Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jamie Gonzales

The past few days here have been hell.

Publicly, I've been writing about joy in the face of waterfowl season's beginning on Saturday. But the world outside of this comfortable blog has been filled with unimaginable grief.

One of my former students - an editor at our student newspaper - died Tuesday night. Jamie Gonzales was diagnosed with rectal cancer this spring, and doctors quickly found that it had already spread to her liver. The cancer stole her away from us with lightning speed. She was just 25.

Jamie had a boyfriend James. That's them together in the photo above. They were together the entire time I knew her, a rock-solid couple. When doctors said she had probably two years to live, he did not run away; he proposed to her, and they bought a house together.

Her goal was to get married next year. Her dream wedding? A NASCAR wedding. Jamie loved NASCAR. Then a couple weeks ago, her doctors told her that a summer of chemo hadn't worked, and she had less than two months to live. Jamie wrote about it here in her cancer blog. She moved wedding plans up to November. Her friends rushed to plan a bridal shower for this Saturday.

On Monday, she developed an infection and her doctor said her body wouldn't be able to fight it. She had less than a week. The Saturday bridal shower was pushed up to Thursday night, and it would be for all her friends from the newspaper, not just the girls.

One of the newspaper photographers and I went to see her after school on Tuesday. Our friend Jamie was almost gone. Through morphine and pain, she could recognize us for a few moments at a time. We held her tiny hand and told her we loved her. Jamie brightened for a moment each time we said it. She died a few hours later.

As a former newspaper reporter who's written my share of obituaries and talked to plenty of loved ones left behind, I know that the death of a young person is always more difficult than the death of an old one who's lived a full life. But for some reason, I was completely unprepared for how this would feel. I knew it was coming. I thought I was ready. I wasn't.

So we've all come together, everyone from the student newspaper, to comfort each other in whatever way we can. We're not sure how, but we're going to try.

And for my part, I'll be thinking about Jamie a LOT this hunting season. Jamie loved wild game. One of her uncles is a hunter. When Boyfriend came home once with more elk than we could eat, I took packages of it to school, and Jamie was thrilled to take home an armful to eat with her boyfriend. Her favorite preparation for any hunk of meat was to marinate it in beer and cook it however, and that's what she did with the elk.

When she was in the hospital the first time this spring and couldn't eat solid foods, I took her a Thermos of wild game broth. I don't even remember what kind, but she appreciated it.

Nate Miller, the student who was editor in chief for Jamie's last year at the newspaper, has spearheaded efforts to start a memorial scholarship in her name. My boss tells us that if we raise $25,000, we could have a self-sustaining scholarship that will contribute $1,000 a year toward one of our student's education. It is a poor substitute for a human friend, but one of the best ways to ensure Jamie is remembered by generations to come, and I'm proud of Nate for doing this.

So, dear readers, I know the economy sucks right now. But if you have it in your heart and your wallet, maybe you could send a few bucks to help get us started. I know it's a lot to ask of people I've (for the most part) never met. But it's really the only thing I can think of to do at the moment. Because Jamie's gone, and nothing can change that.

If you're interested, you can make checks payable to "University Foundation of Sacramento State," and to ensure your money goes to the right account, write "Jamie Gonzales Memorial Scholarship Fund" in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to:

The Jamie Gonzales Memorial Scholarship Fund
c/o The State Hornet
Sacramento State
6000 J St., University Union-2nd Floor
Sacramento CA 95819-6102

And if you can't send money, we'd be equally grateful for your prayers. Jamie will be fine now, but her family and her fiance have a tough road ahead.

Jamie on the left, with fellow graduates Brandon, Ben and Amy in 2007

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Tom Sorenson said...

Our thoughts and best wishes to all the people closely effected by the passing of this young lady.

One day we hope to contribute to a good cause.

Josh said...

Oh, sister, I am so sorry. Losing a student so young is so hard... Our thoughts and prayers are with you, family and friends.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, guys.

Phillip said...

Heavy stuff, Holly.

Sorry to hear about the loss.

I don't care who you are or how many times you've encountered death and dying, it's never easy when it strikes someone so young and so close.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and for the loss of all Jamie's friends and family. Cancer sucks. There's simply no other way to say it.

I think the memorial fund is a lovely idea. I'm not sure what I can contribute, but I'll certainly try to do something.

Anonymous said...


I hope you don't mind, I did a post about your post over on the OBS blog. I figured the least I could do was help spread the word about what you guys are trying to do.

Live to Hunt.... said...

So sorry to hear about the loss of Jamie. Please pass along our thoughts and prayers to those who knew and loved her.

Terry Scoville said...

Holly, I too echo the above sentiments regarding the passing of Jamie. It is never easy losing someone. I will get something in the mail to you asap and mention the scholarship fund on WHJ as well.

My thoughts are with you and the rest of Jamie's family and friends.

Native said...

Always remember one whom passes on and into the next life as they were, when they graced us with their beautiful presence.

I am sure that everyone who knew Jamie will remember her for that radiant smile which I can clearly see in the pictures of her.

My thoughts are with you Holly!

The Hunter's Wife said...

Holly, I'm so sorry to hear about Jamie. Its so sad to lose someone so young.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Jamie.

SimplyOutdoors said...

So sorry to hear about your loss Holly. Losing someone that young is always tough.

I always try to look at this way though: Even though this is effecting you in a negative way, it could be doing something positive for someone else.

I believe everything happens for a reason.

I will hopefully be sending what I can.

Blessed said...

So sorry to hear about this Holly - Cancer is an awful disease. The memorial fund is a great tribute.

Anonymous said...

This is news that is hard for anyone to comprehend and I am truly sorry to hear it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to you and her family.

Albert A Rasch said...


My thoughts to you and the Gonzalez family.

Too young; too soon...

I'll do what I can.


Marian Love Phillips said...

You have my deepest sympathy. A terrible loss to you and her family. Marian

-::brown sugar::- said...

Love you Holly. ^_^

And thanks for yesterday...we all loved just getting together and just thinking of Jamie.

sister said...


it was hard not to cry while reading about your friend. What gives me great comfort (of course from the Bible) I will pass on to you and Jamie's friends and family:

Jehovah God has told us that there will be a resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:15) and in the mean time Jamie is not suffering any longer but is asleep in death (ecclesiastes 9:5)

Of course that doesn't stop people from missing Jamie but it does give one a great hope for the future.

consider yourself hugged. Love ya,


NorCal Cazadora said...

Thank you, every one of you! I know it can feel inadequate saying "I'm sorry" in the face of a situation like this, but your support and concern really does make a difference. I'm extremely grateful.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Sorry to hear about your friend Holly. It's tragic when someone is taken from us at such a young age.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey Sis, thank you so much! You and I have come to the same conclusions about Jamie.

I don't know if you clicked through to her blog, but in it, she talked about looking forward to being reunited with her grandmother, her puppy Braveheart and her fiance's grandmother, and to sitting on a big fat recliner watching NASCAR on a big fat plasma TV. I'm not sure about the recliner and the TV, but I have zero doubt that she is with her loved ones, and that I'll see her again, in some other way.

And I am extremely grateful and comforted that her suffering has ended. Seeing her like that after watching Dad go through much the same thing was heart-wrenching.

Nicki Croly said...

hey holly,
its been awhile. used to write for opinion for the hornet. i was extremely saddened to hear about jamie. i have linked your blog to a posting on mine and will let others know how they can help. the scholarship is a great tribute to jamie.
you and her family and friends will be in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...


I am so sorry to hear about this terrible news. Jamie was a permanent figure in that newsroom and her energy is a part of why coming in felt like coming home to family. My prayers are with her close loved one and the State Hornet staff who will miss her most. I think what you all are doing is incredibly honorable and I will contribute what I can.

Prayers are going up,
Elaine Welteroth

Former wire editor and features writer,
State Hornet

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Elaine and Nicki. Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot.

Colleen said...


Can't say I've been there before but I know what you're talking about. A former obit writer myself, I remember you always have to write about the kids who die... but I can see it's worse when it's a kid you know.
Glad you were able to be there for her when it mattered. A good teacher always is.
My thoughts and prayers are also with you.