tampabay.com

A garden grows for Jamie

Neighbors remember a little girl who died before realizing her big dreams.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published April 28, 2006


Jamie Gruman used to blast teen idol Hilary Duff's pop music in her Davis Islands bedroom, dreaming of the day she'd finally be a high school cheerleader.

Jamie, 8, never made it past the second grade. The Gorrie Elementary School student died last June, less than a year after doctors diagnosed her with brain cancer.

Her friends still feel the sting of her loss.

Sarah Thompson, 9, has Jamie's obituary tacked to her bedroom wall. Nicole Jaffe, 9, cries when she looks at photos of her cousin in her bedroom.

The parents decided the children needed a constructive way to cope with their grief. They would plant a memorial garden.

Jamie's family joined dozens of Gorrie parents and students Saturday morning as they dug holes, spread mulch and planted herbs around a newly paved brick path in front of the school.

Dana Gruman, Jamie's mother, sat with a table of girls as they imprinted words of inspiration in bricks: courage, friendship, hope.

The words have kept Gruman going since the day Jamie fell in the family room.

Courage

Gruman was in her bedroom with her husband, Eric, brushing her teeth when Jamie came in crying. She had been running in the family room with her two brothers and fell, gashing her head.

Doctors at Tampa General Hospital patched her up, and the Grumans scolded their sons for playing rough with their little sister. It wasn't until Jamie woke up two months later, unable to move, that her parents discovered the cause of her fall.

It was a tumor on the left side of her brain.

"Am I going to die?" Jamie asked her mother several times that year.

Never once did she complain, Gruman said. Not even as she underwent 46 rounds of radiation, lost thick pieces of her hair and lost the strength to walk.

She asked her mother to take her back to school.

Friendship

At first, Gruman accompanied her daughter to school. In no time, Jamie's friends and teacher took over.

Jamie's closest friends carried her backpack while Rusty Buchanan, her second-grade teacher, gave her piggyback rides down the halls.

Even Hilary Duff sent Jamie a gift, a pink T-shirt, which remains folded in her bedroom drawer. Jamie never got to wear it.

Jamie died less than a month after her eighth birthday.

Hope

Two months later, her little sister was born. Annie Gruman now sleeps in a crib in Jamie's bedroom.

Dana and Eric Gruman decided that they would try to have a baby when Jamie was diagnosed with cancer. Jamie had always told them she wanted a little sister.

These days, Dana Gruman pours all of her energy into the baby and the memorial garden. Both will give her strength on her first Mother's Day without Jamie and on Jamie's birthday two days later.

"I really have enjoyed working on the garden project, although I'm not working nearly as hard as the other parents who are ordering the plants," Gruman said. "It gives us something to look forward to, because we're going to have the dedication on her birthday, and that's pretty close to when she died."

The garden at Gorrie will be dedicated to Jamie on May 16.

TO DONATE

Parents are still seeking donations to plant additional trees and put the finishing touches on Jamie's garden. Checks can be made payable to the "Gorrie Foundation" and mailed to PTA president Beth Ann Hill, 705 W De Leon St., Tampa, FL 33606.