RIP Jamie Denise Tharpe
02.12.1976 - 12.13.2011
It started just over thirteen years ago, this family's pain. I mean, we had felt loss and pain within the family before that, but our immediate family - my parents, my sister, her children, and myself - it really started for us then. Jamie was pregnant with her fourth son. Having had three pregnancies and birthed three healthy boys, no one expected anything to go wrong. But, it did. One day, during a routine ultrasound, the tech's expression changed, and she said, "What a pretty heart, let me get the doctor." And left my sister in the room, knowing that something was very, very wrong. That was the beginning of the spiral, a baby coming with a diagnosis of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Hunter was born on November 27th, 1999, with the best Apgar scores of all of Jamie's children, seemingly healthy. But, because of the ultrasound, we knew, and he was rushed off by life flight to the children's hospital in Birmingham, where my sister and my mother joined him the next morning. He went through two surgeries, and during one, the surgeon tore a hole in his tiny heart, there just was not enough tissue to work with. The hole couldn't be repaired, and my sister made the hardest decision of her life - when Hunter Reed was four days old, on December 1st, 1999, she allowed the doctors to turn off life support, she allowed her son to stop suffering, and she watched him die... Again, I'm brought back to Death Cab for Cutie... "Love is watching someone die." My sister was not the same after that... Only it didn't stop there. We buried our precious Hunter, a beautiful baby boy that only ever opened his eyes long enough to see me, he was too tired and drugged to open them the rest of his little life.
Four months later, we buried Jamie's second son, Tyler.
Hunter died at four days old, and four months after that, his older brother died as well, at four years and four months old. We don't like the number four in this family... Tyler left my birthday party to spend the weekend with family friends in Florida, and the following morning, on April 8th, 2000, he went outside to play with his older brother, who was five at the time. They knew not to go near the pond, they never went to it. They just stood away from it and watched the ducks. We aren't sure what happened that morning, but everything was fine and then it wasn't. Amos came inside stating that Tyler was in the water, and by the time Jamie's boyfriend found him in the muddy pond water, he wasn't breathing. CPR couldn't bring him back, though they tried - Jamie's boyfriend and the paramedics, all the way to the hospital. And in that instant, our Tyler was gone too. And we weren't okay. Any of us. It took years for any of us to be okay again. It was just too much. A little over a year later we also lost my cousin, my mother's nephew, at the age of 15 to a car accident. Our family had felt too much tragedy.
We went through years after that with little to no tragedy. Jamie had another baby. I got married, Jamie got pregnant again, and then so did I. Jamie had her last child just a few months before I had my first. We had family issues off and on, but nothing huge. My military husband and I seperated, and Will and I moved back home. I started working and became a bit of a workaholic. And then, when I had been home almost a year, in March & April of 2010, Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (on the weekend of my birthday, we were waiting for her biopsy results, making me hate my birthday more than I already had for ten years). Only, it wasn't just any breast cancer. It was words we didn't know, had never heard of. It was Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which is already an extremely aggressive kind, with something called the HER2 protein, which makes it even harder to treat, and it was already stage 4. The prognosis was not good, but they wouldn't give her a life expectancy at that point, a cure rate. Only options. My mom, strong and brave, said she would do all the treatments offered to her, she would at least TRY everything that might work, and if it was too much for her, she would quit and try something else. But, she wasn't going to give up. In November, things weren't looking good, so new scans were run. On November 10th, while Jamie and I were out planning a poker run to benefit Mom (even with the actual treatments being covered, gas and other expenses added up quickly), we got the call that the results were back. The cancer had now spread to her brain, as well as her hip and spine. Cancer in the bones and brain - inoperable, at that - is pretty much a death sentence, and everyone knows it. So she asked again... "How long?" You know how everyone says that the estimated arrival time on a GPS is really the time to beat? Well, that's how Mom saw this. Anything that doctor told her, her goal would simply have been to beat it. She was told with aggressive treatments, the best case scenario, the absolute BEST that they could do for her, was six months, and in that case, her quality of life might not be great. Already, the doctors asked her if she might want to consider quality over quantity, stop treatment and have a good month or two, rather than six spent sick and in pain. Nope. Not my Mom. Aggressive treatments were the only option.
And that's why, thirteen months later, my mother was here with us to bury her oldest daughter. We had watched Jamie go through so much in life, including a period of time where she so hated to leave the house that she ordered groceries online to be delivered straight to the front door. We had watched her come out of all of that on the other side. We had watched her struggle with tragedy and heartbreak and even verge on alcoholism, I think, though she never quite stepped off that cliff. We watched her fall in love with someone that wasn't necessarily always a good person, but when Jamie loved, she loved with her whole heart, and for longer than anyone deserved. We had watched her bounce back from so much... We were watching her get ready to really put her life back together. And then she was just gone. She left on a Monday evening to shoot darts with her friends, and shortly after midnight she headed home. She didn't even make it a mile before she had the first seizure she had ever had in her life. Her car ran off the road, her hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that they left an indentation and her eyes rolled back into her head, her foot heavy on the gas pedal, and her car hit a huge, old pine tree head-on. We were told, though I've never been able to bring myself to ask Mark if it's true, that she was thrown sideways out of her seatbelt and against the passenger side window, breaking her neck. Considering the injuries that I could see at the funeral home, I think it was true, at least the part about being thrown into the passenger seat and against the window. I don't understand how she was thrown sideways when she hit the tree head on, but most of her injuries were to the right side of her body, so I know it's at least possible. I may never ask whether she was wearing her seatbelt... I already find myself mad at her for leaving us sometimes, I don't want to be mad at her for that as well.
It's been one year... 366 days (this year was a leap year, remember). And now, I hate December almost as much as April. I'm only determined not to hate it as much, because only MY birthday is in April, hating April and being a Grinch about my birthday only hurts me - although you would think it hurts Mark, too. He hates that I hate it. But, hating December would affect everyone around me. I have to suck it up and learn to cope with this terrible month. Hunter on the 1st, Mom on the 10th, Jamie on the 13th... And Tyler's birthday was on the 22nd.
A full year as an only child. And now without a mother. Mark is estranged from his family, so my daughter will never know a grandmother, an aunt. I can't even cry. I'm glad my mom isn't suffering anymore, and I'm glad my sister didn't have to be here to watch her die. But in complete selfishness, I want them here with me. With Jamie's kids, with mine. With my dad and my husband. I want them right where they're supposed to be, at home, getting ready for Christmas.