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My goodness, there is so much more.  And I have another part to the story to tell, but I need to give some background so that you may understand.

My parents, despite any of their troubles, liked to help people out.  This included pretty much never saying “no” to a good friend or family member that needed help or even needed a place to live.  As much as a good person I like to think I am, I could probably never be as kind as my parents and pretty much open my door to people.  I would be happy to help them in other ways, but other then family I would have a hard time inviting people to live and stay in my home.  I can feed someone, I can talk to someone, but admittedly, it would be hard for me to take on a guest for an undetermined amount of time.

My parents were not this way.  Their door was open.  I can count on two hands the people that came to my parents when they had nowhere else to go.  And the thing is, I thought this was normal.  I laugh at this, because as I grew up I found out (or from I have seen) that this is pretty rare.

Many of these people who were not “family” became family, in one way, shape, or form.  One of these people was Jerry.  Jerry had been around as long as I could remember.  In fact, he was a member of our family.  He had his own bedroom at our house and I cannot remember a time that he wasn’t there.

I have to explain this because it was hard to explain who Jerry was to friends I had just met that didn’t know him.  He wasn’t an Uncle and I didn’t call him Uncle Jerry.  Nor was he a Grandfather.  He was just a part of my family.

Jerry was, what people called back then, “slow”. I cringe to use this word, especially as a former special education teacher.  I later learned that he had a cognitive impairment.  He was able to work a maintenance job at a nursing home down the street, but he did not drive, and he could only read and write a limited amount. But he was funny, and sweet.  And kind.

He had this laugh, that if you got him going….was the kind of laugh that you couldn’t help but start laughing with him.  He sometimes had to catch his breath.  It was adorable and hysterical all at the same time.  I never looked at him as “special needs” or needing any extra assistance.  He didn’t. He was just Jerry.

Of all the people that came through our doors, he had a solidified family place.  There was no question he was a part of our family and a part of all our hearts.  He was older then both of my parents, but seemed younger in so many ways.

The dates are fuzzy to me, but it was 1994 and the beginning of July.  Jerry’s birthday was at the beginning of July and my family had just got done replacing an above ground pool with an in ground pool.  It had been a long and laborious process, I remember, and we were all celebrating one night the completion of the pool.  We were all swimming and just having a good time.

I left with my boyfriend at the time (not Jason) to go to a late movie. I never broke any curfew I had, so it wasn’t odd that I was allowed to stay out late.  I remember coming home after midnight or one in the morning.

I had come inside the kitchen and I heard music softly playing from the radio on the deck.  I opened the door wall and went to the radio and turned it off.  Everyone was in bed and it was late.  I glanced at the pool.  It looked so pretty and peaceful in the moonlight.  Someone had left the pool light on.  It was my natural instinct to turn it off, but for some reason, I did not. I shut the door wall and went to bed.

I was woke up the next morning by my mom.  She had woken me very gently, and when I opened my eyes she asked me to come downstairs.  I remember, at the time, feeling annoyed.  I had been out late, I was a teenager, and I was tired.

I came downstairs to the kitchen.  My family was sprinkled throughout the living room and kitchen and I remember saying, “What?”  I didn’t understand why they were all looking and me, and I remember my brothers girlfriend (my now sister-in-law) crying.

Something was wrong.

My mom, as delicately as she could deliver news like this: “Jerry drowned in the pool last night.”

Me: “What? What? What?”

She came to me, trying to explain and comfort me.  “I woke up early and saw that the pool light was on.  I went to turn it off and I saw him…there.”

She had called 911.  The police and paramedics had come and gone by the time they had woke me up.

“What?  You’re joking!!!! What???  Why didn’t you wake up me up??? WHAT???”  I just remember asking all of these questions.  How could I have slept through all of this going on at my house?

After that, it becomes such a blur.  My mom had woken up early and had started cleaning up (it was a good phase).  She went out to the pool to turn the light off and that is when she saw him.  He was positioned in such a way that he could not been seen from the deck, which explains why I didn’t see him.

When I had left the night before to go to the movies, my mom, dad, and several other people were still out by the pool.  Yes, people were drinking—which had happened on countless occasions before—but never, after this incident happened again.  No one was left by water alone again.  One by one, everyone headed to bed as it was getting late.  A friend of the family staying at our house named Ben and Jerry were the last two.  Ben said he said to Jerry that he was heading to bed and was he coming?  Jerry responded that the water was so warm it felt like bath water and he wanted to stay and relax a little while longer.

What was eventually concluded through reports and investigation, was that he simply fell asleep (drinking) and drifted into the water.  For whatever reason, he did not awake when he slipped under water.  From where I was standing on the deck, I could not see him.  To me, the pool looked completely empty.

There was something stopping me from walking over to the pool light.  I will never forget the feeling.  I LOOKED at the pool and thought about turning the light off.  There was no explanation as to why I did not, because it was something that I would normally do.  I expressed this to my mom as I felt incredibly guilty.  What if he had just slipped under?  What if he still could have been saved?  For years, I carried this on my shoulders.  My mom comforted me the way a mother should.  She insisted that Jerry was already gone and that something higher was preventing me from going to that pool.  It wasn’t something that anyone should see, let alone a teenager and someone who in many ways was still a child.  She firmly believed that it was a higher power or force that stopped me.

She may have been correct.  Again, there was no rational reason.  But that didn’t stop my guilt, because we will NEVER know how long he was under the water.  From memories, it seems that everyone headed out by around 11:00 pm, so yes, it would make sense that he was already gone.  But I would never know. Nor could my mom or dad for sure.  We all had feelings of guilt.  Something that had been done one hundred times before ended in tragedy.  My mom felt anger to my dad for leaving him out there, since she was the first one to leave.  My dad felt pain because Jerry was gone.  His death completely rocked our already unstable world.

The only outside friend who knew about Jerry’s death, was Carrie, my friend from elementary school.  I would have had to explain who Jerry was, why he lived with us, and I just didn’t have the energy or the heart.

Jerry was an innocent soul and my first real experience with death.  My whole family was shattered by these events and I remember vividly crying myself to sleep many times after he died.  The pool was rarely used by anyone after this event.  We moved on, because we had to, but we never really recovered.

Ironically, Jerry was why I became a special education teacher.  He was so a part of our family that I never viewed him as “impaired”.  He was just a part of our family.  I miss him, very much, to this day.  Jason never got to meet him, and he is another person that my children would have loved.

This loss sent my mother deeper into a state of depression.

Jerry with a fish.  I am unsure of the date, but either late 1970's or early 1980's.

Jerry with a fish. I am unsure of the date, but either late 1970′s or early 1980′s.

My brother and Jerry after deer hunting.

My brother and Jerry after deer hunting.

Just being Jerry.

Just being Jerry.

My mom and Jerry, 1980 something after my cousin was born.

My mom and Jerry, 1980 something after my cousin was born.





  1. Danielle DeCormier says:

    I remember Jerry. He was one of those gentle souls. I’m so sorry.

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