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Established April 15, 1995
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My name is Sandra Alley I have been married to a wonderful man (Jack) since 1980. We were blessed to have two children; Jarrett for 13 years until his unexpected death on December 14, 1997. Jarrett has a sister Lauren who is now happily married to Mike who is an amazing husband. He has brought so much to our family since coming into our lives we are very grateful. We have learned to live a "new normal" without our son and brother. Jarrett's friends still honor him by celebrating his life on his birthday and each anniversary of his death. That says allot about who Jarrett was as well as the bonds he made with his friends and they are now part of our extended family.
Our son Jarrett John Alley died December 14, 1997 of complications arising from a serpentine aneurysm. The many doctors who cared so much for Jarrett in his short stay in the hospital felt he was probably born with a weakness in a vessel in his brain. It was like a coiled up snake. As Jarrett grew 4 ½ inches in 1997 the coiled up vessel also grew and finally bulged, hemorrhaged and bled into his brain. It clotted off and denied blood at the clot in his vessel at the site of the aneurysm. To make matters worse the artery in his neck also clotted so there was no blood flow to the right side of his brain causing irreversible damage. In a meeting with the doctor five months after Jarrett passed away, we were told that the aneurysm was so rare and large (4cm) that he would probably never again in his career see another. And that is exactly in life the way Jarrett lived-always the biggest and the best and unique, even in death. He was an "all or nothing" kind of kid!
Jarrett "The Determinater" would have goals not to be interfered with by any little headache (which he rarely complained of.) I believe he could tolerate enormous pain. In May and June 1997 he trained extra hard on an accelerator machine (like a treadmill only with ice skates). He wanted to improve his hockey skating ability for fall tryouts.
Throughout this training occasional headaches would evolve, but he never really said much; just that he was tired. All summer he biked in a neighboring Provincial Park sometimes biking 20 to 30 miles in a day. He always arrived home tired and hungry and filled with stories of his adventurous day. Jarrett would say how great it felt and how he would then clean his prized bike, eat a huge meal, shower and rest.
Little did we know how all the activity must have pushed so much blood through that coiled vessel in his brain. How it must have been like a hose that was kinked and no where to go but out. It ballooned slowly and deadly.
That summer he, his Dad and Grampa went on their 10th annual fishing trip. Oh how he enjoyed not only the fishing trip but the planning that went along; including the list of accompanying junk food to ensure he always had a good supply of root beer for the entire trip.
September brought the start of grade eight for Jarrett. It was also the start of his cross country running and his training program. Success at cross country running coming in 1st and in the top three were important to Jarrett. One 2km race, he finished 4th out of 250 runners. He had such stamina and his teachers commented on his ability to concentrate and focus on his running.
With the beginning of school Jarrett's beloved game of hockey also started. This was his 8th season. Tryouts for Jarrett went effortlessly and he had boundless energy. He was on the Peewee Hornets team, a wonderful group of players, parents and coaches.
Jarrett worked very hard at his studies and on the many projects he was assigned. We would drive around to endless hobby stores looking for just the right touch to one of his ongoing projects. One of his last endeavors was convincing us to let him move his room downstairs. And we knew once he latched onto an idea we were doomed to let him go ahead. Jarrett enjoyed his new room and especially choosing all the typical teenager things that go along with growing up. We always marveled at his vision of what a completed young man's room would be as he payed so much attention to the smallest of detail.
And how our lives have since changed . . . We have been going to a Hospice group. Jarrett's sister Lauren age 12 has been in a group with other children dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling. She was asked to remember Jarrett by completing a project. She collected a collage of pictures and posted them on a large poster. She remarked how much stuff Jarrett and she had done in their short lives together. It will be a long time before Lauren is able to understand the full impact of the loss, which has left a dark hole in our family.
As for me, I struggle through each day, as I am sure many parents who have lost children. Jarrett's Dad Jack and I go to the cemetery each Sunday. We meet with two other couples that have children buried there and go for coffee with them afterwards. It feels good to be with other parents that understand how great the pain is. We talk, laugh and cry. Other customers in the coffee shop always move away from our table and it causes us to have a good healthy laugh about that. We call ourselves the Eden Brook Loop because our children are buried at Eden Brook Memorial Gardens.
We are blessed to have a close circle of friends and family members near us. My close friends continue to help me through those really tough days when we are on the roller coaster ride of emotions. My dear friend Mary is my biggest source of strength and encouragement. We see Jarrett's friends on occasion and many have written wonderful stories and poems about Jarrett. Jarrett's school has set up a Male and Female Athletic Award with the Jarrett Alley cross country runners' trophy to be awarded each year to the best male and female cross country runner. Jarrett's hockey jersey was retired and is in the showcase at our local hockey arena. Each time I see it I am reminded of when I sewed his name bars on that jersey. I remember thinking not to sew it on too tightly because it would only have to come off soon. Now I am painfully aware it will be there forever.
Recently our hockey board approved the sewing of a "STOP" sign crest on the back of each jersey of 700 Bow Valley Hockey players jerseys to be completed this summer, 1998 so they are ready for the 1998/99 hockey season. It is to promote awareness to stop the checking from behind. And even if it only stops one kid from injury it will have served its purpose. We feel like a little part of Jarrett lives on each hockey player, the trust fund will pay for the crests. A plaque that Jarrett's hockey team has placed beside Jarrett's jersey and a picture in the trophy case reads "For his Determination, Enthusiasm and Love of the Game continues to be an Inspiration to us all."
A memorial trust was set up by our hockey association: The Jarrett Alley Memorial Trust Fund c/o Bow Valley Hockey Society, P.O. Box 43009, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2J 7A7.
I wrote a poem for myself and my friends to try to put words to the pain we feel to shed some insight on the enormous pain we feel each day. They have said it helps them to understand a tiny little bit of the grief we are going through. I believe that grief is a lifelong process, and there will be many peaks and valleys and changes but Jarrett will never be forgotten and forever loved by all that knew him.
With all the heroic measures, CAT scans, MRI machines, etc, there was nothing to be done. Jarrett's brain could not have survived surgery unless discovered months or weeks prior. We just did not have time on our side. Everything that could be done was done at the time and there are no regrets. We spent three days in the hospital with Jarrett and two of them we talked to him and I believe he knew he was going to die. The last thing he did before the grand maul seizure on Saturday morning Dec 13th was asking us if he could ever play hockey again. I said no, and his eyes welled up. I remember looking down at his runners and I just knew he would never walk in them again. He then wanted a shower so the nurse took him in a wheel chair and he stopped to say see ya latter to his Grampa Alley. His Dad was putting up a Christmas tree in his hospital room. I remember this as clear as if it was yesterday-he was down at the other end of the hallway and he looked at me and I in the air drew a heart and pointed at him that I LOVE YOU and he did that same motion back to me. That was our last communication.
He had a grand maul seizure in the shower. Jarrett was taken to ICU and a pressure monitor was placed in his brain. The pressure slowly increased and all the family and close friends came to say good-bye to our beautiful boy. The nurses cried along side us and the doctors eyes filled up as they watched this family hold onto the last moments with their son, brother, grandson, nephew, friend. In the early hours of Sunday morning Jarrett's pressure climbed to the 200 mark and he died at 8 am. The doctors performed the brain stem tests and he was gone but just at the time his soul floated away I asked Jarrett if we would be together again and he squeezed my hand. I'm so thankful for that because I believe in Jarrett's great faith in God; that life has only changed, and he now lives elsewhere through the thin vale that we cannot see through, until we meet again.
Well-meaning people say I can just imagine.
They say things like my 98 year old Grama just passed away.
I say I'm so sorry for your loss.
We want to say to those that can just imagine, do you know what it feels like to touch your child's hair for the last time?
To feel how soft and beautiful it feels.
To hold their still warm hand.
And know it's the last time until you meet again in 10, 20 or 40 years, to live without them.
To feel their hearts beat against their chest.
To look into those once vibrant eyes, to see their motionless body.
To hear them say Mom or Dad one last time, to feel their souls float away.
To hold and hug and drink in their smell and to say goodbye for the last time.
To see their best friend hug them on that hospital bed and see a tear roll down their cheek.
To have their sister say how will my kids know how great their Uncle Jarrett was. Will I take them to the cemetery to say hello?
I say to those who can just imagine, can you really know how raw the grief, that tears you up each day? To feel like shattered pieces inside and only the outer shell of your body holding it together. People say you look good or just fine. Meanwhile you are dying a thousand deaths of pain each day the ache for your beautiful child that is gone...
The only comfort is knowing that someday you will be reunited with your child some day when you to will die, or that he is with his special new friends Chris and Bre.
Then guess you can only imagine because you can still hold your child.
Post Script (Our priest used these words at Jarrett's funeral and I believe in them.)
I believe in the sun even when it's not shining.
I believe in Love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.
And to get through each day. When I need Jarrett I just whisper his name in my heart and he's there. We always called him our hero.
Update 25 Apr 1999
It has been almost 15 months since Jarrett passed away of his aneurysm. This site has helped me tremendously. Thanks for all of the continual support from others on this site.
The first year anniversary was very difficult but we got through it with the help from our friends and families. We and Jarrett's friends went out to the cemetery and played a couple of song's he liked. Instead of roses in December I had an ice sculpture of an angel made with an inscription on the bottom of it that said "Jarrett born an angel December 14, 1997". Read his letter that he wrote to himself in grade 7 (Age 11) religion class assignment, it reads as follows:
Sept. 17, 1996
God is to me a person that lived long ago and did lots of good things in his short life. But he lives in our hearts forever. I believe in him even though I don't go to church very often.
I am a follower of God and I try to follow every good such thing as he did in his journey. I hope to continue my journey of faith for the rest of my life.
I want to grow up, and get a good education, become a pilot and get married. I would like to get in a different spot in the classroom for L.A. and Religion. I hope in the very near future MRS. HANRAHAN!
We were given this sealed letter by his homeroom teacher three days after he died. It was an assignment that was to be mailed upon there grade nine graduation. I'm so sorry he didn't make it. But it amazed us for a 11 year old to feel that way about God. It has helped us knowing how deeply he felt about Jesus. This has helped bring us a little peace knowing he believed.
After we read his letter at the cemetery we played the song "Wind beneath my Wings" and lit fireworks and then returned to our home with Jarrett's five good friends for one of his favorite meals "Pizza and Root beer" had a cake with an angel on it.
Having Jarrett's friends still want to honor him by coming to anniversaries and his birthday on March 18, 1999 has helped us with our grief.
Recently Jarrett's sister Lauren was invited by a hospice group to speak at a nurses conference on grief on a teen panel her Dad and I were so proud of her to get up in front of 80 or so nurses and give a speech and then answer questions. She did a excellent job.
I was asked by the Hope program to give a speech at city hall on organ donation last April 19, 1999. It was hard but I did it. I felt strongly in support Jarrett's decision to donate his kidneys as we did honor his wishes. I also read a short essay on organ donation called To Remember Me by Robert Test.
These kinds of things have helped us with the grief. But as many others on this site know all too well, our lives have changed forever and we do go on.
Update: 28 Apr 2002
It has been four and half years since Jarrett passed away, at times it seems like only yesterday, but so much has changed in our families lives. Jarrett's friends are all turning 18 years old this year and graduating from High School, they have been a strong support to us and still continue to honor there friendship to Jarrett by coming to the anniversary of Jarrett's death each year on December 14th and going to the cemetery and out for dinner after with us. We are amazed at these four young men that they have shown so much strength and loyalty to our son we are forever grateful to have them apart of our lives.
On our journey through grief we have "met" so many wonderful supportive people not only on this site but through grief support at Hospice Calgary and the Rockyview Grief Support and have continued on with the many friendships we have made. Lauren is now driving and is hope for a summer job a the local YMCA as a youth counselor. Lauren has done a great deal of volunteer work for Hospice Calgary with younger children who have suffered a loss of a sibling or parent. We are so proud of her courage and strength and how she has dealt with the loss of her beloved brother.
I recently went back to school and am finishing up my certificate in Floral Design and hope in the near future to work in this field. I never thought five years ago that this would be something that would be of interest to me or a career change that I would have enjoyed. But as the old saying goes never say never and close any doors to the future. My husband and daughter have been very encouraging in a way for me to express my creativity in this new endeavor.
I have learned so much from Jarretts death, the most important is that a parents love even in death is just as strong and I know that we will see him again and it has deepened our faith in God. We are forever grateful we had him for the time we did and even though it is still so hard to live without him, Jarrett has given us so many gifts of strength by his example while on earth. God Bless
Update 8 December 2008
It has been along time since I have updated Jarrett's narrative. When I re-read the pages so much has changed for our family over the past eleven years and many things have remained the same. The life long missing our son daily will never change all the things he did not get to enjoy; High School Graduation, College, getting married, having children, being an Uncle and traveling to far off places to name only a few future black board things he and us planned for him that he never enjoyed. Learning to live the "new normal" and continue to honor Jarrett's life with our endowment to S.A.I.T. for hockey players in Memory of Jarrett, through his friends continuing to honor their friend by celebrating Jarrett's life and coming to each anniversary of his death as well as his birthday and on Christmas Eve to continuing to be part of our lives. We can see through them a glimpse of what Jarrett's life might have been like and it brings a smile and not as many tears as it once did. We will always love him and forever miss him and for the many relatives and friends that "Can Only Imagine" WE WILL NEVER GET OVER IT! BECAUSE THERE IS NO GETTING OVER THE LOSS OF A CHILD! ONLY LEARNING TO LIVE THE NEW NORMAL.