Filling the void
La PORTE – In the midst of their deepest sadness – the death of infant son Jacob on June 4 – La Porte football coach Dave Sharpe and his wife, Kristen, found countless shoulders to lean on, both financially and spiritually.
“There are so many decisions to make at this time, it’s really overwhelming to have to do things like pick out flowers and assign a dollar amount to it,” Kristen said.
“We were so grateful to have the community come together to cover expenses for us. I could just say, ‘Mary James, could you do the flowers?’ and that was done. We realize how blessed we are, how lucky we are, through all of this.”
Jacob died of fetal dural sinus thrombosis, ending a nine-month struggle that required round-the-clock care, with 13 surgeries and a life largely spent at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
“He died on a Monday morning and we were able to focus Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday on our grief, and not have to worry about money,” Dave said, acknowledging the assistance of athletic director Ed Gilliland, the school athletic department, the Slicer Football Association and various donation websites.
For the Sharpes, the void left behind was immense.
“We were so conditioned to have to wake up 3 a.m., 5 a.m., drive down (to Indianapolis) and drive back,” Dave said. “He was gone and we were like, now what?”
In Dave’s case, he was eventually able to immerse himself back in football.
“I’m happy Dave has that,” his wife said. “Football demands 100 percent mental capacity while he’s there. Not all jobs are like that.”
For Kristen, an accountant with Crowe LLP in South Bend, it wasn’t so clear cut.
“I want to be passionate about something like Dave is passionate about football and coaching,” she said. “I was carrying that guilt from the funeral. I kept asking, how much does it cost? Everybody kept saying, ‘It’s covered, it’s covered.’ I wanted to do something else. I have not had that other passion other than the children. There’s a huge emptiness and I’m struggling to realign and fill that in. I’m really hoping the foundation fills that void for me. It’s really about that process, about the people left behind, trying to find closure.”
Kristen has found an outlet in the establishment of the Jacob Sharpe Foundation. The not-for-profit is still in the formation stage, but when up and running, it will provide support for families who lose children and don’t have the means to cover funeral expenses.
“Not everybody has that,” Kristen said. “I just kept thinking about it as a mother, what could be worse than having to finance your child’s funeral, having to write a check every single month, remembering that? I felt so empty, if I didn’t do something, to have some good come out of something so tremendously bad.
“I want to do something to honor Jacob, to remember him, and give back not only to our community but to the Riley community, to do something to support them. Riley became his family and once he died, that community was cut off.”
In many cases, families channel their interests into awareness organizations for the particular illness, but in Jacob’s case, there is none. Kristen said he was only the 24th child in the world to be diagnosed with fetal dural sinus thrombosis. There’s no testing, no cure.
“What he had was beyond rare and random,” Dave said. “We couldn’t just funnel money into a cure. We wish it was that easy.”
In the research process, Kristen found no program at any level that provided assistance to families who suffer the death of a child.
“The idea is, if it can become something powerful, something meaningful to people, maybe it can become a government-funded thing,” she said. “The more people I talked to, it was like, what a great idea, why wouldn’t we fund this? It makes so much sense. It’s something I never in my life would have considered until we went through it, what a family goes through after.”
Julie Schroeder started the Play for Jake Foundation after the sudden death of her son Jake West in 2013 due to an undetected heart condition. She’s been an invaluable resource and inspiration for the Sharpes.
“I kept coming back to Julie about what she was able to do in the community, what she was able to do to keep her Jake’s memory alive,” Kristen said. “She’s a phenomenal person. Her form of support is particularly unique and we’re appreciative of that relationship.”
In advance of the foundation becoming official, the Sharpes ask that people check the La Porte Football Twitter account and Kristen’s Facebook page for updates.