Jamie, Our Joy
By Mychael McNeeley and Elene Bratton
Originally appeared in Daily Word Magazine, February 2006
Daily Word Cover
“Some people think the world is round, but it’s really in the shape of a heart because it’s God’s heart.” Jamie – 5 years old.
When our son Jamie was born on May 24, 1996, he opened a level of love within us that we didn’t know existed. Jamie came at a time when our relationship was falling apart. It seemed to us that he had come to help us see how much we could love when we couldn’t even see that for ourselves. During the pregnancy it became clear, we were committed to raising our son together in a loving home. We rededicated ourselves to each other. We decorated his room with angels and Winnie the Pooh and soon our angel was born. In our daily care of him, we fell even more in love with him.
According to Jamie, he chose us. When he was about three and a half, he told us that he had been with the angels before he was born. He went on to say that one day he looked down and saw us in our bed. He told the spirit he was with, “Those are the people I want to be with” and then slid down a long tunnel into his mother’s belly. Jamie attended Sunday school at our Unity church, so he had a concept of God and angels. But he told that story very spontaneously, confirming our belief in God.
When Jamie was four, he broke his arm jumping off a playground turtle. When he told us what happened, he said the reason he broke his arm was that he made a poor choice. “I was standing with this boy on top of the turtle, and I wondered what it would look like if we fell down. So I leaned on top of the other boy and fell on him and broke my arm. That wasn’t a very good idea.”
Jamie talked about the future. He had already thought about a career and wanted to have a wife and kids. He was only five, but at times he seemed to be a spiritual giant and an intellect way beyond his years. At other times he was this little boy who loved jumping off things and had all kinds of objects stuffed in his pockets.
He first attended Christ Church Unity in San Diego, where we live, at 5 days old. After being in the nursery he started Sunday school with his mom as assistant teacher. The first thing every morning we would pray and read Daily Word. If he was having a hard time with someone at school, we would pray for that person. One morning shortly after the Middle East conflict was reemerging Jamie and mom were praying for peace between nations when he reflected, “Mom they can’t hear their hearts, they are too much in war” What a lesson for us all.
The day before he was to spend the night with his aunt Angela and cousin Demetri, hanging out at the pool and having fun, he got in trouble at kindergarten. We agreed the next morning that he could only go if he did well in school that day. He received a green color for the day indicating it was a good day. Angela picked him up after school, put him in the backseat of her small car, and latched his seat belt. Then she drove from San Diego toward the northern part of the county, about forty minutes away. After exiting the freeway near her home, for some reason that we will never know, she lost control of her car. The car veered off the right side of the road and came back onto the pavement. Then it drifted across into oncoming traffic. A large truck coming around a blind curve hit the side of the car where Jamie was sitting.
Angela survived the crash and has since made a remarkable recovery from a severe head trauma. Jamie was life-flighted to Children’s Hospital. When we arrived and saw him on life support, we felt our Jamie was already gone. His brain had been deprived of oxygen for over forty minutes, and the doctors asked us to decide whether to keep him on life support or let him go. We decided to let him go, but that decision was not ours to make; his body shut down on its own and he officially left it at 10 P.M. April 24, 2002.
We were in total shock but felt immediately that Jamie’s spirit of giving began to guide us. A woman approached us and asked if we would consider donating Jamie’s organs. We said yes, and from that moment Jamie has continued to give as he had been so willing in life.
Jamie’s service was a celebration of his life and an honoring of our grief. Instead of friends and family sending flowers, at first we suggested that they give donations to organizations that helped people. Then the idea was given to us (from Jamie, we believe) to start a fund and to determine later where the money would be donated. Our minister Blair Tabor, from Christ Church Unity, agreed to hold the donations at the church. That was the start of “Jamie’s Joy”.
Since that time we have transferred the fund to San Diego Foundation, a non-profit organization. That has allowed for the creation of the “Jamie’s Joy Memorial Fund” to honor his life and memory. Every year on his birthday we give to a non-profit group. We’ve given to organizations all over the world. We feel Jamie’s legacy is one of Love, Joy, Peace, and Connection. Last year Jamie’ Joy donated to two organizations that help develop peace in the world. Previously Jamie’s Joy has supported the education of a five year old in Mexico. Jamie’s Joy will also always sponsor a child somewhere in the world each year with the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.
We host a web site where people share their stories about Jamie and we have shared our process of grief and healing. There is a section on grief support—resources to help people who have experienced loss. We post book reviews and suggest music that has helped us deal with our grief.
But, Jamie’s Joy isn’t just a fund or a Web site; we honor Jamie in other ways. We attend a life-sharing luncheon every year and are involved in a San Diego county program, “Traffic Victims’ Remembrance Day.” We offer the workshop, “Honoring and Remembering,” as a way to honor loved ones who have crossed over and to honor the grief process. Jamie’s Joy is a way for us to heal our grief and help Jamie’s life and legacy live on as an inspiration to other people.
People tell us about how Jamie has touched their lives while he was in his body and since he has been a spirit among us. People have also been so honoring of our human process of grief. Those that help the most just sit and listen and are “there” for us. This is how we can help those who are grieving. We bear with them and allow them to say and feel whatever they need to and to teach us what will be helpful. We don’t try to fix them so they will feel better because they’re not going to feel better for quite awhile and some things and days will always remain tender.
Some things are a part of the human experience. For us to turn this human experience into part of our spiritual life and try to honor Jamie in a spiritual way seems very befitting of the person that he was. Of course there’s always the human part of us—that longing and sadness we feel for him.
Remembering the profound and deep things that Jamie said at such a young age helps us. We believe he knew God in a way that many people may never experience.
When we asked Jamie why he was so cute or smart, or funny or any positive attribute about himself he would always reply, “Because God made me that way.” Jamie knew his source. He knew that all the world is in God’s heart and that we are all part of God’s heart. Knowing this, knowing we are connected through this, brings us comfort every day.
Elene and Mychael established the Jamie’s Joy Fund in loving memory of their five-year-old son, Jamie. The fund seeks to enrich the lives of all living beings by supporting activities and organizations that promote Joy, Love, Connection and Peace—attributes expressing the best of Jamie. To learn more about Jamie’s Joy, please visit Jamie’s Joy Web.