Tomorrow will be the third heavenly birthday for Jacob. I don’t remember the last two. This is year feels especially difficult, but without memory of the others, that statement may be incorrect. So much of my life is consumed with his death being in a parallel universe, free from pain and suffering. The fact remains that, despite his last 613 days, Jacob didn’t feel pain and suffering.
So, this is merely an exercise to look beyond my grief truly celebrate Jacob. While seemingly simple, celebrating his life presents challenges. I am sad all the fucking time. No aspects of the life around me to not start and end with grief anymore. My actions start and stop with a heavy heart. I am not alone, nor am I special.
Jacob meant so much to so many. His sister and mother are learning to navigate this world. I do my best to not write about the toll his death has taken on Naomi and Ana for a few reasons. My story, is just that. MY experience. It’s not my place to tell someone else’s story. I will offer my experience of his influence on Ana. The high school class of 2021 was historic. Sophomore and Junior years are toughest for most students. Ana was no different except hers were spent at home, stuck in quarantine, while watching her brother fight.
She left for college ill prepared to handle the sudden rigmarole of college. Two years of quarantine during formative times, did not help. That would be enough for one person. She added the loss of her best friend, Jacob. She wasn’t alone. Maddie and Laine, her two best friends, lost a great big brother. This weekend, as we navigated Chicago neighborhoods, with Jacob’s all-time best-friend, Lori, something became clear. Ana’s sadness and grief will never leave, but Jacob left her a legacy of great people.
So, while I angrily type, it’s time for an exercise. A sort of experiment. I am angry at cancer, his oncologist (not all, but one may properly fuck right off), a higher power, religion, and so much more. Can I turn this anger into true gratitude for Jacob’s life? I will write things I like about Jacob and perhaps an anecdote or two until the anger paradigm shifts (Or I get so mad I break something.)
- Jacob intrinsically understood empathy. He didn’t need a diagnosis to find compassion for others
- Jacob was as close with adults as he was kids. Age meant nothing to him. He would run onto our friend Caroline on the train when he was 14/15 and have in-depth conversations, as if they were peers. Jacob’s ability to enjoy time with people of all ages in uncommon.
- Jacob loved his sister. She loved him too. When I say they never fought, is accurate. MAYBE when she picked on him, he’d get a bit upset. It was short-lived.
- Jacob was the life of EVERY family party. The Butzes, Stewarts, Kelly’s, Diebolds, etc. love to dance. We play music at every party and have fun with one another. I worried, after his passing, this would not be so. He still ensures we have fun through his spirit.
- His relationship with every family member is special. We are lucky, in that we actually all like one another. Jacob found a way to give each person his busy time. He knew when to love and when to provide some tough advice.
- He didn’t lie. He spoke the truth regardless of personal consequences which there weren’t any.
- Jacob was on a mission and had a plan. He was so driven that people often say to me that he accomplished everything here. I don’t buy it, but I have solace in that Jacob wasn’t cheated at the plate.
- I was coaching a hockey game one night and got a call from a parent on his team. Jacob was in the hospital getting stitched up on his chin from a big hit. When he could, he called me. I could feel his smile and excitement. “What happened buddy?” “Oh dad, I fucking nihilated <insert name of his nemesis on their rival>. It was awesome.” “Yes, Jacob but you’re bleeding!” “Yea baby!”
- Jacob loved his friends. I thought about naming them but I’d forget someone and feel badly. If you were friends with Jacob, you’re lucky.
- Jacob did not feel sorry for himself. Self-pity is a useless emotion he would often tell me. I don’t have time for it.
I have been crying while writing this, but I also have a smile of gratitude. If you knew Jacob and were lucky enough to call him a friend, brother, son, grandson, cousin, nephew, classmate, etc. do something nice for someone on 2/16 in his honor. We are all so blessed to know him.
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