Tragedy and triumph – Jamie picks up pieces to graduate
Eighteen-year-old Jamie Treger had “the perfect life” until unfathomable tragedy struck twice during her matric year last year causing her to lose both her parents within a few weeks of each other.
The King David High School Victory Park matriculant said the world “came crashing down” for her and her sister, Demi, 16, describing it as the “darkest year of their lives”.
“One minute, the four of us had the best life, the next minute, Demi and I were utterly devastated,” said Jamie.
Her father, Robbie, 50, unexpectedly passed away in March last year, followed by the sudden passing of her mother Julie, 48, a mere 13 weeks later. Both deaths sent shock waves through the community.
But no one was more shocked and surprised than Jamie when she found out that not only had she passed matric, she had passed with a Bachelor’s Degree Pass.
“My gut told me that I had failed,” said Jamie, who was convinced that her chances of passing the year, considering what she had endured, were slim if not impossible.
“Honestly, I was just aiming to pass. I was so shocked when I got my results and saw that I passed everything,” she told the SA Jewish Report this week. “I’m so happy.
“The biggest reward is seeing the impact this has had on my sister. If I could do this during the worst year of our lives, anything is possible. It’s shown her that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything, no matter what,” said Jamie, “It was important to do this for her, for me, and for our parents, who would have been so proud.”
When Jamie’s results came through at midnight on 18 January, she was surrounded by loved ones and close family friends who have unwaveringly supported her and her sister.
“Within minutes of hearing my results, the house lights mysteriously dimmed then flashed on and off a few times, which I know was a sign from my parents. I know they were there, and that they were proud of me,” she said.
On 20 March last year, Robbie, a businessman, passed away after a flight home to Johannesburg following a skiing trip abroad.
“I was expecting him to call me to say he had just landed,” said Jamie, “Instead, my mom called and said she was rushing to the airport. She wouldn’t say what was wrong, but I knew something bad had happened.”
His untimely death shattered the close-knit family of four. “We were heartbroken. My mother was grief-stricken. It was hard seeing her so sad, they were soul mates,” said Jamie. She described her mother, who worked at Investec Bank for 25 years, as “the greatest angel on earth”, who was charitable and did many random acts of kindness. “She would secretly hide money in the plants at work for the cleaners to find so as not to embarrass them, that kind of thing.
“I knew my mother was determined to be strong for us girls and made sure to do her best every day for us. I found this inspiring,” she said.
“When I lost my father, my life changed forever. He was my everything. I wanted to be strong for my mother, I willed myself to get up in the morning to go to school. The first day I walked in, it was so hard, I turned around and walked out.
“Every day, I tried going for longer, it was tough, but I knew I had to do it for my mom and my sister,” she said.
As the family began picking up the pieces, three months later, tragedy struck again when Julie accidentally passed away at the family home on 13 June.
“Everything just crumbled again. I was done. It’s all a blur,” Jamie said.
Somehow, through the fog of despair, the teenager managed to summon the courage to face each day and remain strong for her sister, saying they were “inseparable”. She drew strength from the example her mother set for them in her time of mourning for their father.
“There was no option. I had to get up in the morning, go to school, and face each day,” she said.
The school granted her a concession to write preliminary and final examinations in a separate room at school.
“The thought of writing for three hours in a hall in complete silence was terrifying, I was petrified that my mind would drift, and I’d have horrible thoughts,” she said.
During those first months after her parents were gone, she said, “I kept myself busy and still do. My parents are always in the back of my mind, and always will be. It helps to keep busy.”
A couple of weeks after her father passed away, she turned 18. A few weeks after her mother passed away, she insisted on taking her driver’s license test so that she could drive her sister to school. The love and support that surrounded her enabled her to stay focused and study.
“Although I have bad days, I have learnt that it’s important to be independent and strong, to be humble, grateful for every day, and mindful of others. This is something my parents instilled in us, and we intend emulating,” she said.
The girls live with their grandmother, Della Berkowitz, and intend to continue living in their family home. “It’s our happy place, where we have the best family memories which we cherish,” she said.
She said there were many signs of her parents’ presence in their home.
“My mom noticed how the lights in her bedroom always flickered. An electrician came to check them and said there was nothing wrong. She was convinced it was a sign from my dad. So, when the lights dimmed last week when I got my results, I took it as a sign.”
Jamie is looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life, and has enrolled for a graphic design course at Vega.