As David Isaacson rakes up garbage on the front lawn of a house on Broadway Avenue, he talks constantly – his mood running the gamut from anger to joke-making to determination to sadness.
One minute a chuckle. And literally the next, a face contorted with tears.
“I want to say that Dad loves you Cody,” he says, looking up, holding back the floodgate.
Isaacson was recently cleaning up the front lawn of the house where his son Cody was murdered in a hail of bullets a few weeks prior.
A known drug dealer in a known drug house, Cody Isaacson died after more than a dozen bullets were sprayed into the front bedroom and front door of the notorious house at the corner of Broadway and Cedar Avenue around 6 a.m. on Jan. 31.
No one has been arrested, but the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) is on the case.
Cody’s father David’s reaction to the killing ranged from shock to relief, the latter sentiment knowing the business his son was messed up in. But what brought him to clean up the mess on the front lawn of the house he was killed in, was part of the complicated reality of grief that comes with traumatic death.
“It’s just a respect thing,” David says when asked why he came to clean up the mess, dumped there after the house was gutted by other drug-house denizens after the killing. He later put up a sign on the lawn saying that he loved Cody, but that was soon taken down.
“It’s bad enough he was murdered here, now there is this mess? It’s bad for the neighbours.”
Lucy Fraser is director of programs at the Chilliwack Hospice Society, which hosts various bereavement programs, including one for traumatic loss.
“It adds a multiple layer to grieving,” Fraser says of the particular grief associated with losing someone to homicide or suicide or other sudden tragedy.
“With traumatic loss, the nature of trauma is that emotions aren’t processed. It’s kind of like people get frozen in time. They have recurring nightmares. They’re kind of not reintegrating, which happens [also] in death that is not traumatic.”
What can be unique is just how complicated the grief that comes with trauma can be.
Isaacson was left almost with a sense of relief after his son’s killing, predicting as he did that it would happen one day.
For weeks after the shooting, Isaacson moved between acceptance of the death given his faith in God, and anger at the justice system for what he says was a minimal investigation after a home invasion in October.
Ed Scherbey knows some of what Isaacson is going through, as his son Corey died in mysterious circumstances in August 2011 in a house downtown Chilliwack. Ed’s wife Gladys found Corey face down, dead on his couch surrounded by blood. The Scherbeys insist he was murdered but the RCMP chalked the death up to a cocaine/alcohol overdose.
Still, bloody footprints, an odd message written on a pizza box, and an anonymous note left suggesting it was a homicide, has the Scherbeys obsessed with the case to this day.
Ed Scherbey met David Isaacson through a group that focuses on perceived injustices in B.C.’s criminal justice system. Ed joined David that day to help clean up the front lawn of the house where Cody was murdered.
All these years later, Ed talks about the weekend his son died as if it were yesterday. He recalls the hot temperature that Friday evening in August when he showed up with two junior bacon cheeseburgers for his bachelor son, and there was a woman there who Ed didn’t know. So he left.
When Gladys found the body on Monday morning, and after the investigation and the body removal crew was done, Ed went to the house. Seven years later he describes the mysterious details left behind and it clearly haunts him.
“It’s with you in the morning, it’s with you at night,” he says. “What can you do? My mother is buried next to Corey. It ate her up. She lit a candle for him every day.”
That type of recollection doesn’t surprise Fraser.
“Those struck by suicide or homicide are left often with very vivid imagery. Whether they see the person [who died] or afterwards, they create an image and often that’s another sign of people being traumatized is they cannot get that vivid imagery out of their head.”
Is it unhealthy to grieve in this near obsessive way?
“I would avoid the word unhealthy when you are seeing grief,” Fraser says. “I used to say ‘you are not going to die from grief’ but I don’t say that anymore. The reality is, a very small percentage of the population will become very ill.
“I think there is even a broken heart syndrome.”
Time can heal, but in some cases it cannot. For many, the first year after a traumatic death is extremely hard, but the second year can be even worse when the condolences dry up, the paper work is done, and the gifts of food and visits from friends slow down.
“The second year people can feel a little bit on their own.”
As for what can help, finding a purpose in the death can be along the lines of those who get involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving after suffering a death at the hand of a drunk driver.
“It helps a lot of people to find meaning out of a death as in, ‘my son didn’t die in vain.’ Then they do better with grief.”
But one of the important things Fraser says people should know is that grief is an entirely normal, human experience.
“If people died from grief we wouldn’t have a planet,” she says.
Our partners from @BCVOH @BCBereavement will be hosting a support group in #VancouverBC from April 3-May 22 for those bereaved by homicide. Pls reach out for support. You’re not alone. Pls spread the word to those who need help. pic.twitter.com/1n7IDEZZdT
— IHIT (@HomicideTeam) March 6, 2018