nick was charismatic and was outgoing, with countless friends, both male and female. One of his friends described him as “the motor” for his close group of friends.
Nick’s extroversion and passion for life were easy to perceive. He loved USC Trojan Football, and was so knowledgeable about the team that he once confidently asked questions about the team’s defensive strategy during a booster presentation. His questions were right on target! His vibrant personality showed on the annual fraternity trip to Vegas. He would dress in a business suit when he was checking-in to the hotel so that they would think he was a high-roller and upgrade his room. It worked like a charm, three years in a row. But Nick was a multi-faceted personality: he wasn’t just known for his humor and charm, he was also deeply interested in understanding what made others tick. He majored in psychology, a natural choice for someone with empathy and genuine human curiosity. His friends leaned on his endless capacity to listen. Since my son’s death, I have heard so many stories of how Nick never failed to console his friends.
The story now will take a turn, for Nick’s life was not only defined by his humor and his charisma. It was also defined by an experience of trauma. On October 9, 2015, Nick’s life was changed when his friend Colin Brough died in his arms. Nick and his friends encountered a lone gunman in a Northern Arizona University parking lot. As Nick testified at the NAU shooter trial, he watched the killer walk out from the dark, take aim and fire on two young men, Nick Piring and Colin Brough. My son ran from the shadows to Colin’s side, cursing the shooter, asking the shooter why? He held his injured friend, trying to stop the bleeding. For one terrifying instant, the gunman pointed the gun at Nick, but, perhaps cowed by Nick’s defiant fearlessness, he turned the gun away, shooting two other boys, Nicholas Prato and Kyle Zientek. Who runs toward danger? Who selflessly goes to a friend in trouble? Who summons compassion in the face of chaos? Nick did. I believe that defining event traumatized him. When Nick died 875 days later, he was yet another victim of that evening.
My son cannot be summed up in words, as much as I would like to make him live and breathe for you on the page. We are all more than the sum of our parts. What I see most clearly is that all the time I thought I was teaching Nick, he was teaching me about possibilities that I might have in my life. I witnessed Nick be fearless and open. He demonstrated the joy to be quick to celebrate, to sing out loud and dance to the rhythm of the heart.
My son was the generous soul that we all aspire to be. His was a passionate free spirit. He danced to the music of life, and my pride in him will never wane. I don’t have any final words about my son—for me, he will live on forever. So, I will close with some lines from a favorite book about football that Nick and I used to read together, Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx:
There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone;
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.