Sara Jonas has penned a children's book benefitting the Tidewell Foundation in honor of her best friend.
Sara Jonas loved her friend Jamie Meyers — she told him every day.
The 24-year-old marketing specialist was born and raised in Sarasota, and she spent much of that time with Meyers after they met in middle school. Jonas remembers her best friend as kind and fond of children, and who shared her love of larger-than-life heroes and characters.
They grew as people, moved to different areas after high school, but the pair still made sure to have a Skype call every Sunday. Even as things changed, their friendship remained the same.
Some of that change was for the worse. Meyers was diagnosed with brain cancer in the mid-2010s, requiring him to go through intense treatments that led to having to wear an eye patch for some time.
Jonas made sure to keep contacting her friend and telling him what he meant to her, even when his health grew worse to the point that the Tidewell Hospice would come and take care of him from his home. The consistency and assurance of friendship mattered to the both of them. Eventually Meyers learned he didn’t have much time left, and she returned home to see him one last time. He died soon after in 2016.
“It was traumatizing,” Jonas said. “I didn't know how to process it at first.”
Living with that pain and grief has unsurprisingly been hard for Jonas, but she’s found ways to cope in unexpected ways. She feels grateful to have always told Meyers what he meant to her while he was around, and how important it is to let people know you care.
Now she wants to share that story with others. Jonas recently authored and illustrated “Ham’s Big Adventure”, a children’s book about experiencing loss and realizing love is always closer than you think. The book stars Ham, a young pirate who feels he’s missing out on love and travels to space in the hopes of finding it.
She wrote the book in honor of Meyers and will be hosting a book reading and signing at the Children’s Garden on April 24. A percentage of the book’s sales will benefit the Tidewell Foundation, which supports Tidewell Hospice’s many programs including those for children suffering the loss of family members.
“His whole thing was to always let people know you love them, because you never know when they're going to die,” Jonas said. “The message that I wanted to do is even though people might not be there anymore, they're still with you.”
She started work on the book after reconnecting with Meyers' family and getting their blessing to work on the project. She became involved with Pepper Tree Press in summer 2020 to have the book published and soon was hard at work separating the story into pages and drawing and painting each situation. Soon after, she spoke with the Tidewell Foundation with the intent of including them in the process out of gratitude for their work helping Meyers.
"They were constantly checking on him," Jonas said. "I have a lot of thanks for them, because he was in a lot of pain, and they made him comfortable."
Jonas has had a penchant for art for as long as she can remember, describing herself as the “art kid” in high school that started a comic book club with Meyers and went on to get a degree in art at Florida State University. Even so, she’d never worked on a children’s book before.
She painted each page with watercolors detailing the main character Ham’s journey into space meeting aliens and looking for love before realizing love was inside him all along. Ham wears an eye patch and denim, effectively the same look Meyers had while living with cancer. Even his name comes from an inside joke Jonas had with Meyers long ago.
“When we went to the mall he would wear his eye patch,” Jonas said. “Kids would come running up to us going like ‘Oh my God it's a pirate!’ and he would play along and get them so excited.”
The book’s writing was originally a poem that Jonas reworked to have more of a narrative structure for children. It still has some of her favorite lines from the original text, including “Keep your loved ones close even if they cannot be there.”
It was one thing to write and draw the book from the comfort of her home, it was another to see it printed and before her in a completed format. Even as she’s come to terms with finishing her work, she’s started preparing to read the book to children for the first time. But she feels it’s something her friend Meyers would appreciate, and she likes to think it will help others as well.
“It still hurts,” Jonas said. “There's so many times where I still want to tell him stuff and I can't. But then there are times where I get excited, (I know) how he would respond, because I know him really well. I smile, just thinking of how he would respond to it.”