Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce died over two years ago, but his parents are very much keeping his memory – and his legacy – alive. Join us as the grieving parents candidly share their healing process and what they wish the people in their lives would do differently.
They also discuss what people can do to manage their own grief. An illuminating first hand look at what parents who lose a child go through.
Libby Boyce grew up in New Haven, CT, and has lived in Los Angeles for 30 years. She has a degree in social work and has worked for Los Angeles County in health care administration for the last 28 years. In addition to a full-time position as a social worker, Libby also serves as President of The Cameron Boyce Foundation.
Victor Boyce grew up in Los Angeles, and has a degree in business. After being self-employed for many years he now devotes his time to The Cameron Boyce Foundation, where he serves as Vice President.
Victor and Libby, alongside close friends and family members created The Cameron Boyce Foundation in July of 2019, after the passing of their son, the late actor Cameron Boyce, who died from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). The foundation was created to carry on Cameron’s legacy by supporting causes and organizations that were meaningful to Cameron, however its primary focus is raising awareness and research dollars for epilepsy. The lack of information that exists for this particular facet of the disease is astounding, and as such, it is their greatest mission to change that. Since the foundation’s inception, they have donated over $125,000 towards epilepsy research.
Victor and Libby are also parents to Maya Boyce, Cameron’s younger sister, who attends college in Boston.
The Cameron Boyce Foundation was founded in July of 2019, to continue the philanthropic legacy of the late Cameron Boyce. Prior to his passing, Cameron created Wielding Peace, a social media campaign to encourage young people to choose peace through creative outlets instead of turning to violence. TCBF’s mission is to raise awareness and research dollars for epilepsy and SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy) through digital campaigns and programmatic partnerships, however the foundation additionally supports other causes that were meaningful to Cameron, such as ending gun violence as well as the global water crisis.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Calling into our show today, we have Victor and Libby Boyce. The Boyces are the parents of Cameron Boyce, an actor most notably from the Disney Channel. He passed away at the age of 20 in July of 2019. Victor and Libby Boyce started the Cameron Boyce Foundation in his honor. Mr. and Mrs. Boyce, welcome to the show.
Victor Boyce: Thank you for having us.
Gabe Howard: I want to extend my condolences for the loss of your son, and I also want to say how strong you both must be to be able to openly discuss when I can only imagine is an extremely painful chapter in your lives.
Victor Boyce: Well, we often say that people say we’re strong, but we look at it as like, we have no alternative. We were blindsided by what happened to our son. And this all kind of came about as a reaction, a gut check reaction to Cameron’s passing. So I don’t think it’s about strength so much as about it was almost primal and guttural. It just hurts so bad. So we reacted with passion.
Gabe Howard: In addition to mourning your son’s passing, you also had all of this media attention. What was it like to be in a national spotlight during what I can only imagine was a devastating time?
Victor Boyce: Well, it’s kind of a double edged sword. On one hand, it’s amazing the support that we receive from strangers worldwide. It’s just been overwhelming and it continues to this day, more than two years after his passing. You know, we’re constantly bombarded with messages of support and love, which is great. But the flip side of that is we’re constantly reminded of what happened. And you know, there’s, it’s sometimes a burden to have so much attention because everyone wants to tell you how sorry they are. Everyone wants. I just went to the bike store five minutes ago, and the first thing the kid behind the counter told me is he’s sorry. So just the daily bombardment of condolences is good and bad in the sense that we can never get a break from it.
Libby Boyce: I would just add that I think in the beginning we were in such shock and you can’t equate how you were for the first few months to how we are now. Because really, grief is a journey and it’s so traumatic that your body does weird things. And I remember the first, probably two or three months, I had a lot of adrenaline and I was trying to use my usual coping skills to, like, make it better to figure out how I problem solve and it wasn’t working. These are things you become acutely aware of, but at the time, I wasn’t acutely aware of that. So over time, it’s really an internal isolating process. Even though my husband and I are both going through a grieving process, his is different than mine. And you can only do it alone in a way. I have support. I have my husband, I have my daughter and Cameron’s extended village of people. But ultimately, the grieving process is a very, very lonely process.
Gabe Howard: Mr. Boyce, as you mentioned, you’re just going along with your daily life and somebody brings it up and that sort of brings it all flooding back. I’m thinking about Cameron’s new movie. He’s got a new movie coming out, Runt. He obviously filmed it before his death, but it’s just now being released. What’s that like for you? Because your son is a star, he’s going to be front and center again, and I imagine that that’s wonderful, right? This is what he loved doing. But also there’s just a lot. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Victor Boyce: Yeah, sure, I mean, anything that he’s been in, you know, I have a great sense of pride, Cameron and I kind of came up in the industry together. Me as the dad and then as the dad-ager and then as just, you know, as he grew older and did more of his own business, we just watched him go from a little boy to a young man to a man. So I always have tremendous pride when I see Cameron do things. And also I love to see him animated, obviously, since he’s not around anymore. I love to see him and hear him. But again, there’s always a flip side. The flip side is that I can’t talk to him about it. I can’t give him a hug. I can’t tell him how proud I am of him. I can’t share the joy and the sense of pride that he had in his own work. You know, he put a lot into this final role. He took it very seriously and it shows in his performance. And so since he’s not here for us to celebrate that, it’s devastating. So everything is great and horrible at the same time. People reminding me, with good intentions, they remind me and thank you for the condolences, but you know, it sucks.
Gabe Howard: Everything that I have been able to find about your son just described him as a child actor, a Disney Channel star, but that’s not how you knew him. Can you tell us what your son was like outside of the spotlight, just as your son?
Libby Boyce: Well, I think every parent is biased, but really for us, we believe that he came in with a little extra sauce, if you will, a little, I don’t know, pixie dust. He was extremely talented with athletics and dance, and he had a very internal way of processing the world around him. And we just feel like he was an old soul. He was very wise. He was very calm. He was very even. Nothing really rattled him. He was just an absolute joy. And I think Vic and I really just felt like, how do we get this amazing human who was so kind to everybody who was always about the underdog who was the sweetest big brother you could ever, ever want? And my daughter used to say that her friends were jealous because Cameron was so sweet to her. And, you know, other big brothers were so mean and he just had a way of touching people and connecting to people. And he really cared about the world and about social justice and diversity and equity and no bullying and those things. I mean, that’s just who he was to his core. He was also a goofy goofball. You know, he would kid around like crazy, and it was hard to get a good picture of him without, you know, a funny face. I mean, he was just an incredible human who I think would have done such great things in this world.
Gabe Howard: Mrs. Boyce, you’ve commented before about the lack of etiquette that some people have or that some people don’t know what to say in the wake of such an event, and that we’re really just not taught what to do. And you wish that wasn’t the case. I believe somewhere I read that you were hoping to write a book about how to help people interact with people who have gone through such a tragic loss. We’re just not taught how to handle things like this. We’re largely taught to avoid them.
Libby Boyce: Yeah.
Victor Boyce: Mm-hmm.
Libby Boyce: I think everybody’s different in what they need, and it’s really key to just find out what it is that they need. For example, for me, I have a really hard time looking at pictures and videos. I have a hard time looking at his friends moving on. I have a hard time in his, you know what used to be his bedroom. Other people take great joy in that. So I have people in my support group, for example, who sleep in their child’s room and it gives them comfort, you know? So we’re all very different. And I think what’s really key is finding out what it is that that person needs as opposed to making assumptions. It’s definitely a very, very difficult subject to broach. And so kind of approaching it as you’re a blank slate, learning what that person needs and being there to support that person, I think is really important. Making comments, religious comments about they’re in heaven or they’re in a better place. All of that, it really should not be shared unless a person has expressed that to you as something that they believe, then you could kind of reinforce that. But those things are very painful to hear if that’s not something that gives you comfort. So I think it’s just really important to ask that person what do you need? What can I do for you? And just be there for them. Sometimes it’s just being there and spending time with them and please talk about the person because it’s like they didn’t just go away and they’re, you know, not in your world anymore. This is somebody that was incredibly important to our lives, who we love very deeply and talking about him does bring us joy still.
Gabe Howard: Let’s stay on that track for just a second, I guess I want to clarify if somebody walked up and said, do you remember that time that Cameron did X or I wanted to ask you about Cameron? Many people think that this is opening an old wound, but you’re saying it actually has the opposite effect. It’s very comforting and it means something to you and you would enjoy that. Is that? Am I stating that correctly?
Victor Boyce: I think you are. I think the difference is that if you approach it that way, then you can relate a good memory. But what people tend to do is bring up the death. Just that or be so sorry and, you know, feel sorry for us. Yeah, it’s like it’s just it’s the difference between a downer and something that could be uplifting. It’s as simple as that. People say these things to us with good intentions. I mean, they’re not trying to bring us down, but that’s the effect when they just go straight there as opposed to. Man, I remember that day, you know, Cameron hit eight free throws in a row and I’ll be like, Yeah, that was cool. And that was so much fun, and that will be a good memory as opposed to Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. That I’ve heard, you know, literally a million times at this point. I’m just numb to it. And again, it’s not like, I don’t appreciate it, but it doesn’t help at all. It doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel bad. That’s the difference. It’s just a small thing that can make it either comforting or just more needles in my heart.
Libby Boyce: And I would just say, like when Cam first died for me, like an immediate thought was that he would be forgotten. And I know that sounds crazy because he had so many fans. But hearing people’s memories and what they loved about Cameron or, you know, a day they spent with him, it’s like keeps his memory alive. So hearing that is like they’re not just brushing under the carpet and being uncomfortable with us, they’re feeling free to talk to us about that.
Gabe Howard: I really appreciate you saying that, because as our listeners know, if they were paying attention, I started the whole podcast by saying, I’m sorry for your loss. And you know, I did that because I
Libby Boyce: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Thought that’s what I was supposed to do, right? And as I’m listening to you speak, I thought, You know, that’s interesting. I only did that because I thought that I was supposed to do it. And doesn’t that change the narrative a little? It wasn’t, necessarily. I don’t want to say that I’m an unkind person, but it was sort of an autopilot, and it sounds to me like you’re trying to get people off autopilot.
Victor Boyce: It’s very autopilot and it comes off as trite and meaningless because everyone says it, you know, I mean, I’m hearing another story. People have a tendency to say when they greet you instead of saying hello or they say, Hey, how are you doing? So one day after Cameron passed, my neighbor who we love is a good friend. We’ve known her for years. She sees me and she goes, Hey, how are you doing? And I literally wanted to hurt her because I’m like, What do you mean? How am I doing? Cameron died yesterday. You know how I’m doing. And she didn’t think about it. It’s just what people say, it just comes out. And it just made me infuriated because like, you didn’t think that through. What do you mean? How am I doing? The worst thing possible just happened to me. How do you think I’m doing? Like, what kind of question is that? And I kind of put, you know, I’m sorry for your loss, not quite in that same category because like I said, you know, that’s a little more you’re trying to be nice and say something nice, but it really is very not effective, for me anyway. Maybe some people will react differently, but for us, it’s like, Okay, we got to do this a different way. Say something meaningful to me, something that has some depth to it, as opposed to just the trite things that everybody else says.
Libby Boyce: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really about how can I support you? Obviously, in the situation with you, Gabe, is that we don’t know you personally, you know, it’s different.
Victor Boyce: It is different.
Libby Boyce: So it is, I guess, appropriate to say that because otherwise you’re sort of not addressing the elephant in the room in this context.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back with Victor and Libby Boyce, parents of the late actor, Cameron Boyce. And this brings me to my next question, which is absolutely for both of you. Would you rather people say the wrong thing or would you rather people say nothing at all?
Victor Boyce: Hmm.
Libby Boyce: For me, nothing at all.
Victor Boyce: Yeah, I mean, neither one is a good option, but I think the least of the two is nothing at all because when you say the wrong thing, it could just set somebody off or just really wreck their day. But again, that’s hard because most people, they’re doing it with good intentions. So I don’t hold a grudge or against anybody that said something silly to me. In an odd way, I appreciate it, but I’d rather not hear something that’s just not helpful and doesn’t make me feel good. So nothing will be better than something like that.
Libby Boyce: But I would say, you know, life goes on, too. Like as an example, at my work, we were on a call and sometimes they do the question of the day to kind of get people loosened up. And the question was if you had a choice to go into the future or past, what would you like to do? And I just lost it because it was just so like, I don’t know, it just hurt my heart so much. And of course, my answer was the past, and I would change the circumstances. But like the question of the day is something that they do sometimes. So I can’t stop everything from making me think about Cameron. I wish I could. So there are things that, like people sort of do more like, I don’t know, assertively or aggressively. And then there’s just regular day things and I’m reminded of him all through my day.
Victor Boyce: Every day, everywhere I go, everything I see, everything, everything reminds me of Cameron. So I don’t try to shy away from it. I don’t avoid certain areas or things or foods because it reminds me of him because I don’t want to forget him. And it’s part of my life forever, and it doesn’t hurt me to think about him. It only hurts when people only consider the sadness of it. Another good example, like, I’m still friends with a lot of his friends. You know, they’re all young men and women now, and we talk from time to time. Some of them will send me like a picture of them with Cameron and stuff, just as a reminder. And it’s great. And I like those things. It just reminds me of the fun he used to have with them and how close they are and how they think of him. Well, they don’t just call me, say, Oh, I’m so sorry, but you know, they provide good memories and good experiences, and those things help a lot. It really warms my heart to know that they genuinely still love him and miss him dearly, and they hold on to the good memory as opposed to the tragedy that happened.
Libby Boyce: And there’s a lot of people who have epilepsy who have gone to their doctor and gotten better direction because of Cameron’s death. So there are things like even in his death that he has done to improve the world. And that’s what we’re trying with all our might to focus on.
Gabe Howard: It’s important to point out that there’s multiple ways to acknowledge anything. You can send a card, you can send flowers, you can drop a note. But I kind of want to flip the script a little bit because we’ve talked about all the wrong things to do. Well, what’s the right thing to do? How can we encourage people to do the right thing, to support the people whom, as you’ve both said, all along, are well-intentioned and well-meaning and care about you deeply?
Libby Boyce: The people who I have found myself most drawn to during my grieving process are those people who got in my face and didn’t leave, who continue to reach out to me, who just listened and just were there for me and the people that I would have expected in some ways to be there and the people who were there in some cases were a little surprising to me. So I think it’s just important as a griever to let people know what you need. You have to be honest, and it takes a little while to figure out what it is that you need. So don’t make assumptions about what they need to hear and don’t say very trite things like Victor’s pointing out. Just say, How can I be there for you? What do you need? Do you need a meal? Do you need me to go see your aging mother? Do you need me to go pick up your child at child care? Do you need me to start a meal train? You know, get in there. Get in there.
Gabe Howard: I think that’s absolutely beautiful. Let’s talk about Cameron’s foundation, you started a foundation for epilepsy now I know very little about epilepsy, and I know even less about SUDEP. Can you explain that to our audience?
Libby Boyce: Sure, so epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder, one in twenty-six people will have epilepsy in their lifetime. Somebody in your family or friend group has epilepsy. Cameron was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 17 years old. He only had a few seizures. He was on his medicine at the time, and I think what was really, really lacking was information about epilepsy, the seriousness of epilepsy and how to stay on top of epilepsy. Whether that be a journal of when you’re having a feeling you might have a seizure, when to take your medicine every day, to stay hydrated, to not have stress, to get good sleep. All of those things were not shared with us, and information is key to what’s in your toolbox. We started the Cameron Boyce Foundation not necessarily focused on epilepsy, but more focused on things that Cameron was doing in his charitable work. But we’ve come to a place where we feel as though it’s our responsibility and we have a platform to really focus in on epilepsy. Cameron died of something called Sudden Unexpected Death in EPilepsy, or SUDEP. And really, that’s just when somebody has a seizure and they stop breathing or their heart stops and they die. And we didn’t know that could happen. We had no idea. I was always worried about Cameron, like falling and hitting his head or being in the hot tub and drowning like those were the things I worried about. I did not worry about him going to bed and not waking up. There’s not enough information out there. There’s not enough research on epilepsy. People are not talking about it. We’ve just found it, it’s our responsibility to talk about it and to try to bring attention to it and to provide tools to health care providers and to people who are diagnosed with epilepsy.
Gabe Howard: I think that’s a wonderful legacy for your son now, his movie, which just came out, it’s called Runt. First off, is this his final movie to come out?
Libby Boyce: I don’t think it was the last thing he worked on, but it is the final thing to be released. He believed in the film. It is an indie film and it’s about a young man who has no parental guidance or role models, and it sort of goes down in a really horrific path. Really to drive home how important finding a role model, finding a creative outlet or being a parent who’s there is in the life of the young person.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m looking forward to checking that out. Thank you so much for everything. Before we go, I want to ask about Cameron’s sister. Is she doing OK?
Victor Boyce: Yes, Maya is doing great. Maya is a theater major at Berklee in Boston, and she is thriving. She’s always been super strong willed. For better or worse, in this case, she’s making the best of it and we’re super proud of her. And thank goodness we have her because I don’t know what I would do without Maya.
Gabe Howard: I just want to thank you and thank your family for everything that you have done. There’s not enough information about many illnesses. It’s why podcasts like this exist. It’s why websites like Healthline exist. We’re trying to get the information into the hands of the people that need it. So thank you for. For playing a big role in ensuring that people have the information that they need to prevent as many tragedies as we can. I really want all of our listeners to check out Cameron Boyce Foundation. How do they find it? Can they donate? What other projects are you supporting?
Victor Boyce: Absolutely. So first of all, the Cameron Boyce Foundation website is TheCameronBoyceFoundation.org, dot O R G. There’s lots of information about what we do, what’s coming up. There’s lots of stuff about Cameron. People love to learn more about him and see what he’s done. There’s also links to all of our social media pages, The Cameron Boyce Foundation on Instagram, the Wielding Peace Instagram. And that’s where you can submit your own pictures for Wielding Peace and get involved and participate. We like people to be active in what we’re doing. Thank you for having us, and that’s our mission is to be helpful and hopefully we can change some lives and make an impact.
Gabe Howard: You are so very welcome and to all of our listeners, thank you. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award winning public speaker who is absolutely available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and recommend the show to a friend. Word of mouth still works, but hey, all of the internet methods are good too. I will see everybody next Thursday here on Inside Mental Health.
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