I’ve been away for a few weeks and I’m gonna tell you why. Something unexpectedly tragic happened to me and my family. I lost my FIRST cousin in a house fire.
If you’ve been following my YouTube Channel, Address NOT Suppress Series, there’s one particular segment where I talk about my Family. In a nutshell, I grew up not knowing anyone on my paternal side and only my grandmother, an uncle, an aunt & her 2 kids on my maternal side. The unfortunate part about it all is, I come from a ginormous family. Like I mentioned in the video, my father has something like 8, 9, or 10 siblings. My maternal grandmother had 3 brothers, which one of them has, like, 13 kids alone. I did grow up with a host of “adopted” cousins, aunts, uncles. But for the sake of this post, I’m referring to blood kinfolks.
My Aunt Regina, my mother’s baby sister, is my favorite aunt because she was a constant in my life. She taught me to drive. Took me everywhere she went. We were joined at the hip. And because we’re similar in complexion and both used to rock long, straight hair, people thought she was my mom.
My oldest daughter, Reyonna, and my aunt’s 2 kids, Jessica and Jamaal, were raised as if they were all siblings. There’s a picture that was taken at Olan Mills (indication of how old the pic is) of the 4 of them. Yup. Just them. My aunt held a newborn Reyonna while her children flanked by her sides. Those were all her chirren. I just so happened to birth one of ’em. :)
Jessica & Reyonna were joined at the hip, like their parents used to be…
There’s an 8 year age gap between Regina & I; 11 years between Jessica & me; and 7 years between Jessica & Reyonna. Just like I looked up to Regina, Reyonna looked up to Jessica. Like I said, they were sisters more so than cousins.
In 2006, Jessica & I were prego at the same time…
My, then, 19 year old cousin reached out to me for advice on the best way to tell her mom (my favorite aunt) that she was pregnant. She knew I was a young mom when I had Reyonna and felt my opinion was important.
“How did you tell Auntie Selina when you were pregnant with ReRe?”
“I wrote a letter.”
Then she laughed that raspy, goofy way that she did. I found out later she texted her mom the news. Sign of the times…LOL.
In my 39 years, I had yet to experience the loss of anyone close to me. Reyonna’s father passed in August 2012. That was pretty close and I was deeply saddened, but losing my first cousin, who I watched grow up and establish a tight bond with my daughter impacted me in a completely different way.
Jessica & Reyonna partied September 27th, 2014 ~The night before…
I’ll never, ever forget. I plopped down on my sectional with my laptop. But before I got started, I called my mom to wish her a Happy 58th Birthday. She emphasized that she didn’t have anything planned but watching sports. Soon as I hung up, my aunt Regina called, looking for Reyonna.
I informed her that Reyonna was over a friend’s house and that she could reach her there if she wanted. She said “alright.” That was it. Just one word. And from that one word, I could hear that her voice was shaky. I come from a family where we all act tough, like hard asses. Never exposing our mushiness, softness, or vulnerable side. In laymen’s terms, I’ve never seen my aunt cry. Not at her dad’s funeral nor when her son Jamaal’s fathered was killed. So, needless to say, I can detect a shaky voice, especially when coming from her.
I called right back and didn’t get an answer. I was in panic mode for a nanosecond because I knew what I heard and was determined to get to the bottom of it STAT. When I went to press redial, my grandmother called. I knew something was up.
She asked was Reyonna home, too. At this point I’m like why are y’all looking for ReRe. She said “Jessica’s house is on fire…and they found a body.” Surprisingly, I did not panic because I was 100% certain that it wasn’t Jessica. Not because I had any proof of such, but simply because I was in denial.
“OK. So where is Jessica?” I asked my grandmother.
Even though it was her house and I was just told that a body was found, I asked my grandmother where Jessica was. Straight up denial. Then my aunt called me back and said “I think Jessica might be dead.” She was full-blown crying. I told her I was on my way and got there in record time.
My whole body trembled as I walked around the corner from my grandmother’s house to Jessica’s. There were already a bunch of folks on the scene, including the police and firemen. You could hear howls and screams of heartache and pain as we all waited in anticipation for someone to disclose who the hell’s body was in that house. Because we all knew it wasn’t Jessica. We all hoped it wasn’t Jessica. We all prayed to all the deities known to man that it wasn’t my little cousin, though a grown woman, Jessica LaTrease Jones.
September 29, 2014 ~The Morgue
Seeing her face on the screen made it really real. Reyonna, then me, then my cousin Dee Dee, then my Aunt Regina…one by one, broke down. The office worker briefly prepared us for what we were about to see. He said one side of her face was badly burned but not that bad. Then he flicked on the monitor. “Is that her?” He asked Regina. She nodded and softly said yes, closed her eyes, and lowered her head.
After several minutes, we gained some composure. We were all able to look at our Jessica, though 20 times darker than her normal complexion and with charred flesh to the right side of her face, and find a little resolve.
“Her lashes are still on. We know how she loved her lashes.” Reyonna broke the thick tension of sadness.
We all chuckled and agreed.
“You’re still beautiful, girl.” Reyonna said before slightly breaking down again.
Pain is information trying to tell you something. ~Susan Taylor
With all healing, we must nurture the root of the pain. The loss of my cousin is devastatingly painful, for a few reasons.
**I empathize for her son, DJ, who has to grow up without his mother.
**In addition, I feel sad for the pain my daughter, Reyonna, is experiencing, as well as those who were truly close to her. Friendship is a treasure, and I can only imagine the emptiness Jessica friends feel.
**Her vibrant presence is gone. There’s no question that when Jessica walked up in the place, any place, you felt it. She was tall, lean, physically fit, beautiful, loud, personable, and loving. Who wouldn’t miss someone like this?
How I’m coping with the pain…
1. The number one thing that is helping me deal with this loss is knowing that she no longer has to struggle, while dealing with the ills of this world. She no longer has to tire endlessly looking for a job nor deal with personal issues. She’s at peace.
2. Knowing that she lived life to its fullest. She unashamedly and unapologetically did what she wanted. I respected her for that.
3. DJ’s father and paternal grandmother are the best anyone can have. So, he will be more than okay.
I know my posts usually aren’t this long and you’re probably feeling like you’re reading a dissertation, but it’s for a good reason. Plus…I’m almost done. :)
To Jessika (she informally changed the “C” to a “K” when she was in high school),
Thanks for blessing me with your no nonsense but caring demeanor and, not to mention, your hella fashion sense. From here on out, I will rock cheetah print in your honor and hold you 4ever in my heart.
To her friends and family, be a beacon of light. Give love and live life without regrets…the Jai way.
With much love,