Forever Young – The 27 Club

Have you ever heard of the 27 Club? Jaime and I used to talk about how crazy it was that so many amazing musicians died at age 27. It just occurred to me today, on what would have been Jaime’s 28th birthday, that she ended up part of that damn club.

From my FIL/MIL’s Facebook this morning:

Today is the day 28 years ago that God Blessed us with a baby girl! We celebrate YOU today Jaime! That’s what you would want us to do! The Beautiful, Kind, Very Thoughtful, Hilarious woman that you had become! You know how much we Loved You! That’s how much we miss you! Happy Birthday!! Mom and Dad

I get choked up even reading that. Tears literally spring to my eyes and my throat constricts. I cannot imagine losing one of my children EVER. The mere thought of it makes my stomach turn.

Baby Jaime meeting her big brothers for the first time (my hubby is on the left).

Baby Jaime meeting her big brothers for the first time (my hubby is on the left).

At any rate, back to the 27 Club. It refers to a group of popular musicians who died at the age of 27 for various tragic reasons. Jaime wasn’t a famous musician by any means, but she was an amazingly funny person who lived BIG. She worked hard, played hard, and spent every minute of her life interacting with others and making an incredible impression upon everyone she met.

Unfortunately, she also struggled with addiction.

*****

I’ve wrestled with deciding how much to share here about what caused Jaime’s death, but ultimately I think it’s good (and hopefully helpful to someone) to share and be honest about things. FWIW, this is a feeling that the entire family shares, so we have been open with people in the community who have asked us about her cause of death. This isn’t just me blathering the family secrets!

So ya… our immediate family was sitting in our guest room writing Jaime’s obituary when we got the call from the coroner that Jaime had died from acute fatty hardening of the liver. I just remember there being a collective sigh of sadness in the room. Honestly, we had all been hoping it was something like a brain aneurysm that was a fluke event and generally unpreventable.

You can read more about fatty liver disease here. Initial symptoms are non-specific, and the definitive diagnosis of fatty liver disease can only be confirmed by liver biopsy. Your doctor might notice a slightly enlarged liver on physical examination, or a CMP may show mild abnormalities of liver function. However, there was nothing in particular that would have made her family and friends (or even herself) realize how sick she was…nothing, that is, except for how much vodka she drank.

Like I said above, Jaime was 27 years old when she died, and she was always the life of the party. She worked hard and played hard, and like many of us in our 20s, she drank more than the recommended amount from time to time. Sometime over the past decade of her life though, her social partying took a dark turn, and by the time she died, we know now that she was a full blown alcoholic.

I’d like to tell you we had no idea, but that would be a lie. She hid it very well as most alcoholics too – one rarely even saw her drinking that last year of her life. That being said, her immediate family and closest friends still suspected she drank too much on a routine basis. It was honestly a large part of why we quit having her watch Stella for us last summer – we didn’t trust her to be sober all day. It was never stated directly like that and we never had an intervention with her or anything, but when we told Jaime that we were going to send Stella to daycare instead of having her watch her one day a week for us, Jaime didn’t fight it, which was weird because she LOVED spending time with her niece. In retrospect, I think she knew she had a problem, and I think she probably felt a little relief that we took that responsibility off her hands. I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d have talked to her directly about her drinking instead of just pulling away. We all honestly though she’d end up getting her stomach pumped in the ER some night and it would be a wake up call and things would change. We just never thought it would actually kill her at the age of 27.

The morning Jaime died, my husband chatted with her on the phone with her just two hours prior to the unraveling of her life. She sounded fine and they made plans to get together later that day when we got back to town. Nobody knows for sure what happened between 11:15 and 11:30, but the coroner is pretty sure she probably felt light headed, laid down on her bed, slipped into a coma and was gone. When her boyfriend found her just minutes later, she was laying there peacefully with her eyeglasses still on.

It still blows my mind to talk about this. How in the world is she gone?

The ambulance crew worked on Jaime for a long time trying to save her. Time is a fog to me now, but it was probably 60-90 minutes before they finally pronounced her dead. I just remember the EMT looking at me with eyes full of grief saying, “Nothing we are doing is making a bit of difference, Josey. I think she’s dead.”

That’s the blessing and curse of living in a town of 1,000 people – everyone knew her & loved her, and nobody wanted to give up or believe that there was nothing they could do to save her.

I read this post by Linda on All & Sundry the day after Jaime died, and it hit me like a punch in the gut. I wonder how much of this Jaime would have identified with. I wonder if she could have changed – if she could have gotten sober – if she had only realized how dire her circumstances were.

I’m realistic. I know that not all alcoholics can quit drinking. But I’d like to think she could a have. I’d like to think she could have cleaned up her act and had the husband and children she told me she dreamed of having.

It’s so hard to know that will never be a possibility; that she will be forever young in our hearts & memories.

Happy Birthday, Jaimers. I miss you as much as I loved you – to the moon and back.

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27 comments

  1. So sorry for what your family has gone through. Battling an addiction is no joke, I have a family member who is an alcoholic too, and I share many similar fears that your family did. I keep waiting for them to “hit bottom” and change, but reading this is seriously making me considering reaching out and saying something. SO sorry for your loss.

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    1. Yeah, it’s hard to know what the best course of action is. Jaime’s 3 BFFs from high school had an intervention of sorts with her last fall I guess (we just found out about this a couple of weeks ago). She didn’t take it well. Her ex-boyfriend who told us about it said she told him “apparently my friends think I’m a piece of shit.” There was a falling out for a few months between them all – and these were GOOD friends of hers. That was basically what the family worried about – that if we had approached her, would she have pulled away from us and we would have lost those last few months with her? I don’t know. We’ll never know. I do know it’s hard to live with the fact that we didn’t say something either. *sigh* Good luck deciding what to do…

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  2. Oh, Josey, I’m so sorry that this is how she had to go. This has to be devastating for you all.

    My dad is an alcoholic and has been since I was young. We have all tried reaching out to him, but he claims he’s a “functioning alcoholic” who makes a good living, takes great care of my sick mom, and helps all of us when needed. All of these things are true, but he’s an alcoholic, and he’s ruining his body. But he won’t listen because his ridiculous GP says he’s healthy. All of this to say that even if you’d reached out, it likely would not have changed things or saved her. Alcoholics need to get help on their own time, unfortunately. You and C were great to her, and the friends she needed and wanted. You all did everything right.

    Hugs!

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    1. Ya, we’ve all struggled with disbelief and anger that so many ppl are alcoholics for decades and decades and still kicking it… and Jaime’s body was somehow more susceptible to it and she was gone by the age of 27. It’s pretty incomprehensible. The coroner and I had a long talk about it actually. It’s hard no matter how you look at it. I hope your Dad has some sort of “ah haa” moment that changes things for him before it’s too late…. ((HUGS))

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  3. As hard as this was to write, I want to thank you for being open and sharing this. Addiction is more than an 100 lb gorilla. It’s a beast that screws with people’s mental state and truly is something one has to battle daily. By talking about it, you are removing the shame associated with it.

    It’s always easy to look back in retrospect and think about the “shoulds.” But the truth is, dealing with a loved one who is an addict is very hard. You’re right about not knowing what the outcome would
    Have been from an intervention and you all made the best decisions based on what information you had. So please don’t beat yourself up. You don’t know if saying something would have saved her life. You don’t know if it would have made a difference. But by sharing this, you are helping others. Even if it is so that they feel less alone.

    Thinking of you

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  4. mcmissis · · Reply

    Wow. This post had tears streaming down my cheeks; the only thing keeping me from sobs is Gracie sitting right next to me. 1. I can’t say enough how sorry I am for your loss. 2. Thank you for sharing something so personal and so frightening and so real. 3. I can’t imagine how difficult that decision to have her stop watching Stella was; I am so impressed with you and C for actually making it. 4. The part about not wanting to confront her/upset her/ lose her for her last few months is stomach-turning for me. I’m just so, so sorry. 5. McMister and I talked about the 27 Club a lot when he was 27. He wasn’t living a crazy life at that point; it was just a unique way to remind you of how quickly life can change.

    Thank you for posting this. All of it .

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  5. Oh Josey, I am so, so sorry. This was absolutely heartbreaking to read and I know exponentially harder to live with every day. Thank you for sharing this- I am sure this will help many others. Hugs

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  6. What a brave and honest and open post, Josey. I had (as many others probably had as well) been curious as to the cause of her death, but I knew it wasn’t my place to ask.

    I’m so very very sorry again for your loss. But by sharing this, you could be impacting at least one person and that makes it worth it.

    Alcoholism runs deep in my family so this hits close to me. And an addiction to alcohol is one of the very few addictions that can kill you even if you try to come clean too quickly. Your SIL had a very serious disease and I’m so sorry for that.

    Thank you for sharing. I know this will help at least one person…

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    1. Thanks, Shannon. I know people have been curious. 3 months ago today we had her memorial service, and it just felt like time to share. It’s hard though. The family has struggled with not wanting to put a dark cloud on her memory but still wanting to be open & truthful about things as God would do. We finally decided if it could help save one person, it was worth it to share her story.

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  7. Again, I’m so sorry (and I was really hoping that this wasn’t the reason). When S’s 2nd cousin passed away suddenly from an overdose it was/is devastating for her family. I think about them and you and your family a lot. Addiction is a hideous disease.

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  8. I cried when I read this. This just adds another dimension of sadness. You always worry about the people you love and how much should you intervene in their lives about so many things. You’re always left second guessing yourself. Your whole family obviously loved Jamie so much and that’s what counts.

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  9. Oh Josey, I am so sorry. I am sure this was a very hard post to write, but it was also very brave and very important. There are so many people out there who could benefit from coming across this post and who knows, it may just be the ‘ah ha’ moment they need. Addictions are TOUGH… for everyone involved. Knowing how to handle them and not lose friends/family. There is no easy answer. I have a friend who is an alcoholic and myself and another friend have talking many times about having an intervention of sorts with her but we just haven’t been able to bring ourselves to do it, knowing she will most definitely not take it well. I am so sorry that Jaime suffered with this. Even if nothing was going to stop it or change it, the most important thing is that Jaime had people around her who loved and cared for her so much.

    Happy Birthday Jaime.

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  10. lparsons15 · · Reply

    Oh my freaking god Josey, I am sobbing reading this. Addiction is no joke and I hate it with every fiber of my being. This just makes it that much more devastating that she is gone. Thank you SO much for sharing this, it has to help someone, it just has to….So sorry, just so sorry.

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  11. Mihaela · · Reply

    Again I’m so sorry for your loss. My husband lost his cousin at 33 because of addiction. For him it was alcohol and some drugs, and while his parents refused to reveal the final autopsy results, we know it had to be related to his choices. Family, friends all tried talking to him, his wife divorced him, nothing worked. He needed to make the decision on his own. In his case, we felt he just never grew up, he still wanted to party hard like in college all the time.

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  12. This must have been an incredibly difficult post to write, but I am positive that it will be helpful to many. I had no idea the liver could be affected like this so young. I doubt I’m alone.

    Addiction is an awful yet pervasive part of our society. By being open about its devastating effects, you are fighting the good fight. Thank you, and I am so sorry for the loss of Jaime, a bright light dimmed way too soon.

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  13. Damn, Josey. This was a hard read. ❤

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  14. Addiction is another one of those subjects that People Don’t Talk About, and I think it’s so important. A few months ago, I read an obit in the paper for a young man who died from an overdose. It ended with something like “addiction is an illness, please get help.” I was so moved because that man’s family was thinking beyond their own pain to try to help someone else. Your post reminds me of that. I think it’s wonderful that you are all on the same page regarding how much you share.

    But I’m so very sorry for your loss. Addiction runs in my family and it’s a very hard thing to live with. It’s the only disease which is self-diagnosed! Reading the comments so far, I think this post will have helped at least one family. Kudos to you.

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  15. Oh Josey I’m so proud of you for writing this. The more we talk of IF, addiction and mental illness the more people can be open and seek help. My heart goes out to Jaime who was far to young to have struggled with these demons xxxxx

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  16. Oh, Josey. I am so sorry that on top of your grief you had to wonder if it could have been prevented. I hope her legacy can help so many people – thank you for writing this.

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  17. Thanks for sharing this and I’m so sorry it happened at all. I am so thankful every time someone opens up about the reality of addiction, that it snatches away its victims with no warning and wounds families. I’m confident that telling the full truth of Jaime’s wonderful life and addiction and far too early death as a result will help at least one person, probably many more than just one. Thank you.

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  18. Hi, I saw a comment you’d left on Sundry’s page & wanted to read your post. I lost my brother-in-law to a heart attack at age 31 after years of alcoholism. I loved & miss him like a brother, and it’s strange that as the years pass it’s as if he grows ever younger. Your story and honesty in opening up so soon after such loss is touching, and I just wanted to thank you.

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  19. mandski · · Reply

    Oh, Jos, I’m so sorry. I lost my brother to suicide, as you know, and I completely understand your trepidation about sharing this. Unthinkable loss is even harder when questions of blame and guilt and what could have been different enter the equation. It seems pretty clear that Jaime could not possibly have been more beloved, and that’s what matters. Love to you.

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  20. I’ve started this comment about five times now, I’m really struggling with putting my sentiments into words. I’m so sorry that Jamie wasn’t able to get past her addiction, proud of you and your family for sharing (this was a beautifully written, incredibly heartbreaking post), and just sad. Thinking of you all.

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  21. Oh Josey, thank you for sharing this. Heart breaking, poignant, and so very important. All my love to you and your family.

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  22. Oh, Josey.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back and read this post since you posted it it over a month ago. I don’t know why it pulls me in, but it swallows me wholly and completely each time I read it. You’ll never get over the “What if’s,” but talking it out, writing it out, shouting it out should offer some solace.

    I don’t know when I first realized my dad was an alcoholic, but I honestly couldn’t have been much older than Stella. In the decades since I’ve ignored it, I’ve confronted it, I’ve tried to love him into seeking him, I’ve tried to threaten him into seeking him, I’ve stopped talking to him altogether, I’ve called to check up daily. In all that time there’s been no lasting change. Maybe a week of sobriety the few times my mom left him, or a few days after I promised to never forgive him for the drunken scene he put on at my mother’s funeral, or even that few months he “got straight” after the DTs once Christmas Eve had me rushing him to the ER. But, he’s never made the commitment to change, and it’s taken me 30 years to forgive MYSELF for not being able to change him.

    Hold those good memories close, and love each one without regret.

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    1. …and now I’m crying.

      You know, we’ve talked about this very thing. In a way, we’re happy Jaime didn’t live for decades and decades as an alcoholic because of the exact scenario you outlined above. Such an awful disease.

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  23. This is such an honest, raw, painful, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing her story. For sharing the words that she can’t say anymore. She has got to be so grateful that you and others in your family are using her story to help others and to be real about this disease. Missing Jaime for you and with you.

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