For years, until the banner faded, Byron and Jeanne Thompson raised a flag in the front yard of their Kansas City home:
“Never give up the ship.”
The family — Catholic, with 11 children, sons and daughters of the owner of Country Club Bank — sensed that the message spoke to the heart of life, especially when the family’s heart was breaking.
The family, grieving another loss now, has had its heart broken in ways both private and public.
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In 1986, it broke on Halloween night when Amy Thompson, only 22, was shot twice in the head by a stranger during a robbery as she was leaving a party. Amy worked to recover until, the day after Christmas in 1989, she died from consequences of that night.
Mark Thompson, now 54, recalled a day he visited his sister in the hospital. He was filled with anger at the crime and the criminal.
Amy picked up a white board.
“Forgive us our trespasses,” she spelled out, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Amy’s friends responded in 1988 by beginning a Memorial Day run in her name, now entering its 28th year, that raises money for brain injury awareness.
In February of the same year Amy would die, the family’s heart broke again when Patricia “Tricia” Thompson, then also 22 and as dynamic as her red hair, was struck by a drunken driver as she sat in the passenger seat of a car.
For a year, she lay in a coma. For 25 years afterward, unable to talk, walk, eat or perform most acts on her own, she was cared for at the family’s home and then, later, at her own home by loving relatives, friends and devoted caretakers.
Wednesday morning, about an hour before the sun rose, Tricia Thompson died at age 48. Her funeral is Tuesday.
People sometimes ask the Thompsons what philosophy or lessons, if any, sustain a family in sadness, after a tragedy public or private. They’ve known both.
In 2003, Jeanne Thompson, who had a mild form of multiple sclerosis, died unexpectedly at age 70 after a medical procedure.
“There is an old line,” Mary O’Connor, 57, the oldest of the 11 Thompson children, said Friday in the midst of helping plan her sister’s service. “The things you spend your time worrying about are not the things that end up turning your world upside down.”
“I don’t believe God chooses us to teach us some kind of lesson in life. I believe that we live in something of an imperfect world and bad things happen.
“After Amy, what we did learn was ‘Never think that things can’t get worse.’ We thought things were as bad as they could get. Then Tricia was injured.”
But if there is wisdom to be gained, she and brother Mark said, that wisdom comes from the grace, comfort and joy in family, community, thankfulness and faith.
“Believing in something bigger than yourself,” O’Connor said.
“We have tremendous faith,” her brother said.
Byron Thompson, the children’s father, agreed to speak briefly about the solace and glue that is family.
“At this moment in time,” he said Saturday, “I am a very blessed man because of my family. All the injuries didn’t bring them together. They were that way before. It just added some togetherness.”
O’Connor spoke of the overwhelming gratitude the Thompson family has long felt for community support, for which, she said, the family feels no more worthy than anyone else.
“Everyone has their pain. Everyone has their own private suffering,” O’Connor said. “Who are we? Not worthy of the attention other than the fact that the two girls were hurt so closely together. We are more than humbled.”
Yes, she said, tragedy alters a person, a family, but one can choose whether to reach out for grace and something positive.
“How does it change us as a family?” O’Connor said. “We are much more aware of the fragility of life; that you should not be at odds with the people you care about; that a day should not end without clearing up any grievances; that you don’t ever leave the people you care about without them being certain of how much you love them.”
Mark Thompson said that over the 26 years his sister Tricia was cared for, he found himself in awe at the loving capacity of others, in particular his sister’s nurses.
“We have come across incredible angels along the way,” he said. “Different cultures, different races, different religions. They have all been there. They loved Tricia. We loved them.”
“Bad things are going to happen. So love your family, care about the people around you. Leave a better world. Don’t get caught up in ‘why me?’ Turn away from anger and toward the positive.
“The world is full of tragedy and sadness, but it is also full of beauty and hope.”
A prayer service for Tricia Thompson is at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Visitation Church, 5141 Main St. A funeral Mass will be Tuesday.
“If we still had it,” Mark Thompson said of the family’s banner, “it would be flying again.”