Jacob Lindstedt of Omro, Wisconsin, died Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, after a protracted battle with multiple illnesses. He was 13.
This is how we are taught to start obituaries. It gets to the point, it explains why we are reading about this person now and it alerts the readers to something that they might want to continue reading.
It’s straightforward. It’s factual. It’s accurate.
I’ve written dozens, maybe a hundred or more of these, each starting this way: Name, city, state, death, date, cause of death. Period. New sentence. Noun, verb, age.
All the neutrality and factual accuracy couldn’t hold back the tears that forced their way out of me as I wrote that, just an hour after finding out Jacob had died.
In Omro, he was legend: A local kid who survived brain cancer at age 4, only to find himself getting hit with more and bigger illnesses. His mother, Beth, once detailed everything Jacob had endured, and it was mind-blowing:
We lived just down the street from Jacob and his family for six years. Whenever you saw an ambulance rolling down the street, you prayed it wasn’t for him. Whenever you saw his parents walking down the block, you asked how he was doing, much in the same way you’d open a credit card bill after Christmas: hoping for the best and praying against the worst.
Beth kept people up to date with social media posts and video messages. The last image many of us got to see of Jacob was in a New York hospital bed with tubes, needles and other sundries stuck in him as machines beeped and whirred all around. The image I choose to hold is the one that would be familiar to anyone who ever saw the kid: A firm-grin smile spread across a cherubic face that always seemed to say, “I’m just fine. Thank you for asking.”
Whenever Jacob would go in for his next exam, treatment, surgery, transplant or whatever, Beth would always ask for prayers, and people would flood the board with promises to pray. If I’m being real honest here, I found it hard to do that on occasion.
What I wanted to say sometimes to whatever deity was out there running the show was simply, “Knock it off, you feckless cretin. Whatever your gripe is, quit taking it out on this kid. He has had enough.”
Still, I prayed, asking for miraculous things to occur for this extraordinary boy.
What always struck me about Jacob was his quest to lead a regular life. He found joy in the times he could attend school like other kids. He would occasionally walk up our driveway, asking if Zoe could come out and play. I’d see him riding in his dad’s truck once in a while, heading off to do something that fathers and sons do.
He showed up at our house for Halloween at least a few years I can recall. The best one was shortly after his little brother was born: He was Harry Potter, the little one was dressed as Hedwig the Owl, riding along in a stroller. I practically dumped the whole bowl of candy into their baskets. It was like, “Here, take this stuff. I can’t make anything you’re dealing with better, so let me feed you a boatload of candy.”
Him being around was like seeing an iris bloom during a March warm spell in Wisconsin: Appreciate it while it’s there and cherish its beauty because, despite your greatest hopes otherwise, something less pleasant is likely just around the corner.
If fate and circumstance did did their worst to Jacob, it’s only fair to say that Jacob brought out the best in anyone who ever knew him. I remember going to fundraising events that neighbors or groups would host to help his family. People from all over the place would jam into a park, bid on donated items, buy food and drink beer. Each time, I would donate a “gift certificate,” where I would promise to fully refinish any piece of furniture the winner had in whatever way they wanted. We all knew that we couldn’t do ANYTHING to make things better for this kid or his family in terms of big-picture stuff, but we all felt we had to do SOMETHING that would help SOMEHOW.
What struck me the most about those events was how all those people would coexist in a space in which nobody cared who you voted for in the last election or what you thought about foreign policy. Nobody argued about who had done what to whom 30 years earlier to start a decades-long feud in the town or why the local businesses were not supported as well as they should have been. No one got shamed on social media for using the wrong word at the wrong time and no one got slammed for whatever it was they said.
Instead, we just existed in this bubble of time, a cease-fire zone away from whatever else was troubling us because this kid had it way worse than whatever we were dealing with and it was more important to help him than it was to complain about someone or something else. Beth often referred to Jacob as a hero, and truth be told, his ability to engender this kind of civility is Exhibit A to prove that point.
Jacob showed us that we could be stronger than we thought possible, because he faced every obstacle with this little-engine-that-could attitude. He taught us to find joy in some of the things we overlooked every day, because he treasured those bits of normal life that came in such small slices for him. He gave us our humanity, because showed us how to never give up, never give in and live life as fully as possible, regardless of the circumstances.
I don’t know how to capture all of that in a way that would do him justice, but a better lead would start:
Jacob Lindstedt, of Omro, Wisconsin, taught by example, persevered with courage, gave joy to those who knew him and served as the benchmark for dignity in the face of unending tribulations. This hero’s body died Sunday, at age 13, but his spirit never will.