My first encounter with death was an encounter I don’t fully remember. I was 5, almost 6, and I remember being in the townhouse my family and I lived in, surrounded by a bunch of people. It’s crazy to remember this moment through the memories of first grade Jerica. The way children process things around them is completely… innocent? Like when you see an adult crying, you think, “Huh, that’s weird. I didn’t know adults cried.”
I remember thinking this when I saw my almost stepfather. He had been dating my mother since she had been pregnant with my brother, who was not his child. He had been in my life for a few years at that point since my mom had gotten back custody of me. She lost custody of me because she was a drug addict and I had only met my actual father three or four times at this point.
All these adults surrounding me, looking at me with sorrow in their eyes, and I all could think was how weird it was to see an adult cry. It’s like seeing your older uncle or grandpa fall on their ass. It’s funny.
Of course, at that point, no had had told me why everyone was upset. At almost six, I was more interested in going outside to play than to sit around all these mopey people. So, I headed outside. And then I saw my almost stepfather. The father of my younger sister, who was a little over a year at that time.
He saw me and started crying. Again, how strange and funny it was seeing him crying. This man was an asshole; yelled a lot and would talk shit to me when my mom wasn’t around. And there he was, crying.
Eventually, someone told me my mom died. It didn’t really register in my head. My mom passed away. My mom died. My mom is dead. She died of a heart attack.
I would later learn drugs were the cause of the heart attack, but when I was 6, that didn’t matter to me. Her death didn’t impact me until I was older; until I fully understood what it meant for someone to be dead. We, unfortunately, were used to our mom being gone for days at a time.
After she died, I remember waiting up for her. Staring at a photo of white Jesus, asking him to bring her back.
This story is one that is hard for me to tell. And it’s definitely not one I try to tell a lot because honestly, it’s depressing, my first encounter with death. I was almost five and she was almost 31. She was young and troubled. She lived a hard life and who knows what she could have potentially done with her life.
This is something we think about when young people die, especially as young people ourselves. We start imagining what could have prevented their death, which could have saved them. What if I’m next?
When you’re young, death is such a foreign concept. We’re supposed to grow old and die when we’re like in our 90s or whatever. But dead at 30? Dead at 27? Dead at 20? Even dead at 40 seems young, right? 40 is really not that far away from us at this point.
I wanted to write this because the idea of death is so frightening to me and I don’t want it to be. I wasn’t even six when I had my first run-in with death and it wasn’t the last time, unfortunately.
The best thing we can do is to live in the moment and live the best we can.
“I enjoy life, and I think that’s important. Life is so fragile and so fleeting, and it’s over in a minute, and you’ve just got to grab it and do everything and not worry about it.” – Jerry Hall
In memory of Cameron Boyce, 20, Actor, Activist.