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
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.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008